By YVETTE TAN
A multi-sectoral approach is important to ensure success in the agriculture industry. For the Magallanes-Samahang Magsasaka ng Kay-apas at Medina Agriculture Cooperative (Mag-Samakame) based in Magallanes, Cavite, this comes in the form of government support and partnerships with the private sector.
Bernadeth Carndang is a farmer, an English and Technology and Livelihood Education teacher, and Mag-Samakame’s secretary. The eldest of seven siblings, Carandang hails from a farming family; her parents planted corn, pineapple, and rice as tenant farmers on almost two hectares of land. They now focus on vegetables and other high value crops.
Carandang was witness to the creation of the cooperative in 2003 by then mayor Filomeno Maligaya. Training seminars on vegetable growing were offered, with farmers beginning with munggo (mung bean) cultivation and eventually focusing on tomatoes. The harvests were sold in local markets, first in Medina, then in a bigger market in Tansa, eventually reaching the government-backed Kadiwa market in Dasmarinas.
There was a push for young people to join the cooperative, partly to be able to ensure its continuation, but also to help with paperwork. Carandang, a high school graduate, joined in 2007 after a stint as a factory worker. At first, she busied herself with paperwork, but after attending the numerous seminars offered to coop members, she realized that she had an affinity for farming as well.
In 2016, she had the opportunity to study education in college for free, an endeavor she pursued while continuing her duties in the coop as well as raising a young family. “I studied because I wanted to increase our cooperative’s opportunities through trainings and seminars… [which] needs proper paperwork [and organization],” she said in Tagalog.
In 2018, the Magallanes LGU proposed joining the Jollibee Group Foundation's Farmer Entrepreneurship Program. The coop agreed, seeing that it would be a good opportunity for its members to reach a steady market. The process involved training in vegetable production and entrepreneurship. There was also the matter of filing the paperwork to finally make the cooperative official, something that was accomplished in March 2019.
Carandang admits that running a cooperative can be challenging because it requires working with so many personalities, but it can be fulfilling when everyone understands that they are working towards the same goals because that’s when they give their trust to the organization and work their hardest.
At the time of the interview, the cooperative had just completed their 32nd shipment of tomatoes to Jollibee. This, after the pandemic temporarily halted operations and the coop took some time to meet the fast food chain’s quality and quantity requirements. The produce comes from different farmers and is consolidated through the coop, which delivers to Jollibee.
Carandang acts as the coop’s account manager, having supervised the delivery process since it started in July 2022. “The fruits [of our labor] have been good, though we had a hard time at first because many worried that we wouldn’t pass [the quality requirements]. But they’d give menial feedback and we’d adjust accordingly,” she said. “As long as we follow the rules [and] go with the flow, there shouldn’t be any problems…”
She adds that the biggest challenge a cooperative faces is encouraging its member farmers to try new things. “Farmers can be close-minded because [it’s their capital at risk],” Crandang said.
They’re also afraid of commitment, as they’re used to supplying to wet markets, which don't need them to adhere to a certain quality, quota, or schedule. Carandang counters this by telling members to at least try it out and not to give up even before they’ve started. Her encouragement has paid off. “Our first year has been smooth,” she reported. “The pressure encouraged them to do well.”
Carandang says that the initial experience has been a good one, and has encouraged the farmers to continue the partnership. “The farmers have become business-minded. They’ve learned to compute. In the past, they’d plant, then sell, and whatever was left after paying off the captial was [considered] their money. They didn’t know that it was payment for their labor. They didn’t earn any profits. Now, they’ve learned to compute so all labor and expenses are paid for and what’s left is profit… They’re more encouraged now that they’ve seen that they have excess [earnings],” she shared. “It’s changed their mindset. Before, they thought of themselves as just typical farmers. Now, they’re more proud [because they think of themselves as entrepreneurs].”
Her personal journey
Meanwhile, Carandang’s personal life has flourished in parallel to her work in the coop. She graduated in 2020 and began teaching during the pandemic. She and her husband, an OFW, began farming on about 3000 sqm of rented land, which is planted to ampalaya, tomatoes, and cucumber. They also oversee about 5000 sqm planted to coffee and black pepper. The harvests are sold in the wet market.
She uses her platform as a teacher to tell her students, from personal experience, that farming can be a viable career. “...[I tell them] they have to be hands-on because it’s a business… The kids are amazed when they see the figures [we’re able to earn] because I show them our production module, expenses, and so on,” she said. “Something that simple can awaken something in them.”
She also uses her education background to help cooperative members with the technical aspects of running a business that they might find challenging. “Farming is really a business. Who was in the field during the pandemic? Who had passes to travel? If there’s no produce in the market, who do they call? Farmers,” she said.
Her role as an unofficial cheerleader for the agriculture industry is what Carandang enjoys most about all of her jobs. “You know the thrill of changing someone’s mindset?” she asks, “It can be challenging… so I don’t know why I really enjoy it. Yes, it’s hard, but that doesn’t stop me.”
To farmers who want to expand their businesses, she has this to say: “Don’t be afraid of change. Don't be afraid to try new things, because you’re not alone. There’s a lot of support, but we sometimes don’t see it because we’re close-minded. Help is there. Interventions are there. And we’re farmers; we’re the people who keep our fellow citizens alive.”
Photos courtesy of the Jollibee Group Foundation's Farmer Entrepreneurship Program