On September 5 to 6, I went with my thesis group to the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm (GKEF) for our data gathering. It was my fourth visit to the place, and each time the experience left me in awe. Dubbing itself as the first farm village university in the world, a ‘Silicon Valley’ for social entrepreneurship, and a ‘Disneyland’ for social tourism, GKEF has built a thriving ecosystem of social enterprises through its efforts on social enterprise incubation.
We went to the farm with the intention of gathering as many respondents as we could. What we did not expect, however, was how openly the members of the community would welcome us.
One of the most memorable conversations we had was with Tita Susan Benson, a social entrepreneur who has developed her own product line of peanut brittle with various flavors. What struck me the most was how, despite her complicated backstory and evident lack of natural business acumen, she was still able to build her business from scratch. The farm has helped her with several things – assisting her in securing equipment and helping her face the challenges involved in product innovation. She also has her own garden where she plants what she later uses as ingredients for her peanut brittle. Before leaving the farm, I surprised myself as I bought each flavor of her products.
Another visit we made was with Tatay Mamerto and his family. What we got was more than just a simple chat—they also provided us samples of several of their products. And from the way they presented the products, we saw the passion and the drive for innovation that have kept them going. Among the samples were peanut butter, achara (pickled grated papaya), a bottle of honey, and a honey-based oral spray that they claimed could help treat minor mouth and throat infections, relieve cough, soothe canker sores, and fight bad breath. These, for me, are product innovations that deserve more credit and attention in the mainstream business landscape of the country.
At that point I became more convinced that – contrary to the view of most people – agriculture is not a “backward venture.” Reports show that the average age of farmers in the country is now about 57 to 59—which means that fewer and fewer Filipinos are going into agriculture, and that is likely because they see “greener pastures” in the growing urbanization of several other parts of the country. Reports also talk of forecasts that in a span of 15 years, there will be a critical shortage of farmers in the country.
The main challenge here lies in how we can convince the farmers and their children to stay in agriculture. Aside from allowing a slow shift to becoming an industrial economy, we should also give more opportunities to the farmers to grow their businesses and become successful entrepreneurs. We need to give them the chance to demonstrate how agriculture can still be a productive and profitable enterprise.
This is exactly what the social entrepreneurs at the GKEF have adopted as their advocacy—to develop more and more agricultural ventures, helping to prevent the farmers from becoming a “dying breed.” Interestingly, this movement has attracted people from across the world, including some foreign students from France, Japan and the United States who are currently working as interns in the farm. Tony Meloto, founder of Gawad Kalinga, even had a chance to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron to celebrate the recent successes of GKEF. If people from overseas have begun appreciating the work of the GKEF, then fellow Filipinos must do no less and give this local initiative due recognition.
Ian Benedict Mia is an undergraduate student currently taking up AB Psychology and BS Business Management at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University (DLSU). He is currently working part-time as a research assistant under the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development – Social Enterprise Research Network (CBRD-SERN), and is an aspiring social entrepreneur. You may contact him through email@example.com.