Our newsletters might have been quiet in September but the OPM wheels were certainly churning. Between Luchie and I, we travelled about 30,000 kilometers last month as part of OFW para sa Magsasaka operations, and very excitingly, to move us nearer to everyone’s passion – CHOCOLATES!
Luchie will be talking about her US trip in the next letter as she tried to understand more the craft of fine chocolate-making. It started with her completion of her chocolate-making course at Ecole Chocolat in their kitchens in Michigan, culminating in her attendance to the “Big Chocolate Show” in New York. She also visited Atlanta, San Franciso and Las Vegas interviewing several chocolate-makers to understand what it takes to create a strong chocolate brand. For now, allow me to talk about the base of our chocolatey dreams – the progress of our growing cacao farms in our champion barangay in Mindanao.
I attended Kakao Konek 2016 from September 14 to 17 to be updated of new technology in cacao production and to meet important players in the Philippine cacao industry. I found new suppliers and reconnected with possible buyers; talks also abounded with various government and non-governmental organizations. I kept emphasizing to everyone who listened: “we OFWs are already doing our share of financially investing plus educating our farmers, now what can YOUR organization do to complement our work?” Later in this letter I will explain these collaborations.
Delighted to see familiar faces at Kakao Konek 2016.
Top photo: Annie Duque of Moulinet Chocolat and farm owners of Kablon Farms
Second from top: New and old connections in Agusan del Sur (CARAGA Region) Ms. Brenda Corvera and Ms. Annette Anduyan from DTI
After Davao, I immediately proceeded to our farms because it was vital to see how well the OPM staff we hired (cacao doctors and agriculturist) were performing since it has been three months since we established the office, set up farming protocols, and allowed them to lead our partner-farmers. Though they were reporting almost everyday and we had a Manila employee who coordinated with the area supervisor, I still found many things that needed tweaking, which is not surprising for a newly-established enterprise. They may have been farming for decades but to have discipline as an organization, that is work in progress. It’s for this reason I will be going back to the farms next week, end of October and will be there for a full month. This is my fifth trip this year to the OPM farms. For those who are newly added in our mailing list, FYI, I own and manage a hotel supplies company in Dubai called Ahsant, hence the flexibility in travelling.
Important to note last month:
1. I personally executed the official cacao farms audit. This means a set of quantitative and qualitative parameters were used to score farmer performance, and I’m happy to report that the farmers onboard show encouraging attitudes. They followed the cacao protocols we set, and we may see a good harvest EARLIER than our projection. This is primarily because we intentionally chose farmers who already have existing cacao farms; we then added more hills to their existing farms. This minimizes our risk as investors because we can see within six months how well the partnership is going. We don’t need to wait when the trees are in productive stage. This means compliance to strict harvest protocols will be essential, so my trip next week to establish the harvest protocol will be crucial.
2. We also held the First General Assembly last Sept. 25. You will see below the energized faces of our farmers. Cash was awarded to those who showed stark improvement in farm management and a team quiz bee tested their knowledge of cacao farming. Part of what our budget goes to controlled rewards as positive reinforcement. I also asked them to group themselves and do group forecast.
Chocolates and money, what great awards for well performing OPM cacao farmers.
From left to right: (1) Top 2 Improved Farm Winner - Efren Simbahon; (2) In complete OPM uniform including bag and notebook Winner Emmanuel Pelago; (3) General Assembly Early Bird and Top 2 Improved Farm Winner - Dan Pedraza; and General Assembly Early Bird Winner - Elpidio Ruiz.
Our OPM Enrolled Farmers in our champion barangay.
3. Now, not everything is rosy when it comes to farm management. We reassessed staff performance and actioned on it appropriately. It DOES take time to educate them about professionalism, but again, this is not surprising and as the head of operations, I simply need to consistently push discipline at all levels of our enterprise.
4. We have officially removed from our enrollees three farmers with “drama” about their documentations – relatives of dead first wife of farmer chasing for title, sisters of farmer not wanting to commit their farms, farmer changed his mind etc. We have NOT begun giving inputs to them, so we have not really invested yet. If anything, we spent time educating them how to improve their cacao farms so we still have achieved our goals of helping them. These farmers mutually agree to their removal from the program. Now we will look again at farmers put on waiting list and use our revised screening tools.
Part of the new screening tools come from cooperation with people behind the “USAD Project” or the Upland Sustainable Agricultural Development from the provincial office of Agusan. All our future enrollees will now have passed first their screening since they hold data of farmers already. For years they are trying to encourage farmers to manage their cacao better. They are the same group which distributed free seedlings years ago and which now have matured in the farms of almost all our enrollees.
Headed by Ms. Linda Buquir, they told me that OPM actually fills the gap which is lacking between the government and the farmers. For years they have been trying to alleviate poverty but they cannot do the proper monitoring, education and inputs sustenance crucial to agricultural profitability. This is OPM’s strength. Since we have commercial goals alongside our goals of helping Philippine farmers, OFW para sa Magsasaka, she says could be the answer. They see the benefit of our strict corporate governance to ensure that farmer and OFW both come out winners in this social enterprise. She is very positive about OPM and have graciously invited me to present to the governor our plans.
Top photo: Ms. Linda Buquir (on Iman's right) and her USAD Team visited the OPM office in our champion barangay. Mr. Bobong Anenaion of Department of Trade and Industry was also present (last on the right).
5. We want the government to donate to OPM post-harvest facilities as soon as possible. Luchie has designed the facility appropriate for the Agusan climate which is “wet and very wet”. With our farms being in the uplands, we truly have the ideal climatic requirements to grow cacao. I would like to take this opportunity to ask each of you who have connections with the Dept. of Agriculture, to rally behind OPM's cause of getting our government to support the OFW's investments. As the saying goes, money saved is money earned. We can help more farmers if we are able to save on expenses. This leads me to the meeting that I had with the new regional director Mr. Rene Manantan who is based in Butuan City. And just a week ago, he did a surprise visit to our OPM Office if we were for real. This gives us a lot of confidence, that we really have a government who is acting quickly.
Top photo: OPM Farm Manager and Co-founder Iman Suguitan meets with new DA Regional Director Mr. Rene Manantan (standing in the middle)
The same presentation which I had submitted our government and hopefully gives both current and future investors a better idea how we see OFW para sa Magsasaka developing is available for download in this link.
6. Part of this development is our next year’s plan to formally launch “OPM Express”, a parallel activity in the cacao supply chain that will see us involving more farmers while increasing our profitability. Picture the geographic information system and logistics of FEDEx or UBER but dedicated for cacao beans only. The program is currently being developed and will be part of the operations for the second seed cycle.
More than ever, I am convinced we have invested in the correct platform, not because Luchie and I co-founded OPM, but because of all the pertinent indicators we see. You will understand more after Luchie updates you about the eventual chocolate product launch geared by the end of 2017. For our future investors, please expect a third letter before the month ends. This will contain our much-anticipated second investment pack.
If you still are not following us on Instagram, we are @cacaodoctor and we’d like you to join us in our chocolate odyssey!
Facebook.com/ofwparasamagsasaka continues to be active so also follow us there.
Your cacao farm manager,