Onion Farmers Get Assured Market
Onion farmers in Barangays Kaliwanagan and San Agustin in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija have one good reason to be glad. This is because marketing their produce is no longer a problem.

Through the project bridging the farmers to the Jollibee food supply chain, the members of the KALASAG (Brgys. Kaliwanagan and San Agustin) Farmers Producers Cooperative are now benefitting from the value chain system project.

KALASAG was organized in 2008 with 30 members. Now, the coop has 53 members. Before being considered as full-time member of the coop, farmers need to be an associate member first as they still need to pass the screening stages of the coop.

One of the onion growers earning a good income from this project is Randy Dizon, 34, of Brgy. San Agustin. Although, planting onion needs more attention because this is a rain-sensitive crop, he devoted his 1.2 hectares to onion production. Taking all the risks, he harvested the fruits of his labor. He earned P150,000 from the 360 bags harvested in 2010.

Randy is practicing onion-rice-corn cropping pattern. This system is being adopted by outstanding farmers not only in Nueva Ecija but also in other parts of the country. According to them, this is done to maintain the nutrients of the soil. Likewise, the use of organic fertilizer is another reason.

For Randy, going into onion production enabled him to accomplish many things: buy a hand tractor, build his own house for his family and send his children to school. Other farmers also mortgaged their farm to him.

He recalled his first harvest when he ventured into onion production many years back. He harvested 200 bags (containing 20 kilos per bag) and sold them at P20 per kilo at the traditional markets.

Randy is fortunate when he became a member of KALASAG because he has a guaranteed market for his produce. "Having a direct market for our harvest is an advantage because we are assured that there will be no wastage and we can get good income because they buy our produce at a reasonable price," says Randy.

"There is a future and money in the onion industry. Farmers like us should only need to work hard," he ended.

Other onion farmers at heart are Wencelito Gomez and Arnold Dizon. Wencelito is the manager of the coop and Arnold is the chairperson. Wencelito believes that "the organization achieved its success because of hard work, sacrifice, investments in time, energy and resources of the members and the organizations who helped them."

According to him, the quality of the produce starts from the farmer's field. Arnold, on one hand, said the project is helping not only the members but also the community. This is because the coop is committed to provide jobs to the community.

Their wives have shared in their success. They organized the farmer's wives organization known as the KABIYAK (Kaagapay Sa Biyaya ng Kabukiran) as well as the out-of-school youth and hired them as onion peelers. They were paid P2 per kilo of peeled onions. The record of the coop shows that in 2010 they were already paid P300,000.

It is remarkable to know that a small farmers' organization can supply the huge onion requirement of Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC). In 2009, the first delivery of KALASAG to JFC became a test of their character. They were asked to produce 60 metric tons; however, they were not able to meet the requirements. "Many were rejected from our produce and heavy rains added to our problem. That was our first challenge," says Arnold.

Learning from their experience, the farmers made their second delivery with renewed vigor. The following year, they were requested 197 metric tons of fresh and peeled onion and delivered 236 tons. The coop had an overproduction during this period.

In 2010, the coop earned P251,000. This is aside from the individual earnings of their members. The farmers hard work also paid off. "Some were able to buy vehicles while others were able to redeeem their pieces of jewelry from pawnshops," narrates Arnold.

The coop is not only supplying their produce to institutional market like JFC, they also deliver certain volume for traditional markets like Divisoria.

In a cooperative like KALASAG, the assistance from the microfinance industry as well as government financial institutions is very crucial. For many years, the Alalay Sa Kaunlaran Inc. (ASKI) has continued its commitment of reaching the grassroots level and give them the opportunity to become more productive.

"When we formed the organization, we asked the farmers if they want to supply to Jollibee. They all agreed but our problem was capital," shares Arnold.

ASKI as a conduit of the National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC) extended its financial assistance to KALASAG coop which provided their initial operating capital.

"The engagement of ASKI to KALASAG coop is basically on the provision of production loan. Because of this project, there were changes in the policy of ASKI credit operations. Later on, ASKI designated a full-time agro-enterprise project facilitator to the coop who helped them in project implementation, monitoring and evaluation and in networking," says Jane M. Manucdoc, director for credit operations of ASKI.

Since then, ASKI has already provided P6.52 million to the organization. The coop's recent loan under the production loan program is P3 million.

The project does not only create positive impact to ASKI but also to the lives of the farmers. "The farmer's income increased considerably which enabled them to acquire properties and pay their liabilities. We also provided them trainings on cooperative manual of accounts and bookkeeping through our ASKI training institute to enhance their leadership and governance capacity. More importantly, this project created employment in the community," Jane added.

With these experiences, Arnold and the rest of the farmers learned the value of management and professionalism. "A small farmer like me had the opportunity to meet people in high positions," Arnold said.

Government support also came in to help the coop. The Department of Agriculture through the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (DA PHilMech) provided the coop a refrigerated truck, cold storage facility and plastic crates to maintain the freshness of their harvests.

The DA-Regional Field Unit 3 (DA-RFU 3), on one hand, provided multi-tilling machine, motorized sprayer, screen house and shredder. The shredder is being used to produce organic fertilizer for their farm.

However, these facilities were not enough to accommodate the volume of the farmers produce. This is why the KALASAG and DA-RFU 3 acquired additional 40-footer refrigerated truck with tractor head to accommodate more of their deliveries to JFC.

The project of bringing the farmers to the value chain system is being implemented by Jollibee Foundation (JF), NLDC, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in collaboration with ASKI, the local government unit of San Jose City, and the DA.

"This project is one of the success stories of our farmers. However, this will not only end to KALASAG because there are also other farmers in other areas that need assistance," says Gisela Tiongson, JF executive director.
"Having a direct market for our harvest is an advantage because we are assured that there will be no wastage and we can get good income because they buy our produce at a reasonable price"
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