Bicol farmers are now agripreneurs under OVP program—Robredo

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Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo said Filipino farmers in Bicol are now “agri-entrepreneurs” as they sell produce directly to commercial establishments, such as Bigg’s Diner.

During the forum “Halalan 2022 Para sa Agrikultura” organized by the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), Robredo said there are already nine municipalities in Bicol with farming communities that are directly selling to hotels, restaurants, groceries, and supermarkets.

Bicol planters have benefited from the Office of the Vice President’s (OVP) livelihood program dubbed Umasenso Sa Kabuhayan.

“Farmers’ transition from subsistence farming [into entrepreneurship] is gradual. But if we can show them the benefits, it is possible,” said Robredo.

PCAFI held the forum to orient presidential aspirants on the needs of Filipino farmers and the fact that agriculture has been neglected for many years, according to PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.

He said the sector needs a budget of at least 10 percent of GDP which is but “fair” as agriculture contributes 10 percent to GDP. The figure goes up to 35 percent if agriculture processing industries are included.

Farmers need to be aided to become businessmen as “agriculture should not be treated as a charity work but as a business,” Fausto said.

The initiative with Bicol farmers started in 2018 when the OVP conducted a simultaneous survey. The survey sought to find out the top 10 produce needed by commercial establishments as well as the top 10 crops that farmers cultivate.

The requirements of businessmen are calamansi, ginger, chili pepper, lettuce, and cucumber.

“We told the farmers, ‘grow calamansi, and we will provide you with the financial grants and the seedlings,’” Robredo said.

Initially, the farmers were resistant since they were used to growing cash crops, such as vegetables which can be harvested in three weeks, or crops that will complete traditional Filipino meals, such as talong, ampalaya, and kalabasa.

Some enterprising farmers, she noted, decided to grow the produce needed by the businessmen who committed to buy their output.

Robredo said the first big buyer was Bigg’s Diner in Naga. She said these businesses usually buy produce from Baguio or Sariaya, Quezon, instead of sourcing from Bicol farmers.

“We found it hard at first. But when daring farmers started becoming successful, the other farmers followed,” said Robredo. “Now we already have a lot of contracts. You just need to be focused on the program.”

She also attributed the success of the initiative in Bicol to collaboration among concerned agencies—the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) assisted the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) while the Department of Agriculture (DA) assisted the non-ARBs.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provided shared service facilities for agricultural goods that cannot be bought by institutional buyers. Now there are nine municipalities with shared service facilities that allow farmers to undertake direct trading activities.

The Department of Science and Technology is also ready to assist farmers if there is a need for value adding.

“The OVP became a platform where everybody is on board—DA, DOST, DAR, DTI.  We are the ones that tell them this is what we need from you. Even the agencies are happy. Now the farmers have a delivery truck.  And their earnings are far bigger than what they earned as mere rice farmers,” said the vice president.

Aside from Bigg’s Diner, Robredo said the farmers now sell produce to LCC Supermarket, Bicol’s largest supermarket chain.

With the financial grant from government along with their higher income, farmers were able to buy greenhouses. They were also able to put up their drip irrigation systems.

Robredo said the Umasenso sa Kabuhayan program has also launched an initiative for the Sumilao farmers in Bukidnon in partnership with Pilipinas Shell Founation.

“They are our clients in Saligan [a nongovernment organization of lawyers helping the poorest]. Sumilao farmers won their case, and they’re very inspiring. Now they have become rich. Our program with Pilipinas Shell taught them to maximize resources. They just grew corn before, now they’re into livestock.”

Image courtesy of Nonoy Lacza

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