Representatives from networks of rural NGOs and people’s organizations from nine countries in Southeast and East Asia gathered in Cagayan de Oro City from June 28 to July 2 to discuss how the small farmers and farmerholders can hurdle the extremely difficult challenges of entering and participating competitively in the market. They are united in the belief that small farmers and farmholders can survive and compete in the market if they are organized as commodity-based associations of small producers.
The event, organized by AsiaDHRRA, is the third of a series of ASEAN-level workshops implemented under an ASEAN Foundation project entitled “Linking Small Farmers to Market” which aims to establish the mechanisms that will help commodity-based associations of small producers achieve economies of scale and a stronger bargaining strength in the market. PhilDHRRA, the in-country anchor for LSFM in the Philippines, hosted the event and provided a festive welcome dinner featuring a traditional Manobo dance number and the participants’ diverse backgrounds and cultures.
The participants of the workshop realized how difficult the situation of small farmholders had become over the last 15 years due to various factors. Regional and bilateral agreements on the removal of tariffs have pushed down the prices of highly-subsidized agricultural imports from highly-developed countries, to the detriment of small farmers in Asia. Consumer preferences have increasingly shifted from fresh farm products to processed food due to increasing urbanization. Small farmers who have not been able to claim their space in agricultural sectors and industries will now have to face the additional hurdle of increasing market segmentation.
Yet models of commodity-based small producers association in the more advanced countries in Asia, such as Korea and Taiwan, provide the way to a better future. The associations in these countries have grown so big that their small farmers actually earn more than salaried professionals. Mr. Seo Dong Woo of Korean Producers Association and Dr. Wen-Chi Huang of Taiwan Wax Apple Development Association (TWADA) presented how they reached this stage by narrating their history, marketing strategies, and how they have been able to address the challenges related to economies of scale, product quality, and food safety. The successful experience of small cassava farmer in Agusan in dealing with an established food and beverage corporation, narrated by Agnes Bolaños of Agri-Aqua Coalition for Development, provided significant insights about how small farmers dealt with the challenges of dealing with a huge, established, and stable market, and the opportunities in engaging the private sector.
Participants from various ASEAN countries identified the key factors to ensuring success in this endeavor. Government support will definitely be helpful, as well as the leadership provided by people’s organizations in breaking through the market. Quality control and product promotion, systematic consolidation for greater bargaining power, the identification of competitive advantage, and thorough work on internal organization strengthening and development will all help push commodity-based small producers associations to success.
Underlying these elements is the commitment to the principles of holistic, diversified, and sustainable agriculture as the foundation of any and all economic undertakings of commodity-based associations of small producers. The basis of their engagement with various players, especially the business/private sector, remains the same as the fundamentals guiding their advocacies for agrarian reform and rural development– that is, social justice, environmental protection, sustainable agriculture.
A visit to the Northern Mindanao Vegetable Producers Association (Normin Veggies) in Barangay Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon was done on the last day so that the participants will have a common community-based experience as one reference for concretizing their learnings and insights.
The LSFM Third Regional Training Workshop had a total of 65 participants from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines. Mr. Nestor Carbonera, Chairperson of PhildHRRA Mindanao, gave the welcome address. Keynote address was given by Ms. Lealyn Ramos, Regional Director for Regional Field Unit 10 of the Department of Agriculture. Ms. Nyla Prieto delivered a special message from the ASEAN Foundation.
In implementing LSFM, AsiaDHRRA has entered into partnerships with the Center for Study for the Development of Agriculture in Cambodian (CEDAC), the Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PhilDHRRA) and the Vietnam Farmers Union (VNFU) and BinaDesa to implement the regional project in four countries in Southeast Asia, namely, Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.