“We used to carry five kilograms of vegetables walking under the heat of the sun and knocking on doors to sell our produce,” says Remediosa Carballo, a member of the Mabini Farmers Association (MAFA) in Sta. Monica, Siargao Island, Philippines. “But there were times we got home with some vegetables still left in our baskets.”
Last year, Carballo and other MAFA members began working with Winrock’s USDA-funded Philippines Cold Chain Project (PCCP), which held technical trainings, workshops and organizational development programs that helped boost vegetable production and taught them about market needs, including the sorting and grading of vegetables. It was the first time MAFA was assisted by an external organization.
MAFA’s vegetable production has soared since then, with members of the farmers group producing almost as much in the first quarter of 2018 (1,000 kilos) as they did in the last half of 2017 (1,292 kilos).
Beginning in March, MAFA farmers began to sort and grade their produce, using market data from Siargao’s commercial center, the public market of the Municipality of Dapa, to determine prices and buyers’ needs. From this information, they have established regular buyers who prefer Class A vegetables. This new system encourages farmers to produce the best quality of vegetables for the best price.
Women in the group no longer carry baskets of vegetables and knock on doors from house to house. After PCCP linked them with markets, they have built strong relationships with 10 regular buyers, most of whom are market vendors in Dapa. About 95 percent of the MAFA farmers’ harvest goes to these buyers and the rest are for walk-ins and their own consumption.
MAFA members are thankful to PCCP for introducing improved techniques and technologies (such as using 50 percent synthetic fertilizer and 50 percent organic fertilizer) and enhancing their market knowledge. They now regard themselves as farmer-entrepreneurs.
“We produce fresh and quality vegetables. We know buyers prefer fresh. This is why we now practice the sorting and grading of our stocks instead of selling them all in, which we used to do,” says Yolinda Escobia, a retired teacher and current MAFA president. “And it works! We are able to get better prices based on the quality of our stocks.”
Text and photos by N. Irish Jane Calungsod