CALAMANSI FARMERS CROSS THE BRIDGE TO PROGRESS
“Maraming salamat po sa lahat ng tumulong sa amin. Tunay po na tulay kayo sa pag-unlad ng mga magsasakang tulad naming. Kayo po ang nagbigay sa amin ng lakas ng loob at tumulong para kami ay magkaroon ng pagkakaisa, pagkakaunawaan at pagbibigayan. Maraming salamat po sa TSPI. “ (Thanks to all who helped us. Indeed you are the bridge to progress for farmers like us. You gave us the confidence and support that we need to build unity, understanding and kindness toward one aother. Thank you very much TSPI.) – Noelito Salvador, president, MASIFAGCA pangkabuhayan, Inc.
Calamansi: This tiny everyday citrus fruit has made it big for a group of farmers from Brgy. Magsalisi, Jaen, Nueva Ecija. In September 2016, calamansi farmers joined the TSPI Palayan Program (TPP) under the Paniqui branch in the hope of opening up more markets for their harvest and more opportunities for themselves. They were optimistic that TSPI would be, as the organization is named, their “bridge to progress”.
True enough, TSPI became a partner of Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF) two months after and the calamansi farmers was later linked up with Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) by TSPI Enterprise Development Services, which is in charge of market linkages for clients.
TSPI-JGF partnership is for the implementation of the JGF’s Farmer Entrepreneurship Program (FEP), where farmer groups are associated and developed to become agri-enterprises. FEP is a capacity building program that transform farmers into well-equipped agro-entrepreneurs. It promotes inclusive business for small farmers to become direct suppliers of JFC in a manner that meets the standards and requirements of corporate buyers while ensuring profits for farmers. As required in the FEP, the calamansi farmers group as associated as MAgsalisi Farmer Growers of Calamansi (MASIFAGCA) pangkabuhayan. Inc., composed of 23 members on August 15, 2017, within their first year of membership in TSPI.
As part of FEP, MASIFAGCA members were ushered to various trainings, seminars and farm visits. They could not believe that they could be one of the suppliers of Jollibee. However, as they went through the process, they gradually realized that the road to their dream would be not easy. Understandably, the process of acquiring business discipline and acumen is an overwhelming transformation for simple farmers. But the guidance and coaching of both TSPI and JGF, the farmers continue to improve through learning from their both accomplishments and mistakes, especially in the rigorous test-marketing process.
On top of the technical and process challenges, the group also went leadership and organizational crisis. Their first president resigned not long after their first election and four members backed out. Then the vice president (Noel Salvador), rose to the challenge, became the new president and led their fledgling group toward their goal of marketing with JFC. Later, he also had to leave the organization due to personal and family concerns. So again, then the vice president (Orlando Macaso) had to take over.
Thankfully, they were not weighed down by leadership crisis, especially in critical stages in the agri-enterprise development process. With the continuous support from TSPI and JGF program facilitators, the MASIFAGCA officers remained determined. They were able to register and get permit from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Mayor’s Office within a span of 3 months (May until July 2018). They also had to prepare the members of the organization in performing key roles and in learning the processes involved in transacting with JFC which includes expense management, pricing, bidding, supply sourcing and allocation, documentation, compliance with technology and product standards, marketing and financial management among others.
Finally, on July 18, 2018, MASIFAGCA made their first delivery of 524 packs of calamansi (262 kilograms) to JFC. The culmination of their hard work, however, was fraught with further challenges. Sorting and packing following the standards of JFC proved too daunting for some members who opted to drop out. It ate up so much time that it disrupted their delivery to their other buyers, especially in Divisoria. For those who stayed on, it was a test of faith and commitment. The 15 members who remained continued with the test-marketing, progressing as they learned through feedback and coaching from TSPI and JGF.
MASIFAGCA underwent JGF evaluation in August 2019 and JFC audit in December 2019. More areas for improvement were identified, such as the security of their sorting area. Also the group still had to comply with Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) certified by the Bureau of Plant Industry to be able to continue marketing with JFC and link up with other institutional buyers.
Although discouraged at times with the organizational and technical challenges, MASIFAGCA is pressing on. Members will not let the blood, sweat, and tears they had invested, and the support they had received go to waste. They are now grateful for the support and opportunities that continue to open up for item:
- Continuous delivery of calamansi to JFC (total of 4, 132 kilograms amounting to around P310, 000 for 2019)
- Link-up with Leony Agri Corp. (LAC), facilitated by TSPI Vice Chair Abraham Pascual, for technical support in improving the sorting area and for training in good agricultural/ manufacturing practices
- Coaching sessions by the vice chair and BOT member Lito Fider, both successful entrepreneurs who are committed to helping small farmers;
- Conduct of Paskong Bulilit (Musmos Bangong Alaga) , a gift-giving for children under TSPI’s Sambayanihan Program; jointly organized with MASIFAGCA and Brgy Chairman. and,
- A special loan arrangement by TSPI for their capital requirement for continued delivery to JFC (P50,000 bridge financing)
- Renewal of TSPI and JGF partnership in December 2019 to provide continuing support to MASIFAGCA for GAP Certification process.
- (On March 4, 2020 the Bureau of Plant Industry visited MASIFAGCA farmers to assess their compliance with the Philippine GAP standards. All 15 active farmes passed and qualified for GAP Certification.
MASIFAGCA members look forward to continuing their marketing with JFC, starting new linkages with more buyers, maintaining their good borrowing record in TSPI and becoming a channel of blessing to more calamansi farmers who wish to join their association.