Farmers are among the most marginalized and vulnerable sectors, with farmers having the highest poverty incidence in the country. When our farmers are burdened, our entire agrifood system is affected. The challenges they face are challenges that also concern us.
Farmers value a space where they can exchange ideas and innovations with others. And when we listen to farmers, we gain a genuine understanding of their perspectives and their lived experiences.
To help the public and private sectors relate the existing efforts to help solve the growing problems of our farmers, the Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture (PPSA) with the support of the Department of Agriculture Gender Equality and Social Inclusion, AGREA, Corteva Agriscience Philippines, and Mennonite Economic Development Associates Philippines, organized a series of dialogues with farmer leaders and entrepreneurs from different regions in the country to listen to their stories and echo the farmers' recommended solutions to the problems they face.
“Ang mga assistance to small farmers programs at pagpapalago ng katutubong kaalaman - nakakalungkot na pinagbabangga - ngayon ay may climate change, kailangan tingnan ang katutubong kaalaman,” a farmer shared in one of the dialogue sessions. (It is saddening that the current (modernization) programs for smallholder farmers and the promotion of indigenous knowledge are being projected as if one is better than the other. Now with climate change, we also need to incorporate indigenous knowledge (with science).
The dialogue series provided a space for the farmers to gather into an informal conversation with the PPSA, and learn from each others’ experiences. The dialogue revolved around the role and participation of women in value chains, climate resilience and adaptation, access to finance, and partnerships for farmer’s growth. The discussions during the dialogue series also touched on their challenges in farming know-how, support facilities, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their ways for growing and living better lives.
The insights generated from Farmers Dialogue Series can be used to create or adjust existing action plans, enhance existing project delivery and inform current policies to maximize impact for the Filipino farmers in dealing with today’s extraordinary challenges.
A SHARED EXPERIENCE
The farmers participating in the dialogue series come from different areas in the country, growing different crops such as rice, vegetables, corn, cacao, poultry, hogs, tilapia, and soybean.
The participating farmers have diverse backgrounds coming from various regions and engaged in various value chain activities. Some of the participants have already ventured into agripreneurship while others were already teaching and training their fellow farmers. Another farmer was also recognized and awarded by the local government for her contributions in the sector.
But despite their diversity, one thing was certain. Their stories highlighted shared experiences influenced by factors including gaps in capacity building, finance/subsidy, infrastructure, and technology, among others.
“It is sad to realize that farming is still not sustainable and cannot depend on the production cycle alone,” a farmer shared in one of the dialogues.
The dialogues with farmers also touched on their aspirations about their farming life. While some of the farmers look at farming as a subsistence to make ends meet, others also related how they managed to sustain their children’s education. Ironically, none of the farmers mentioned that they are being succeeded by their children in farming.
A number of women farmers also shared that they find farming as a means to contribute and live by their social obligation to others and gives them joy, health, and the opportunity to teach and inspire. They also signified their intention to be recognized and associated with groups to access support.
“Marami pa rin umaasang mga women’s association at farmers association na ma-register,” one of the women farmers shared. (There are many women's associations and farmers associations hoping to be registered.)
MAKING ENDS MEET
But in spite of these challenges, farmers do their best to cope and push forward. They explored creative ways and adopted local solutions to sustain their livelihood and their day-to-day needs. The farmers identified income diversification as a major solution. They shared that having multiple income streams allow them to support agricultural production while providing for the needs of their homes.
With climate change a long time problem in the agriculture sector, farmers have also started adopting climate smart practices to cope with its impacts. One of the farmers shared that the Department of Science and Technology’s ‘Windy App’ provides a 15-day forecast on weather disturbances which farmers can use to schedule their farming activities and protect their crops and harvests.
Farmers also recognized the benefits of joining farmer groups and cooperatives to access financial services and grants.
“Hindi rin basta basta nakakapasok sa mga services ng gobyerno kung walang cooperative kaya ako naging member ng multi-purpose cooperative,” said another participant. (It's not easy for farmers to access government services, especially if you are not a member of the cooperative. That’s why I decided to join a multi-purpose cooperative.)
A CALL FOR SUPPORT
While this series of dialogues highlight the adoptive practices of farmers to the challenges they face, it also seeks to identify support interventions for farmers. The farmers are calling for support in two main areas—infrastructure and facilities, and technology and capability development—to provide immediate help in terms of profits.
On infrastructure and facilities, the farmers shared that they hope to have better farm-to-market road machineries for the delivery of their crops and harvests. They also identified vermicomposting facilities for vegetable production to help them shift to vermicomposting and lessen their reliance on inorganic fertilizers. They also saw the need for greenhouses to protect their crops from the impacts of climate change and tillers to help them in farming.
Meanwhile, the farmers recognized that they also need upskilling through technology and capability development. Some of the trainings they hope to participate in include financial literacy, business management pricing, bookkeeping, and accounting to help improve their farm management; forming farmers groups and cooperatives; agripreneurship and social media or digital marketing to access online markets; business registration processes with the Department of Trade and Industry, Food and Drug Administration, and DA’s KADIWA program.
From a bird’s eye view, the Insights Report has also identified sectoral actions that can be taken by many sectors to co-create a systemic support for the farmers. While most of the recommendations and specific wish lists of the farmers may demand greater investments - it should not bar us to put this aside and wait. For where there is a lack of resources, we are called to innovate with whatever resources we have at the moment.
Individual actions bring about a market solution itself. For most of us, we can help in making farmers thrive by shifting our food preferences for local produce or growing our own food ourselves, especially the urbanites. For others who have greater influence in our respective communities, we can help by bridging their connection with service providers, or by assisting them in registering with the governments’ registration system for one. In the end, giving farmers an ecosystem of support accessible to them is a critical process to make all the existing programs truly effective and felt by them.
This kind of voluntary dialogues organized by PPSA made the farmers feel seen, heard, and recognized for what they do and for what they can do more. This work hopes to be a point of reflection in assessing action-oriented offshoots in sustaining projects that are working, and enhancing areas needing improvement, with a collaborative mindset.
"In our work, we learned that things move in more meaningful and impactful ways when we listen intently, adapt, and work collaboratively with others. We are keeping this in mind as we explore more ways to respond to the needs of smallholder farmers and promote gender inclusion and resilience. We are privileged to offer a safe platform for farmers to come together, share best practices and lessons with one another, and just be given a chance to be heard. We will continue going in this direction," said PPSA Country Director Amy Melissa Chua.
More information from the Farmers Dialogue Series can be found here: