Development projects are now setting their eyes more and more on a design that makes businessmen out of farmers. While a promising concept, it is not an easy one to execute. The giants of a huge industry like the rice sector are ruthless. And so, for any serious businessmen to make it, collaborating with other industry players and veterans improves the team’s odds. With space to discuss issues and bounce off ideas, the organization can provide more creative solutions and solid manpower, with a possibly faster reaction time.

In the province of Zamboanga del Sur, a rice-centered enterprise is embracing the importance of teamwork to improve the production, consolidation, and marketing of its rice products.

The Intensified Rice Production, Milling, and Marketing rice enterprise is supported by the Project Convergence on Value Chain Enhancement for Rural Growth and Empowerment (ConVERGE). The project aims to enhance/strengthen the participation of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) and other smallholder farmers in the value chain by facilitating their engagement in agribusiness partnerships with the private sector. In addition, the project aims to enhance the process of production, milling, and marketing of the products of the participating organizations.

The value chain model of the cluster follows an integrator-consolidator approach where three cooperatives were identified as integrators and one functions as the consolidator. The integrators provide production loans, farm equipment, and post-harvest and milling facilities to farmers to engage them in the buying and trading of palay. The post-harvests that they receive are then sold to the consolidator who will be in charge of the milling and marketing of rice to various markets both in the local areas and neighboring municipalities/cities. It completes the value chain map that practices profit sharing through the provision of dividends/rebates to the integrator cooperatives.

With the fast-paced movements in the industry and an elaborate value chain to operate in, the cooperative leaders found a way to make difficult tasks easier for everyone. The cluster initiated a gathering that invites the decision-makers of their respective organizations and shares knowledge. This is called the steering hub Committee (SHC), a knowledge-sharing avenue between the leaders that covers operations concerns, progress monitoring, and business troubleshooting.

Sharing knowledge for a common goal

The Salug Valley ARC Cluster has been in the business of commercial rice farming for years. Five agrarian reform beneficiary organizations (ARBOs) comprise the cluster, with a total of around 3,200 members. These ARBOs include the Mahayag Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative (MAFAMCO), Campo IV Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative (CIV-CABEFAMCO), Gabunon Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (GARBENCO), Manlabay, Maralag, Timonan-Libertad Basak Farmer Irrigators Association Multi-purpose Cooperative (MANTILIBA-FIAMCO), and Tagulalo Agrarian Reform Farmers Irrigators Association (TARFIA). 

With multiple bodies involved in their rice value chain which covers production, processing, integration, consolidation, and marketing, the ARBOs started the idea of grouping together their decision-makers to exchange lessons. The steering hub committee was considered a progressive action to include monitoring and eventually facilitating decisions that the enterprise will follow. Composed of the officers of the five ARBOs of the cluster, the Steering Hub Committee is led by Chairman Errol Majorenos, MAFAMCO’s HR manager.

This assembly of leaders and representatives was created by the ARBOs themselves primarily to monitor the implementation and operationalization of the rice enterprise. Secondly, it was made to make decisions by themselves on issues and concerns that may be encountered in the VC process.

Speaking about the conception of the SHC, Majorenos said: “It was during one of our meetings that an idea of forging a close bond between the five ARBOs came to light. We firmly believe that this is not a stand-alone project. For this project to succeed, there should be a strong sense of cooperation among us cooperatives.”

The meetings between the leaders and representatives occur on a monthly basis as agreed by its members, which usually falls on the first week of the month. They also rotate hosts for each meeting. These all happen as initiated by the ARBOs, with project staff only attending as overseers.

The initiative shown by the ARBOs has displayed their ownership of the enterprise as well as the proactiveness of its leaders – two traits that exhibit the commitment of the ARBOs in the industry, despite the challenges of a highly competitive rice market.

Another farmer-leader, Campo Cuatro’s Rosevilla Salceda, also expressed the necessity by which such group was formed. Ang pagpatuman sa Steering Hub Committee nindot, kay makakuha ug daghang benepisyo ug isa pa adunay pagtinabangay sa pagsulbad sa mga posibleng problema nga moabot, para malambo ang amoa ug sa mga kauban nga cooperatiba nga gipaluyuhan sa DAR. Dapat lig-on ang paghimo ug mga desisyon sulod sa organisasyon,” Salceda said. (The formation of the Steering Hub committee is good because we benefit from it. Besides, it also shows cooperation [between leaders] in problem solving, thus creating progress for our and our partner’s cooperatives under DAR. Decision-making should be strong within the organizations)

Goals achieved

So far, the Steering Hub Committee has proven to be an effective ground, as they were able to resolve issues and plan accordingly. Discussions on integration-consolidation, along with the complexities of volume, quality, and logistics, were resolved through the SHC.

Majorenos added: “The creation of SHC paved the way in changing the mindset of our leaders – from a conservative way of doing business to a much broader one. With the SHC in place and functioning, the enterprise has finally taken off with the help of the facilities and equipment provided by the project.”

The next steps

The committee is anticipating that with an increase in membership, representatives of IPs and Youths will participate soon. Beyond that, Majorenos looks forward to where their initiative will lead them. Considering the project’s closing in December this year, he is confident that what they have learned in ConVERGE will continually be used in the future. And with the Steering Hub Committee, they can always make sure that they will pick up on something new to improve on.

“In the not-so-distant future, the enterprise will be expanding its horizons. Hence, there is a very big possibility that representatives from IPs or Youth members of each of our ARBOs who possess the potential to effectively and efficiently run a business can participate in the committee,” Majorenos said.

By Jullienne Veronica Tuazon, Katrin Anne Arcala