Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Philippines: Postharvest Learning Alliance helps farmer groups develop business plans

by Alfred Schmidley

The Sto. NiƱo Multipurpose Cooperative (SPMC) and the Taguibo Farmers’ Irrigators Association hosted working meetings in Agusan to develop business plans for postharvest enterprise activities, with support from the Postharvest Learning Alliance and Caraga State University.

 The goal of the meetings was to enable farmer groups to develop their own business plans for piloting or expanding their postharvest activities as entrepreneurial enterprise models. Two particular areas identified, for which business plans are being developed by the farmer groups, were mechanical drying of farmers’ paddy and use of rice by-products.

 Gertrudes Fortun, agriculturist from Butuan City, expressed hope that the farmer groups will use the business plan tool to attract resources for adoption of improved postharvest technologies, such as mechanical dryers.

 Plenio Atega, SMPC president, explained that, during the wet season, harvested paddy "often remain covered too long on sun-drying platforms during extended rainfall, sometimes even germinating before we can dry it for milling." The result is very low-quality paddy and milled rice, and farmers like him lose a lot of money as a result.

 At the Taguibo Irrigators Association, President Romy Lasco had a similar concern. “Our farmers can lose at least 30% of the crop due to lack of drying facilities during the wet season. Traders then discount the equivalent of 5 kilograms off the price out of every 50 kilograms due to low paddy quality, and farmers lose another 10%.”

 Professor Raquel Balanay, an economist from Caraga State University, and Alfred Schmidley, business model specialist for IRRI, advised the farmers’ groups on the use of a business plan.

 “During the meetings, we examined the business case for offering mechanical drying services to farmers but discovered many other interesting enterprise activities that these farmers are engaged in," shares Dr. Balanay. "For example, both farmers groups recently began vermiculture and organic fertilizer enterprises that usepostharvest by-products such as rice hull, rice stalks, and coconut husk fiber. They mix these with livestock manure to form high-nutrient compost, a product that helps farmers decrease input cost while allowing their organizations to sustain themselves by selling higher-margin value-added products. The Taguibo group is now looking at setting up a small shop in Butuan for selling vermiculture products, compost, and farmer-produced organic food items."

 “Farmers, when properly enabled, can be very resourceful and innovative,” Mr. Schmidley observed. “The business plan tool can help them analyze the business case for new technologies, expand profitable enterprise activities, or attract additional resources and capital.”

 The next step for the Postharvest Learning Alliance is to host a multi-stakeholder meeting in November where farmer groups, microfinance institutions, rural credit cooperatives, and other groups can learn more about postharvest enterprise opportunities.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cambodia: Postharvest Learning Alliance sponsors forum on microfinance

by Alfred Schmidley

The multistakeholder Cambodia Postharvest Learning Alliance sponsored a business forum, Emerging opportunities for microfinance in the postharvest rice sector, held on 14 September 2012 at the Himawari Hotel in Phnom Penh.

Thirty-one participants came, representing 9 microfinance institutions (MFIs), Asian Development Bank; Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain Program; IDE; HARVEST; provincial departments of agriculture; Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF); Departments of Agricultural Extension and Agricultural Machinery; private sector rice processors; IRRI; and the local project team.

The event was opened by Meas Pyseth, coordinator, IRRI Postharvest Project; Bun Mony, CEO of SATHAPANA, one of Cambodia's leading MFIs; and Alfred Schmidley, IRRI business model specialist.

Dr. Pyseth, in his welcome remarks, highlighted project achievements and technologies now available to farmers and other chain actors that reduce physical losses, improve quality, and allow value-adding throughout the chain. These technologies include combine harvesters, mechanical dryers, and hermetic storage options that have been tested and studied in a business model context for sustainability and improving incomes of farmer and other rural actors.

“The next step for the Project is to link actor-specific business plans with MFIs by improving financial literary and creating awareness about loan products and postharvest sector opportunities,” IRRI's Dr. Schmidley stated. “By identifying needs for technical support and disseminating knowledge about improved technologies and postharvest management options, the Learning Alliance can help reduce risks to actors and loan providers in newly emerging enterprises.  However, to achieve this we need to improve financial literacy of actors and create awareness among MFIs about emerging opportunities.”

“To achieve better outcomes, we need human resources and financial capital, but it’s also important to find better ways to deploy resources more effectively by joining together with other actors,”  Dr. Mony added. “There are 33 MFIs licensed by Cambodia’s National Bank that have more than 800 branches countrywide. While 40% of Cambodian households have used microfinance in the past, we need to offer suitable loan products that serve new needs while keeping in mind the commercial context of enterprises.”