Co-creating value: The organic rice farming communities in Iloilo

How our organic rice social enterprise started, and how it flourished by co-creating value for local communities


Luis dela Rosa

Aug 6, 2018
Co-creating value: The organic rice farming communities in Iloilo

Farmers in Barangay Salngan, Iloilo have been practicing organic farming since the 1990s. The approach worked for them. The lightest drizzle made the community inaccessible to the city centre, which means they have limited access to commercial inputs. A farmer has to pay PHP 200 to cart goods to the city, a price too large for the little amount they get selling their produce.

These farmers were trained by MASIPAG, or Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa pag-unlad ng Agrikultura. A pioneer non-government organization (NGO) in sustainable agriculture, MASIPAG introduced other traditional upland rice varieties and sustainable agriculture practices. They taught farmers to breed their own varieties and not rely on commercially available varieties for food production.

But while the support helped in daily subsistence, farm-to-market inaccessibility and the absence of proper facilities prevented them from earning income from rice production. Their black and red rice were “no name” rice and were of inferior quality. In the absence of a devoted facility for organic produce, they processed their harvested palay through a kono or portable rice mill. The kono produced broken, small grains, which did not sell.

Partners for development

Center for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (CARRD) entered the picture in 2004, when it provided land tenure assistance to farm workers in the communities. CARRD worked with Salngan Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SARBMPC) to provide continued support to agrarian reform beneficiaries through facilitating farm support services. Using some of CARRD’s internal funding and with support from the Japan Embassy and Department of Agriculture, CARRD facilitated the construction of infrastructure necessary to help farmers increase their productivity. Among these are solar and mechanical dryers and a dedicated milling facility. Farmers stopped relying on konos and produced better milled black and red rice.

But it was not until 2010 when the idea of scaling up for commercial purposes gained traction. With the passage of Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, an opportunity to expand organic farm production and explore its market potentials was opened. CARRD worked with then-Philippine Development Assistance Program (PDAP) to establish internal control systems for the organic rice value chain – a prerequisite for organic certification.

These initiatives strengthened efforts to preserve local farming processes. With continued support from Japan’s Asian Community Trust and DA, SARB-MPC and CARRD expanded to adjacent barangays. Salngan was a case, and surrounding communities learned from Salngan’s examples. Later, “Katilingban sang mga Agraryo Padulong sa Pag-Uswag sang Iloilo – Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative” (KASAPPI-ARC) a municipal cooperative was organized to include farmers outside Salngan.

KASAPPI-ARC and CARRD lobbied with local government units (LGUs) for the building of a farm-to-market road. With support from the DA, a paved road was built in 2015. Since then, KASAPPI has supplied organic rice to the city centre and mainstream markets. Global Organic and Wellness Corporation (GlowCorp), a marketing consortium founded by people’s and NGOs, provided assistance on product development and marketing. The “no name” rice has gradually penetrated the Metro Manila under GlowCorp’s “Prime Organics” brand.

Challenges in obtaining organic certification

Perhaps the hardest challenge is ensuring that every farm in participating communities meet the rigorous standards of the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines.

Certification was difficult to obtain for small landholdings because of the huge cost in monitoring. CARRD trained local farmers to conduct field inspections. In this way, communities learn quality assurance, and save the cost of hiring farm inspectors. Each farmer-inspector monitors a number of farms and maintains a record of their farm plan to ensure that they're keeping within organic certification standards.

Keeping up with organic standards enabled farmers to more easily establish partnerships with LGUs and other entities. It is also did wonders to the environment. The soil doesn’t become acidic, rain run-off doesn’t pollute the rivers with synthetic fertilizers, and cost of production is significantly reduced. In 2017, KASAPPI-ARC and one of its pioneering farmer-cooperators, Ofelia dela Cruz were recognized by DA for their contribution in the promotion of organic agriculture in Western Visayas.


Today

The farmers have come a long way. Although not without challenges, they are now capable of transacting business with other partners with minimal help from CARRD. Participatory approaches enabled the farmers to determine their needs and make the best decisions to improve their situation. CARRD and KASAPPI also partnered with the local radio station to air weekly radio programs on farm-related topics. In this way, knowledge about organic farming spreads to other farmers outside of CARRD’s service areas.

Today, farmers are now capable of dealing with the whole value chain instead of just focusing on production. There is value in co-creation, and there can never be one technical solution for a challenge that calls for collective, adaptive work. 

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