MAFA farmers making their way to the market

Siargao Islands is in the limelight as a top tourist destination in the Philippines where pristine white beaches and waves are as inviting as its people. However, the large influx of tourists challenges local farmers in Siargao to meet food security and food quality.

Part of the island, mostly in the south, are where resorts, bars and tourists are, while the northern side, like the small town of Sta. Monica, is where farmers are seen cultivating the lands. It’s far from the busy touristy side, so rural that some roads are still under construction. The greeneries and coconut trees are seen everywhere giving one a tropical island getaway vibe.

Mabini Farmers Association (MAFA), is one of the farmers groups in Sta. Monica, Siargao Islands that are into vegetable production. While MAFA started as a group back in 2010, it was only in 2016 that the Philippine Cold Chain Project (PCCP) implemented by Winrock International and funded by the USDA got in touch with MAFA. It was the first time MAFA was assisted by an external organization and their first time to attend formal technical trainings, workshops, and organizational development programs. PCCP introduced MAFA to improved techniques and technologies that enlightened its members about the livelihood potentials of good practices in vegetable farming.

In 2017, some of MAFA’s key members attended an agro-enterprise workshop facilitated by PCCP where they were assisted to do production planning taking reference from the needs of the market. 

One of the significant things they learned was the sorting and grading of vegetables, which they had not done before. What happened next was a significant leap for their farming business: beginning with their harvest in March 2018, production showed good results and MAFA farmers started to sort and grade their produce.

MAFA’s production has been increasing since 2017 where in the second half of the year then, they produced a volume of 1,292 kg. In the first quarter of 2018, they started to harvest about 1,000 kg., with about the same volume more to harvest in the coming months from their standing crops.

“We produced fresh and quality vegetables. We know buyers prefer fresh. This is why we now practice sorting and grading of our stocks instead of selling them all-in, which the latter we used to do. And it worked. We were able to get better prices based on the quality of our stocks,” shared Yolinda Escobia, a retired teacher and current MAFA president.

MAFA now recognizes the value of being updated about vital market information such as prices and buyers’ needs.

​Members of MAFA’s marketing committee already exercises the regular gathering of necessary market data from Siargao’s commercial center, the public market of the Municipality of Dapa, which is 45 kilometers away from Sta. Monica. From this, they have established regular buyers who prefer Class A vegetables. This new system encourages farmers to be conscious on the status of their plants and motivated them to ensure proper farming techniques so they can produce the best quality of vegetables for the best price. MAFA farmers use 50% synthetic fertilizer and 50% organic fertilizer which, the latter, they themselves have learned to make from PCCP-facilitated trainings.

“We used to carry five kilograms of vegetables walking under the heat of the sun and knocking doors to sell our produce. There were times we go home with some vegetables still left in our baskets”, recalled Remediosa Carballo, a woman in her 50s who has been with MAFA since 2010.

Women in the group no longer carry baskets of vegetables and knock doors from house to house. After PCCP assisted them in establishing market linkage, the group has built strong relationship with 10 regular buyers, most of whom are market vendors in Dapa. About 95% of their harvest goes to the buyers and the rest are for walk-ins and for own consumption.

The group’s fast development can be seen in its members’ passion for farming and the drive to innovate from time to time. Their modest success run deep with the member’s commitment to the group and the will to provide their family’s needs. MAFA members are thankful to PCCP for introducing improved techniques and technologies that led them to the adoption of enhanced ways to improve their livelihood. They now regard themselves as farmer-entrepreneurs.