Burning Bridges by Building Bridges
Monday, June 29, 2015
Do you remember the old folk song that goes, “ako ang nagtanim at nagbayo at nagsaing, subalit nang maluto ay iba ang kumain” (I planted, pounded and cooked my own rice, but some other guy ate it)? It is not exactly the same story for the farmers, but it is certainly how they still feel.
From irrigation, to land preparation, planting and harvest—it is a four- to five-month period for the rice farmer. Plowing is hard labor, or brute force, and we are not sure who the real beast of burden is: man or carabao. Planting does not require the same strength but try being bent down the whole day and tell me how your back feels.
The farmer pays for the rent of the land he tills, buys the seedlings and fertilizers, cares for the rice plants to ward off predators and pests, waits and prays that his hard work and fields be spared from storms. After harvest, he needs to convert immediately because it’s almost like he has to “break-fast”, bridge finances, pay debts, and survive. So he goes to a miller, and a middleman. Sometimes, the miller himself acts as the middleman who buys the farmer’s produce.
Farmers do not have the negotiating leverage because they are in dire straits, and without access to the real market. Moreover, the lack of solid educational background does not give them the confidence to articulate and rationalize on commercial merits. Educational deficiency even makes them shy. It becomes easier for them to accept the state of things as fate. They would need to use this traditional middleman, who dictates the price, and is rumored to make as much as 100 percent margin on their cost of purchase from the farmers.
Or, they may be able to get access to nontraditional middlemen, and be empowered. This Sunday is about two social enterprises that is almost a tale of two business models, both effective in uplifting the farmers’ experience, and their living standards.
Good Food entrepreneur Charlene Tan is a vegetarian with a particular liking for organic food, not to mention the heart for the people who plant them. After spending sometime in the US, where she was exposed to Community Shared Agriculture (CSA), she brought the idea home and started her business using this model. CSA allows a partnership between the farmer and the consumer.