Agricultural e-commerce and crowd-funding apps for Filipino investors
(The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — We are currently at an age I’d like to call the “online revolution.” If we are to compare life today with that from 10 or 20 years ago, everything has changed and evolved that even basic things like communication have advanced. The business sector is not an exemption. It has greatly changed its landscape to maximize the “online revolution” that we are in right now. Almost every business has an online platform, wherein everything can now be sold and bought online. 

There are a few industries in the country that remain unchanged and one of which is agriculture. Everything is so simple and “backward” on the farm and to many, all they see is dirt and nothing else. Life on the farm “seems” to have frozen and left unchanged despite all the developments that we see today. That is probably the reason why no teenager would like to become farmers anymore. To make matters worse, many of us look at farming as a “high risk, low yield” business endeavor. Having said that, the question now is “Is agriculture dying in the Philippines?”

According to House Bill No. 5336, An Act Providing Incentives and benefits to Private Companies for the Purchase of Produce of Small-scale Agricultural Farmers and for Other Purposes, the average age of present-day farmers is 57 years old. I’m not surprised at all by this because I am a living witness to that. We conduct meetings with farmers from Cagayan to Pangasinan regularly and I conducted a meeting by myself on the first day. While walking towards the venue, I was taken aback because all I saw were gentlemen and ladies in their 60s. I asked the staff if we were in the right forum and in the right place because it appeared to be a senior citizens' meeting.

Another disturbing fact is that the average yield for rice is 3.87 metric tons per hectare (MT/ha), as reported by the Rice and Corn Situation and Outlook, released by PSA on January 23. The Department of Agriculture’s target is 6 metric tons per hectare. Both the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) claim that it is doable but why can’t we do it in the field? What seems to be the problem?

To answer these questions, I would like to share a story. We went to the field and visited the farms one day. During our farm visit, I felt nostalgic. I saw the farm in the same way as when I last saw it, more than 20 years ago. The same old tractor; same old goat, cows and carabaos; same old water pumps; and the same old method in planting rice which is called manual transplanting. The only thing new and modern that I saw was the combined harvester in one of the houses. The experience was like a scene from a movie.

Ironically, when I got back to the office and went online to search about agriculture, everything I saw was about the modernization of agriculture through mechanization and the Package of Technology (POT). I asked myself, is time joking with me? Is there a glitch in the time period that I am in? To us at FarmOn, the experience was eye-opening.

As a citizen who wants to do something for their beloved country, you cannot help but think of what you can do in your own little way. One of the best ways of addressing the issue is through crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is just like online banking, online selling, or any other online business. It is an e-commerce platform and the idea is very simple.  We create a community that will help and support another community. The concept is very basic and is not complicated. In fact, it revolves around one of the traits that Filipinos are known for — bayanihan. With that platform, we are actually gathering a group of Filipinos whom we call as crowdfunders to help support our fellow Filipinos — the farmers. I am quite certain that everyone would love the idea because it creates a win-win proposition for all. On the part of the crowdfunders, they will earn a decent passive income from their savings while being a part of a movement that is helping a dying industry and community. On the part of the farmers, they will no longer have to take loans just to be able to farm and that means lower production cost because they don’t have to pay for any interest. To top it all off, they will not have to worry about losing their farms to the banks if they are not able to pay their debts.

What about pests destroying the crop or possible losses due to mismanagement it’s too risky, you may ask? That’s where the research institutions and service providers would come in. The service providers will help the farmers by using methods, practices, protocols, technology, and other measures that they will get from research institutions and their partners, both here and abroad. They will make sure that the farms are managed well so that a higher yield will be achieved — giving both farmers and crowdfunders more profit. Lastly, all Filipinos will benefit from it because we can become rice independent in the coming years and we will no longer need to import rice and traders will no longer hoard rice because we have sufficient supply. In other words, cheaper and more accessible rice for all.

As an education and business consultant for years, I’ve seen dozens of business models but only a few have a heart and soul in it. As a financial planner, when we talk about investment, we always talk about returns and seldom do we discuss about making an impact by helping a marginalized community and providing a solution to a perennial national problem and earning a decent income becomes just a by-product while doing the project. Philippines, this is the way to go. We have just celebrated Independence Day last month and my challenge is can we also be rice independent? - Archie Beltran, FarmOn

AGRICULTURE E-COMMERCE
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