It’s a common narrative of success when farmers increase their yield and sell their harvests at a competitive price. In an industry where the middlemen often take home the biggest share, it may be a little bit hard to believe that farmers can succeed in marketing their own produce. In just three years, an Ilukano farm cooperative, reached P2.5M in assets. Unbelievable, but it happened.

Ruthbell Pammit, 56-year-old chair of the Rayuray Farmers’ Agriculture Cooperative (RFAC), walks us through their journey and on how they have transformed themselves from rice tillers to agripreneurs.

The beginning

An unusual opportunity to lead knocked on Ruthbell’s door in 2017. Upon learning that the Department of Agriculture- Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) was launching a program in Batac City to help farmers start their own businesses, Ruthbell gathered some of his farmer-friends and together, they established a small cooperative with the intention of joining the initiatives under the Rice Business Innovations System (RiceBIS) Program. With 48 farmer-members, RFAC has become an active participant of the program for more than three years now.

“RiceBIS implementers guided us on understanding and doing agroenterprise. They were with us from the day we had our first meeting as a cooperative to learning how to do business, up to deciding on the enterprise we want to venture into,” Ruthbell recalled.

According to Ruthbell, one of the most important things they’ve learned in business is on producing a novel product that the consumers need. Due to the congested market for milled white rice in their area, the cooperative decided to produce brown rice.

“No one sells brown rice in Batac City before us, that’s why we thought to be the first ones to produce and market brown rice. From then on, everything went up,” Ruthbell recalled.

More than the numbers

Currently, RFAC is the only agricultural cooperative in their area pioneering in brown rice production. From a leader’s perspective, Ruthbell believes that success is not linear and cannot always be measured with numbers. For him, the continuous partnership of RFAC with agencies and the quality of their produce make their enterprise standout.

“DA-PhilRice and the Agriculture Training Institute (ATI) were very keen in making sure that we follow recommended practices in the field and in our production processes to maintain the quality of our products. We’ve also won the support of our provincial and local government units in selling and marketing our brown rice,” Ruthbell said.

Ruthbell also shared that RiceBIS provides them with high quality seeds for their brown rice production and helps them with management tasks like documentation and in recording financial statements.

“Any rice variety can be used to produce brown rice. However, we’ve already proven the soft, chewy, aroma, and good eating quality of NSIC Rc 160. For us and our suki, those make our brown rice remarkable,” Ruthbell said.

Because of the cooperative’s good reputation, continuous opportunities came RFAC’s way throughout the years.

In April 2019, the cooperative secured a stall to sell its products at the city’s public market under the LGU’s project called One-Barangay-One-Product, providing a steady supply of brown rice in the area. RFAC sells their packaged brown rice for P65 a kilogram and unpackaged ones for P60/kg. Aside from brown rice, fresh produce like fruits and vegetables were also sold in their public market kiosk.

In the same year, RFAC managed to become an accredited National Food Authority (NFA) supplier and sold 5,800kg of dried palay. Their linkage with NFA also helped them avail of a rotovator grant from DA- Regional Field Office 1.

RFAC also partnered with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to boost their brown rice enterprise. DOST awarded them a financial and machine grant for their brown rice’s nutritional analysis and improved vacuum packaging machine in the last quarter of 2019.

“Our financial statements can testify that our once small business is slowly booming but more than that, the good feedback from our customers is our true measure of success,” Ruthbell stressed.

Widening their reach

Aside from brown rice, RFAC plans to expand their agroenterprise operations. Cooperative members currently market four primary products: dried palay, milled rice, brown rice, and onion pickles.

With the assistance of their provincial LGU, RFAC also sold their products directly to the consumers in Metro Manila through the monthly Producers to Consumers (P2C) trade fair and exhibit in Quezon City.

On top of widening their marketing opportunities, members aim to extend their reach to all farmers in their community, and become an instrument to better their lives so they established a palay trading system that even non-members from their community can avail. This initiative helped farmers in their area to get through the challenging time when palay prices dropped last year at less than P14.

“We bought dried palay directly from fellow farmers at a higher price of P16.50, then we sold these directly to NFA for P19; thus, earning P2.50 per kilogram for our cooperative. That was a win-win situation because both the farmers and the cooperative were earning,” Ruthbell shared.

Last June 2020, using the cooperative’s community development fund and rice stocks, RFAC also distributed 3kg of rice each to about 200 persons with disabilities and senior citizens affected by the lockdown during the pandemic.

“Being able to help farmers in times of need is really life-changing,” he added.

With the bountiful opportunities that pour on RFAC’s path, Ruthbell believes that this was all because of their decision to organize themselves and unite together. The perseverance and discipline among their cooperative, seasoned with persistence and faithfulness to their purpose, he said, led them to success.

“Back then, we were just learning the concepts, but now we’re already applying it to our own business. For farmers like us, that is really uplifting. RiceBIS really changed our lives in many ways possible,” he said.

RFAC’s story has proven that farmers are the new breed of businessmen. No, they may not be the usual ones who wear suits or those hustle in the corporate world. They’re agripreneurs  –  the ones with humble smiles and genuine expressions as they directly hand consumers the fruits of their blood, sweat, and labor under the scorching heat of the sun.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute