Women in Cluster-Approach Agro-enterprise Development

story and photos by Aiko Jane Osa/CRS.

Parena Farmers Association in Giporlos, Eastern Samar is one of the 40 clusters formed through the Phase 2B of CRS Livelihood Program funded by CAFOD. Currently, it has 16 members with an almost equal number of male and female. The youngest among the female members is 37 years old while the oldest is 65 years old. Age of male members ranges from 32 to 73 years old. Aside from focusing on vegetable production, the cluster is also buying and selling cassava which is commonly grown by farmers in the community. The dried cassava is being delivered to Fatima Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Calubi-an, Leyte which has been selling cassava to big companies like San Miguel Corporation for animal feeds, alcohol and food production.

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Women showing  the chipped cassava being dried before selling. Photo by Aiko Osa/CRS.

Parena Farmers Association in Giporlos, Eastern Samar is one of the 40 clusters formed through the Phase 2B of CRS Livelihood Program funded by CAFOD. Currently, it has 16 members with an almost equal number of male and female. The youngest among the female members is 37 years old while the oldest is 65 years old. Age of male members ranges from 32 to 73 years old. Aside from focusing on vegetable production, the cluster is also buying and selling cassava which is commonly grown by farmers in the community. The dried cassava is being delivered to Fatima Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Calubi-an, Leyte which has been selling cassava to big companies like San Miguel Corporation for animal feeds, alcohol, and food production.

Because of their growing business, all the 16 members have been busier in their livelihood. Both men and women in the cluster felt that women’s activities have increased as they are now more involved in working on their farms and participating in cluster activities but their roles and responsibilities in the household haven’t changed. Female members (9) expressed that despite being busy with both household and livelihood activities, they don’t see it as a burden on their part. “It is not difficult. It’s just that our involvement in the livelihoods program made us more persevered and hard-working’, according to Felicitas Barsana, one of the female members.

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Storeroom and solar dryer built by the cluster member themselves. Photo by Rodolfo Coronel/CRS.

Before CRS Livelihoods program, women were passive because life was easier and we just let our husbands do most of the farm works. But now that there’s no more copra, our family won’t be able to eat if we don’t work hard”, said one female member. Typhoon Yolanda has destroyed the livelihoods of approximately 5.6 million men and women; the hardest hit were those depending on fishing and/or the coconut industry for a living.

Copra is the dried coconut meat used for extracting coconut oil. This has made copra an important agricultural commodity for many coconut-producing countries, like the Philippines.

After investing so much time and energy in their new livelihood, the Parena Farmers Association is now a well-known cassava buyer in their municipality as well as in the surrounding area. All fresh and dried cassava from nearby barangays in Giporlos are now being delivered to them. The group buys fresh cassava at PHP 2.00 per kilo and the dried cassava at PHP 6.00 per kilo on a cash basis. They also receive deliveries coming from barangays as far as Taguite, Lawaan. Because of this popularity, the group was able to acquire 6 tons of cassava worth PHP 54,000.00 in less than a month; 2 tons more than the amount they sold last July for test marketing. They used the income from the sales as additional capital so they were able to buy more cassava. Members are also earning income by selling their harvested cassava to the cluster.

The group emphasized that the success of their cluster lies in the unity and participation among the members. After the CAFOD/DEC sponsored learning visit they had in Calubi-an, the group decided to contribute part of their tranches to buy materials needed to construct a storeroom and a solar dryer. Instead of paying for the labor, the group did the construction themselves and were able to save money which they used as additional capital for their business.

Though the heavy works are mainly being done by men, activities of men and women in the cluster such as weighing, chipping and drying of cassava are the same. “Women can do what men can do. If the men are not available, we (women) help each other in doing heavy work like lifting sacks of cassava”, shared by one female member. Members always work together especially during difficult times. One challenge they encountered was drying their cassava during rainy season wherein they had to transport sacks of cassava uphill where their solar (papag) dryer is located. solve this problem, a member offered her house to temporarily serve as storage and drying area for the cassava while the group looks for a suitable area where they can transfer their dryer. 

The group also considers encouragement to give suggestions as one of their best practices and secrets to success. Everyone is encouraged to give suggestions and if they have misunderstandings, they settle it right away. They highlighted the importance of having regular cluster meetings to discuss the status of their business and problems and issues that they have to address as a group. For the Parena Farmers Association, they always conduct cluster meetings every 15th and last day of the month.

They also pointed out that having a good relationship with the customers is a practice that all clusters must do if they are engaging in this kind of business. One male member shared that not all farmers are easy to deal with but it’s important that you handle the situations gently. ‘If you know how to deal with people, many will come to you’.

The group is very thankful to CRS/CAFOD/DEC for the livelihood assistance given to them. With their livelihood, they are not only helping themselves but also helping other farmers as well. The initiative of Parena farmers Association as cassava consolidator in the locality is providing encouragement and opportunities for other farmers to increase their area planted and further improve production. Farmers now have an assurance that a local buyer is available to absorb their produce in bigger quantities. Before the cluster started buying cassava, many farmers usually plant it for household consumption and partly sells few kilos during market day, once a week. And because of the high supply and less demand in the market, a lot was being wasted.

They also expressed that the CRS/CAFOD/DEC Livelihoods program was able to help both men and women gain equal access to livelihood opportunities. “Women are more encouraged to work now compared to the time before. We feel proud that we now have bigger contributions in our livelihood”Another female member also added that with what they can do in the field, they are confident that women will not be underestimated. Men also affirmed that women spend more time on the farm now and thus they are playing a bigger part in the livelihoods of their families. While men are aware that they are doing the heavy work in the group, they think that women play a big role in the success of the cluster. “If we have no female members, our group will probably not be as fun as it is now because women usually start conversations, telling jokes and they really lighten up the mood of the group”, shared by Guillermo, an elderly member of the cluster. Another male member also added that having female members of a group facilitates work faster as women are more focused on getting the job done. “Men think alike so we need someone who has a different way of thinking and that’s where the role of women comes in. Like if we decide to celebrate and drink after receiving the tranche, women will most likely stop us and remind that the money is not for drinking. That’s how important women are.” Women also shared that they think the participation of both male and female in a group is important. One female member shared that the men will not be encouraged to work if there’s no female to cheer them up but same goes with women. “We will not also be encouraged to work without the men in the group who can help us around.”

The members of Parena Farmers Association expressed that they still have a long way to go in achieving the ultimate success for the group. Despite facing adversity along the way like difficulty in finding a truck to transport their products to Leyte, the group remains optimistic and more determined. “One day, we’ll be able to buy a truck to transport our cassava and I know everything will then be much easier. That’s my dream for our group,” said by one female member. They also shared that because the members are united, they are confident that the cluster will remain strong and intact even after the CRS/CAFOD/DEC Livelihood Project.

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