WE were just invited to a mentoring session for women entrepreneurs by the Gender Focal Point Group of Iloilo province. We met with a diverse assembly of women from remote parts of the province, who all shared the same principles about organic farming and women empowerment.
I was of course also very excited to see what the pilot farm of the Iloilo provincial government looks like. I was happy to meet with Department of Agriculture provincial director Dodong Toledo who shared with us the local government’s plan for organic agriculture over the next five years. He told our women entrepreneurs to observe organic protocols, and make sure all our sources for produce are organic.
One entrepreneur showed us camote chips, but he (one of only two men in the session) confessed he did not know where his camote came from. He admitted to he had to buy the root crop from other markets, and of course, this is not the way organic food advocates want it to be.
Every producer, artisan and manufacturer, should know their sources. Why so? Because ultimately the source tells you what farming practices went into the production of your camote chips or your oyster mushrooms. Was it organically-grown or did it come from imports from other countries?
Another good example of local government initiatives is the project of organic oyster mushrooms from San Enrique, Iloilo. The town’s head, Mayor Go (I have not met her but I hear she is our first woman general in the AFP) and her brother Greg Palabrica (a balikbayan retiree from the USA) have encouraged the industry of mushroom growing. They have taught the community to produce mushrooms and Greg leads them to “value-add “these produce into mushroom siopao, mushroom lumpia and mushroom burgers.
The mayor and her team make sure all of the mushrooms are organically-grown. And we encouraged them to get a GI or Geographical Indication for San Enrique from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of DTI so that people can be sure they are getting the best of the town’s mushrooms.
Traceability is one way of giving the farmer more value for the same commodity crop like camote or mushrooms. Or even coffee and cacao.
We met two cacao farmers who process their beans and make tableya. They come from Janiuay, Iloilo, my favorite new source for organic coffee and cacao. The trees are 80-year old plants their grandfathers planted and are surely heirloom varieties of cacao. So again it is traceable to their very backyard in Janiuay.
A massage therapist/entrepreneur also brought her massage oils and turmeric and malunggay capsules, that come from her “jungle” home, she says. She is a cancer survivor and will not touch anything but organic or traceable to source.
I am happy there is this consciousness about traceability and happy that even governments are now concerned about such qualities of produce from their areas of responsibility.
And who are the market for these entrepreneurs? Well, we start by inviting our prospective partners in ECHOstore as we did during this mentoring session. Janice Balagon, representing an ECHOstore licensee in Iloilo attended the meeting and met these wonderful future suppliers. Right away, she will have sources for vegetables, mushrooms, cacao and even soap and massage oils. All green, eco-friendly and organically-grown.
This is also how we did it in Cebu and Davao for our licensed stores. We gather the entrepreneurs around the area and virtually create the ecosystem (pardon the pun) for our ECHOstores. The women and the two men right away see the connection of “farm to market” through these meetings. What they grow in the farm ultimately ends up in a real market for consumers—who otherwise may never hear of their organic products.
And they also get exposed to the “filters” and quality standards we espouse. Your products must be sustainably-sourced—not exhausting the sources but making sure they can continue to provide the resources they need. Traceable because we want to know the farm practices that were employed. And finally, that it is marketable because it tastes good, looks good and is fairly priced.
What a good start for Iloilo’s entrepreneurs and what a sustainable way to empower the women (and men). Do we hear other provinces following suit?
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao and Cebu City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at email@example.com