Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Philippines: Postharvest Learning Alliance helps farmer groups develop business plans

Al Schmidley, IRRI business model specialist,
says that farmers can be very innovative when enabled.
The Sto. NiƱo Multipurpose Cooperative (SPMC) and the Taguibo Farmers’ Irrigators Association hosted working meetings in Agusan to develop business plans for postharvest enterprise activities, with support from the Postharvest Learning Alliance and Caraga State University.

The goal of the meetings was to enable farmer groups to develop their own business plans for piloting or expanding their postharvest activities as entrepreneurial enterprise models. Two particular areas identified, for which business plans are being developed by the farmer groups, were mechanical drying of farmers’ paddy and use of rice by-products.

Gertrudes Fortun, agriculturist from Butuan City, expressed hope that the farmer groups will use the business plan tool to attract resources for adoption of improved postharvest technologies, such as mechanical dryers.

Plenio Atega, SMPC president, explained that, during the wet season, harvested paddy "often remain covered too long on sun-drying platforms during extended rainfall, sometimes even germinating before we can dry it for milling." The result is very low-quality paddy and milled rice, and farmers like him lose a lot of money as a result.

At the Taguibo Irrigators Association, President Romy Lasco had a similar concern. “Our farmers can lose at least 30% of the crop due to lack of drying facilities during the wet season. Traders then discount the equivalent of 5 kilograms off the price out of every 50 kilograms due to low paddy quality, and farmers lose another 10%.”

Professor Raquel Balanay, an economist from Caraga State University, and Alfred Schmidley, business model specialist for IRRI, advised the farmers’ groups on the use of a business plan.

“During the meetings, we examined the business case for offering mechanical drying services to farmers but discovered many other interesting enterprise activities that these farmers are engaged in," shares Dr. Balanay. "For example, both farmers groups recently began vermiculture and organic fertilizer enterprises that usepostharvest by-products such as rice hull, rice stalks, and coconut husk fiber. They mix these with livestock manure to form high-nutrient compost, a product that helps farmers decrease input cost while allowing their organizations to sustain themselves by selling higher-margin value-added products. The Taguibo group is now looking at setting up a small shop in Butuan for selling vermiculture products, compost, and farmer-produced organic food items."
“Farmers, when properly enabled, can be very resourceful and innovative,” Mr. Schmidley observed. “The business plan tool can help them analyze the business case for new technologies, expand profitable enterprise activities, or attract additional resources and capital.”

The next step for the Postharvest Learning Alliance is to host a multi-stakeholder meeting in November where farmer groups, microfinance institutions, rural credit cooperatives, and other groups can learn more about postharvest enterprise opportunities.

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