Ecija mayor bridges farmers to entrepreneurship, fortuneBy Anselmo Roque |Inquirer Northern Luzon
SAN JOSE CITY—Observing that onion farmers in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija no longer relied on doleouts, Mayor Marivic Belena decided in 2008 they were ready to become businessmen, embarking on a bridge program aimed at providing them a market.
That initiative has built entrepreneurs out of the city’s farmers, and has earned Belena and her team this year’s Galing Pook Award, which will be handed out by Malacañang today. Belena partnered with the Jollibee Foundation to build the onion farmers’ network.
“That idea was crystallized when we had a joint feeding project with the Jollibee Foundation for our malnourished children,” she said. “I was told about the foundation’s partnership with other entities for a bridging program to help farmers link [their produce] to the supply chain.”
The partnership provided local farmers training in financial management. They were also exposed to the market, treated to field trips and market workshops, and introduced to values formation techniques.
As a result of the training activities, 30 farmers from Kaliwanagan and San Agustin villages formed the Kalasag Farmers Producers Cooperative.
“They liked the name, which was taken from the names of their villages…. They paid their membership fees, allotted 1,000 square meters each for their production area and committed to supply the volume requirement of Jollibee Food Corp.,” said Wilfredo Alfonso, the city’s agricultural technologist.
Kalasag’s business success can be gleamed from its onion supply record: 60,000 kg in crop year 2008-2009; 236,000 kg in 2009-2010; 245,000 kg in 2010-2011; and 205,000 kg in 2011-2012.
The average income of each of the farmer-members was P76,849.13 in 2008, P98,126.85 in 2010, and P119,261.12 in 2011, according to records provided by Kalasag chair Arnold Dizon and manager Wenceslao Gomez.
Belena, a businesswoman before she became mayor in 2007, saw promise in the foundation’s project.
These farmers, she said, are saddled by the perennial problem of low farmgate prices, which are controlled by middlemen.
“I sought a meeting with other partners of the Jollibee Foundation and convinced them to include us in their program. I told them we can make the farmers stand on their own given the correct encouragement and process,” she said.
The other partners of the foundation in the program are the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the National Livelihood Development Council (NLDEC).
“I didn’t allot additional fund for it. I just maximized what we already had,” she said.
The cooperative secured loans totaling P19.9 million from the Alalay sa Kaunlaran Inc., the government of San Jose City and other sources. It paid all its loans in due time.