Philippines: Uniting Farmers, Linking to Markets

Onions grown in the Philippines as part of a CRS project linking farmers to markets

Onions are the end result of the Bridging Small Farmers to the Jollibee Supply Chain project supported by CRS in Mindanao, the Philippines. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

By David Snyder

My first trip to the Philippines and I’m glad to finally get a chance to see it. Here with Catholic Relief Services to see some of their agricultural programming, mostly, and also some protection and peacebuilding work.

Over the last few days we have been around here in Mindanao, which is lush and fertile and blessed with rain year round, at least in the areas where we were, in the north-central part of the island.

CRS is conducting a range of projects here, many of them designed to link smallholder farmers with larger-scale traders who will buy their agricultural produce. This is really the new approach to agricultural development now, focusing on increasing production through improved agricultural techniques, but also helping farmers to work together, even incorporating themselves, to increase their bargaining power and allow them access to markets they otherwise would never have been able to reach.

CRS beneficiary Ruben Halasan is the cluster leader for a project linking farmers to markets in the Philippines

CRS beneficiary Ruben Halasan is the cluster leader for a project in the Philippines called Bridging Small Farmers to the Jollibee Supply Chain. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

So what does that actually look like?

Well, day before yesterday we spent some time with a farmer named Ruben Halasan. Through a CRS project, he joined up with fellow farmers to form a cluster—basically just a small group—which in turn has joined up with other clusters. Collectively, they are able to negotiate better prices with traders seeking to buy their produce, because they are not competing against each other.

Through the project, these groups have been linked with another group called Jollibee Foods Corporation, which runs one of the largest fast-food chains in the nation—sort of the McDonald’s of the Philippines. Jollibee needs onions—lots of them—for their burgers, but can’t find enough producers to meet their needs, so they must import. That’s expensive.

With training in how to produce onions up to the quality standards of Jollibee, Ruben and his group, as well as the other groups in the project, are now selling Jollibee 10 percent of all the onions they use for their stores. Jollibee wins, because the produce is purchased locally, and Ruben and the farmers win because they get far more for onions than they did growing corn. Ruben told me that he earned the equivalent of $4.34 growing 100 square yards of corn, and now he earns $130 growing the same 100 square yards of onions.

Off tomorrow to see some of the peacebuilding projects. It’s a beautiful country, and after recent trips to India and, not too long ago, Cambodia, I’m less terrified for my life driving the roads here, which I find myself more appreciative of the older I get.

David Snyder is a photojournalist who has traveled to more than 30 countries with CRS.

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