The Problem With Farming
Gone are the days when you’d buy vegetables straight from your favorite farm. Instead, it’s more convenient to buy vegetables from markets and supermarkets. The consolidation of supply chain operations have made it more convenient for the consumer yet disadvantageous for the farmer.
The Long Journey
Consider the journey of lettuce grown in the highlands of Baguio region. Farmers provide the labor and cultivation of the produce in their farms and the local purchaser/supplier buys produce at low farmgate prices. This local purchaser may sell this produce to another supplier from Manila at wholesale rates or send it down to the market trading post at wholesale rates. Then the various market sellers, the retailers, sell to consumers at retail prices. At this point in the supply chain, the produce has exchanged hands quite a few times, bringing with it increases in prices that the consumer is forced to bear. If the price of lettuce is too high, then the retailer takes the most risk by not being able to sell all the produce and ends up wasting the lettuce. The farmer, in fear of not being price-competitive against other farmers, is forced to take the price offered by the purchaser and is told to be content with a certain farmgate price – which is the fundamental reason why farmers belong to the poorest members of society.
Identify the Problem
So we have a system dominated by the market-makers that promotes the trade in goods where the lowest production price is encouraged by a farmer and the highest retail price is sought by the consumer. The crux of the problem is the lengthy supply chain. The farmer usually has no means of transportation to haul goods down to different cities, or marketing abilities to expand the network, or the time and money to do it all on their own. Instead, the farmer is helpless against price deflation of produce and price inflation of farm inputs (higher cost of production; gas/diesel, pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, etc).
Regenerate Our Soils
The answer to this problem is not easy. Systemic changes need to be implemented to overhaul the existing production supply chain and it starts with producing higher quality vegetables.
Commercial farming activities have critically degraded soils and turned much of fertile farmlands into sandy or waterlogged clay soils, making it harder for the farmer to push out good yields. Because of poor soil conditions, the dependency on using more fertilizers and pesticides have squeezed the already low margins of farmers. Vegetable farmers must get back to taking care of their soil and nurturing the micro-biology and reduce the ever-increasing dependency on fertilizers and pesticides. Greenhouse production systems are great tools to produce high quality vegetables although capital intensive. By focusing on growing nutritious produce rather than cheap produce, the quality will make itself apparent in the pricing. The market will decide what the prices should be for quality vs low-quality vegetables, as not all tomatoes or lettuces are the same.
Farm To Table
If only farmers in outlying regions had the ability to market and distribute their own produce, they wouldn’t be at the mercy of the traders. A trader is simply a person or company with vehicles that carry produce from farm to retail outlet. A successful farmer should be its own trader, have its own marketing platform, and run its own distribution network.
Farm to Table
In order for vegetable producers to introduce new varieties of vegetables into the market, it needs to be marketable and accepted by the public. It’s the reason why we don’t see much variety in vegetables in the market. Producers simply cannot bear the risk of cultivating a new variety at a loss. Cultural traditions and preference in cuisine plays a big role in determining the demand for common vegetables. For example, we’ve worked hard for a few years to introduce better, higher quality lettuce varieties through extensive social media exposure to help educate the public which is now gaining momentum.