Bernadeth Carandang is the farmer leader at the Magallanes-Samahang Magsasaka ng Kay-apas at Medina Agriculture Cooperative (MAG-SAMAKAME) in Cavite. Growing up in a farming family, she understood the difficulties faced by farmers.
“Utang, benta, at bayad kami noon. Uutang para sa kapital, magbebenta ng ani, at ipambabayad sa utang yung kita. Tapos uulit lang. Halos wala nang naiiwan sa amin (Borrow money, sell, and pay off debts was our practice. We would loan our capital, sell our harvest, and pay off debts with our earnings. It was a cycle. We almost had nothing left),” she said.
Bernadeth and her fellow farmers wondered how they could increase their income since farming is the only livelihood they knew.
In 2018, the local government unit (LGU) of Magallanes joined Jollibee Group Foundation’s (JGF) Farmer Entrepreneurship Program (FEP), which helps farmers increase their income by directly supplying institutional markets.
Through the partnership, MAG-SAMAKAME was trained on the eight-step Agro-Enterprise Clustering Approach, which culminates in their delivery to Jollibee Group as an accredited supplier. Bernadeth also participated in the course “Agro-entrepreneurship for Inclusive Value Chains,” where she further honed her business and leadership skills. The course was co-developed by Jollibee Group Foundation with Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan.
In 2022, MAG-SAMAKAME started its regular deliveries of tomato to Jollibee Group. Bernadeth recalled she was very anxious during their first delivery to the depot, thinking something might go wrong. It was not until she held the delivery receipt that she messaged the farmers who were eagerly waiting from their homes, “This is it!”
“’Yung isa sa kanila napapikit talaga at sabi, ‘Ang sarap sa pakiramdam!’ (One of them closed his eyes and said, ‘This feels so good!’,” Bernadeth shared.
Since then, they have delivered a monthly average of 2,500 kgs of fresh tomatoes, which are used in Jollibee’s Champ burgers.
A woman farmer leader
As cooperative secretary, Bernadeth is also a leader who empowers farmers, especially women. MAG-SAMAKAME was formed in 2003 with 16 pioneering members. It has since grown fivefold to 84, wherein 57% or 48 members are females.
“Sabi nila kapag magsasaka, dapat lalaki. Ngayon, dumarami na rin ang mga babae (They said that farmers should be males. Now, we’re seeing that more women are becoming farmers), observed Bernadeth.
As a woman, Bernadeth finds her greatest strength is patience, which she uses not only in tending to her crops, but also in encouraging farmer members to join the cluster that supplies to Jollibee. “Dati ayaw nila sumali, hindi daw nila kaya magcommit. Sabi ko ‘wag tayong matakot sumubok (Before, the farmers refused to join, saying they can’t commit. I told them to not be afraid to try),” she said.
By teaching them how to think and act like entrepreneurs, Bernadeth found that the farmers have become more cooperative. Now, they are already thinking of how to grow their business further by planting other vegetables like bell pepper and seeking other institutional buyers.
“We aim to expand our vegetable deliveries so that we can also help other farmers in Magallanes, through our coordination with the LGU,” Bernadeth said in Filipino.
Sowing seeds of hope
With her unending passion for learning, Bernadeth took up Education while remaining committed to farming. She passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers in 2022 and now teaches Technology and Livelihood Education to secondary students.
“Tinanong ko ang students ko kung anong gusto nilang maging. Walang may gustong magsaka. Ituturo ko sa kanila na farming is a business, at ang kaalaman ko sa agriculture at agro-enterprise. (I asked my students what they want to be in the future. Nobody wants to farm. I will teach them that farming is a business, as well as my knowledge in agriculture and agro-enterprise),” she said. “After all, farming is a profession of hope.”