Farmvocacy: Helping Filipino Farmers Grow Sustainable Futures
Farmvocacy is a social enterprise that promotes sustainable agriculture and advocates for the welfare of Filipino farmers. It provides rice farmers with training on climate-smart, environment-friendly, and high-yielding farming systems. The company also provides them with access to a guaranteed market and a fair price for their harvest. Farmvocacy's rice brand, Sustainable Harvest, is grown directly by the farming community it works with. They also advocate for the welfare of Filipino farmers by raising awareness of the challenges they face and pushing for policies that support sustainable agriculture. Overall, the company aims to improve the lives of Filipino farmers and promote sustainable agriculture. With that, why don’t you join me in learning more about Farmvocacy with its CEO and Founder, Vincent Mendoza.
What inspired you to establish Farmvocacy, and what were your primary goals when founding the organization?
My background is in agriculture. I came from another business which is a sports event organizer. When my partner and I messed up one of our events, I remember telling him: “I think we should stop this business because it's stressing me out.” I couldn’t manage all the bashers. He told me: “No. I'll continue doing this because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” During that time, I realized that I was only in this business for the profit and not because I actually liked it. It’s possible to have the money, but you’ll feel like you don't have a purpose.
After that incident, we separated ways. I spent one year in Lucban, Quezon just to take time to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I reflected on my core skills, experiences, and background and realized that I've been very interested in sustainable agriculture, even back in college. Using this, I looked for opportunities to make money that were in line with my core skills, experiences, and background. I attended an organic vegetable training with a successful farmer and realized that there's money in sustainable farming. But I didn’t have the money to buy land, nor the capital to burn until such a time that I was able to develop my own market. I thought to myself that maybe this is a good time to look for a product I can promote to a farmer that is aligned with sustainable agriculture.
Surely enough, I found the product, branded it, started selling it, and the objective was to scale up sustainable farming as a tool to make farmers profitable, while at the same time ensuring that the future generation can also produce their own food. This can only be done if we take care of the resources now. For example, the soil quality so that future generations can still feed themselves. That's our primary goal and the reason why I was inspired to start Farmvocacy. I get to use my education to empower others, scale up this business, and employ more people.
In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues that the agricultural industry is currently facing, and how is Farmvocacy contributing to their resolution?
Recently, we've heard a lot of not-so-good news about rice. Last August, the president was forced to sign an executive order to control rice prices since it affects a lot of people if it becomes unaffordable. Despite this, after the results came out in September, we saw the inflation rate from rice hitting a 14-year high at around 17.9%. This means that if we don't address the core problem, at least in the right sector, which is productivity, there's no way that we can manage the cost and make it affordable for consumers, while at the same time making it profitable for farmers.
At Farmvocacy, we first try to address the problem of seasonality. Most of the farmers are forced to sell their produce during harvest season at a very low price because everybody is harvesting. Given this, with high supply and low demand, most of the rice Millers dictate the price during the harvest season since their strategy is to buy low and sell high. At Farmvocacy, we want to address the low income of farmers and affordability of rice in two ways. One is to allow farmers to sell their produce in our storage facility and access financing. Through this, they will be able to wait for a better price for their produce right after the harvest season. Second is that we help farmers increase their yield per hectare, using a sustainable and climate-smart farming system so that they can reduce their production cost per kilo. Even if later on prices tend to go down because of an increase in supply, they can still make money because of a more manageable production cost.
Could you share some success stories or milestones that Farmvocacy has achieved since its inception, and how these accomplishments have positively impacted the farming community?
I’d say that Farmvocacy is still in the early stages. The problem that we're trying to solve is a big one and nobody has solved it for decades, even the government. It takes time for us to find what we call a ‘product market fit’. However, I have to give credit to our team for also having small wins. These include having the ability to showcase to the farmer that climate-smart farming can actually double in. We're proud that they recognize that, but the challenge is how to scale it up. That's where we're currently at. We’re piloting some models on how to scale it up. We're also piloting how to connect these farmers to the direct market, not specifically to consumers directly, but to B2B customers which would include corporate companies or even restaurant chains. For example, if they get to buy directly from farmers while at the same time supporting the shift to taking climate action.
We've learned a lot over the past 2 to 3 years. We're just happy that we get to pick up all the learnings, celebrate the small wins, and the fact that we're able to win competitions like ShellLIVEWIRE.
What are some of the upcoming projects or initiatives that Farmvocacy is planning to undertake to further its mission and objectives?
Earlier, I mentioned that we're trying to work on two things: allowing farmers to access financing by starting their produce temporarily and increasing farmer's yield through climate-smart. Some of the current focus of Farmvocacy is to first pilot the commodity collateralized financing and to partner with financial institutions.
The reason for this is that the collateral stored in our warehouse, which is still owned by the farmer, can be backed by affordable financing either through small rural banks, commercial banks, or even individuals who'd like to participate in creating impact and taking climate action.
Another focus is continuing to work with Shell to pilot integrating the carbon market so that farmers will have the financial incentive to shift quickly to climate-smart farming. During the final pitch Q and A of ShellLIVEWIRE, I mentioned that it is indeed true that rice is a major contributor of carbon emission, equivalent to the aviation industry. Companies like Shell would like to contribute to the net zero carbon emission. Unless we provide financial incentives to farmers, the emission that rice farming contributes to the total carbon emission will not be addressed. Lastly, developing the tech platform hopefully through the DOST Startup Grant. These are our main focus right now.
What are some of the lessons you learned from the SLW Acceleration Program that you could not have learned anywhere else?
I very much appreciate the mentoring sessions. Since I’m a solo founder, I have no one to bounce back my idea except for my other team members who are not co-founders. It's very helpful for a solo founder to bounce off ideas with seasoned mentors like Lyle and Coach Artie and being able to open up ideas allowed me to accept the fact that I don't have all the answers.
The big lesson is to continue talking to other people because you'll never know where the best idea would come from. One thing I learned from this is I feel like everybody's rallying for the success of Farmvocacy. It gives additional pressure, but it's a good pressure, it means that everybody believes that we need to succeed. Despite all the hardship, we need to move forward and turn this into a reality.
Lastly, how valuable was your IGNITE 2023 experience and how do you think this event will help you achieve your goals in the near future?
It was my first time joining an in-person pitching competition. It was very rewarding because it validated how the problem Farmvocacy is trying to solve is a really big problem. Everyone wanted to pitch in and contribute, and having that network, and meeting potential partners and supporters provided the boost for us to scale up the business.
Vincent Mendoza is the CEO and Founder of Farmvocacy. He is responsible for the strategic direction and overall management of the company. Among the most notable of these include goal setting, establishing partnerships, overseeing operations, and advocating for sustainable farming practices and agricultural development. He is instrumental in driving the mission of Farmvocacy, which focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture and empowering farming communities through innovative solutions and advocacy efforts. As seen in Vincent, he is incredibly passionate about giving Filipino Farmers the pay and livelihood they deserve, as well as turning the tide of climate change.
Visit www.techshake.asia if you would like to know and connect more with Farmvocacy.