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May 28, 2015

IFEX Helps the Farmer

Two months ago we were in Magpet, Cotabato to visit Bobot Zamoras and his Magirco cooperative. I have written about Bobot before, and praised his leadership in this coop where about 40,000 kilos of bananas are processed everyday. Starting with just a truck and a few hands, Bobot now has a weighbridge to weigh the trucks carrying the bananas, and now has a food technologist loaned by the Peace and Equity Foundation to make his products export-ready.

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, Magirco banana chips 3, May 29

Bobot took all our suggestions in, albeit with pounds of salt, as he needed to change his mindset about quality, certifications, and about facing the world of international markets. His children were very supportive and all listened to me and Tom Medina while we mouthed advice coupled with incessant reminders of how to be “world-class” and how to improve packaging, branding, etc.

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, Magirco banana chips 2, May 29

Last weekend, I went to visit IFEX (International Food Exhibition) and walked around the area of RIPPLES, the DTI’s program that helps starting exporters make the grade. I met Ralfe Gourmet’s Raquel Choa, our favorite Jun of Kablon Farms, and right beside Jun’s vignette. I almost fell in awe as I saw MAGIRCO banana chips! “Oh my gosh!”, I told myself, “They made it to IFEX!”

I felt like a winner smiling to myself as I walked around the other booths. I did not know they made it. The schedules, the trial batches, the tasting of each batch by the food technologist, and so on. Bobot Zamoras made it! And this is after years of just supplying other exporters of what in manufacturing we call “work in process” (or in banana chip language “first fry”). Why does he not get to finished product? Because no one has told him he could do it. No one told him he could sell to a buyer directly. He was dissuaded by many of his exporter-buyers not to even touch exports. “Just supply us” they would assure him. That, of course, made Bobot dependent on a few companies who would buy his “work in process”.

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, Magirco banana chips 1, May 29

Not anymore. Bobot has surpassed that “test” and is now ready to face the world, thanks to IFEX. It may be his first try at export displays and shows, but now at least he has a choice. We did tell him that he may still have to supply his customers a “half-finished” banana chip (but that he needs to look farther into the horizon) and be warned that soon these exporters may also do their own first fry themselves, leaving him with no customers.

Yet another success story is Princess Lalah of Sulu. She used to just bring us civet coffee that she roasted in a small roaster-store somewhere in Pasay. She used to just get baskets from Bicol, took them to Sulu, and packaged her coffee as gift items.

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, Princess coffee baskets, May 29

Today, I see her at the ARMM pavilion at IFEX with a display of green beans, washed green beans, roasted coffee, and baskets already made by her young women members in her Panamao, Sulu community. I learned that Princess already has her own coffee roaster. She also has her own coffee depulper and has improved the lives of more than 13,000 family members in her remote village and nearby villages as well.

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, Princess organic coffee, May 29

She can talk to export buyers about organic washed coffee, whether it is green (raw) or roasted. When I was at her stand, we met two ladies from supermarkets in Guangzhou, China who were interested in coffee. Princess is now a veteran participant in IFEX. Through the show she betters herself, her product offers, and continues to improve her business.

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, world class, May 29

IFEX is not just a showcase of Filipino pride. It is an enabler to make farmers make the grade. It is the carrot that farmers like Bobot and Princess see so they can get to bigger markets.

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, Club Echo farm, May 29

Chit Juan, IFEX Helps the Farmer, IFEX displays, May 29

I loved going around the show just smiling at how we have improved our food products from all over the country. Of course, some of them have also found a home in our little ECHOstore system: like Theo and Philo chocolates, which we have carried since 2010; Pili & Pino coconut syrups, jams, and pancake mixes of Cebu which have been at ECHOstore since 2013; and Coco Dolce chocolates from Davao. There are also more suppliers like Kablon Farms, Pamora Farms which have seen ECHOstore as their little showroom while waiting for the bigger events like IFEX.

I am ecstatic at how the government (especially DTI-CITEM and DA) have improved their displays to make it a truly world-class event! I am looking forward to the next one. Congrats to Director Rosvi Gaetos, Leah Ocampo, and the rest of CITEM.

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