Team Philippines: Finishing up interviews and honing in on recommendations

After being separated for most of last week, Team Philippines reunited in Manila after visiting cooperatives, lending institutions, and farmers in two different locations: northern Luzon (far north of the Philippines) and Mindanao (far south of the Philippines). In our last post, we mentioned our rejuvenating day off in Tagaytay. The beginning of this week has involved more site visits, including interviews with Filipino coffeeshops, institutional buyers of vegetables, government-owned financial institutions, microfinance NGOs, and government programs that secure agricultural loans for lenders and borrowers.

Here’s a sampling of some of our visits:

Mauri Miller (law student) helping to unload onions from Kalasag cooperative.

Mauri Miller (law student) helping to unload onions from Kalasag cooperative.

Meeting with Mapita farmers, who produce tomatoes and bell peppers.

Meeting with Mapita farmers, who produce tomatoes and bell peppers.

The drying facilities for Cafe de Lipa, a Filipino coffeeshop that sources most of its beans from local farmers.

The drying facilities for Cafe de Lipa, a Filipino coffeeshop that sources most of its beans from local farmers.

Team Philippines and CRS staff grabbing lunch between interviews.

Team Philippines and CRS staff grabbing lunch between interviews.

The meetings and interviews that we have had over the past 10 days have been incredibly relevant to our task of evaluating the financial needs of small farmers in the Philippines. Tomorrow (Thursday) is our final day of meetings and Friday we will present our observations, findings, and recommendations to CRS. The past few nights we’ve been working late after full days of meetings, trying to categorize everything we’ve heard and identifying where there is room to introduce new loan products (or expand the reach of existing financing) to farmers to address current gaps in financing. Our thoughts will hopefully come together into something coherent and productive in the coming couple of days, we’ll keep you posted.


Team Philippines: Day off at Lake Taal

After hard work the past six days, Team Philippines took a day trip from Manila and explored Lake Taal, a large freshwater lake which fills a volcanic caldera which was created by volcanic eruptions hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Lake Taal from above

Lake Taal from above

We headed out from our hotel in Tagaytay to a volcanic crater lake within Lake Taal — if that wasn’t clear, we are talking about a volcanic lake within a volcanic lake, think of those Russian dolls, but just with volcanic lakes. The smooth, straight boat ride was lovely, and was just what we needed after rough roads, aggressive drivers, and bouts of motion sickness.


Some of us took horses up the mountain to the volcanic lake (inside the other volcanic lake) and others hiked. But we captured a shot of Team Philippines’ Four Horsemen.

The Four Horsemen

The Four Horsemen (Robbie, Mike, Prof. Alford, and Mauri), that might weight more than their horses…

Once we got to the top, the lake within a lake didn’t fail to disappoint.

Team Philippines: Understanding the problem; Moving towards solutions

The last couple of days the team remained divided between northern and southern Philippines. Team A visited cooperative societies and clusters of farmers organized by CRS and their local NGO partners, and logged lots of hours on the road.

Team B interviewed a private rice trader and consolidator, a cooperative bank that provides microfinancing for farmers, Nestle’s coffee purchasing department, a group of farmers from the greater Cagayan de Oro area, and an organization that organizes farmers to connect vegetable farmers to institutional buyers.

Rice harvesting.

Rice harvesting.

The teams have been hearing near consensus on what some of the problems are for small farmers in the Philippines. When farmers do not have access to formal financial institutions, they are forced to borrow at astronomical interest rates from local, informal lenders, trapping farmers in a cycle of poverty. We’ve seen and heard many examples of farmers organizing themselves, with the assistance of NGO and government programs, and in doing so, circumventing the trader by connecting directly with the market. The coming days will involve more meetings and interviews and the team will start putting together our information to work on our recommendations.

Tomorrow the team is taking a day off and we’ll be exploring a volcano outside of Manila and enjoying some much needed relaxation.

Yes, we're still eating lots of good fruit.

Yes, we’re still eating lots of good fruit.

Team Philippines: A day of cacao

Half of the team continued to explore Mindanao today, traveling from Kidapawan in central Mindanao to Malaybalay in central northern Mindanao.  The team had three interviews today, all of which centered on cacao production.

We met with Puentespina Farms, where they are growing 24 hectares (~59 acres) of cacao trees. In addition to their own farming, the farm has collaborated with a development project of Mars to provide technical training to new cacao farmers or for farmers seeking to rehabilitate their existing cacao trees. The area surrounding Puentespina used to be a major cacao region for several multinational corporations but political changes in the 1980s caused many corporations to cease operations; however, many of the trees remained and some farmers have sought improved productivity for their cacao trees. At Puentespina we saw cacao trees, stations for breaking open cacao pods, fermenting boxes, and drying beds; in other words, all of the stages necessary to prepare dry cacao beans.

Clockwise from upper left: Cacao pods are covered in plastic to repel insects, a cacao technician shows us the wet beans inside a cacao pod, cacao solar-drying beds, Mike Kinsella (MBA) speaks with a rep. from Kennemer Foods in front of cacao seedlings.

Clockwise from upper left: Cacao pods are covered in plastic to repel insects, a cacao technician shows us the wet beans inside a cacao pod, cacao solar-drying beds, Mike Kinsella (MBA) speaks with a rep. from Kennemer Foods in front of cacao seedlings.

Later we met with Kennemer Foods, a consolidator of cacao. Kennemer purchases wet cacao beans from local farmers and then ferments and dries the beans.  In addition to the post-harvest production, Kennemer also provides farmers with cacao seedlings to encourage the proliferation of cacao. They send technicians out to new cacao farms and encourage farmers to sell their product back to Kennemer when the trees begin to bear fruit.

Finally, we visited a business venture associated with a coffee cooperative in Bukidnon province. Kaanib Foundation, a partner of CRS, has organized a group of 1,000 women to provide coffee for a storefront that is brewing a blend of Robusta and Arabica beans. Most of the domestic coffee market in the Philippines is comprised of instant coffee. However, this specific venture buys green coffee from their members, roasts the coffee in their storefront (with a roaster than was granted by the national government), and sells cups of brewed coffee as well as packages of ground coffee. The business is growing and adapting, trying to find a niche in the instant coffee-dominated market.

We also carved out some time to stop by a community where humans and monkeys live in harmony. No really, a bunch of monkeys live in the house of the community leader.

Mike Kinsella (MBA) poses beside the monkeys that have taken over the CRS vehicle.

Mike Kinsella (MBA) poses beside the monkeys that have taken over the CRS vehicle.

The rest of the team was in Luzon today and their adventures and learnings will be posted to the blog in the days to come.

Team Philippines: Cooperative info and lots o’ good fruit

We should start of with the good stuff, we ate some seriously good fruit today. Driving through central Mindanao, we stopped at a roadstand to buy Filipino mangoes and a local lychee-esque fruit called lanzones. The Filipino mangoes were literally as soft as butter, we scooped out spoonfuls of mango with ease. The lanzones were spectacular, but don’t eat the seed, it’s sort of bitter.

Lanzones. Great fruit.

Lanzones. Great fruit.

Team A met with Land Bank of the Philippines, a key agricultural lender, and a onion-growing cooperative in Nueva Ecija, in central Luzon. Team B met with a microfinance cooperative that provides funds for women-led enterprises, and an NGO that provides education and training for farmers to add value to their crops and to increase their yields.

And as you can see, we’re working hard, forcing our poor interviewees to stay into the evening:

Temporary power outage forced us to pull out the battery-powered lights.

Temporary power outage forced us to pull out the battery-powered lights.

Also, we ran across a sister school in central Mindanao:

The tricycle paused for long enough to provide a nice foreground for the sign.

A common form of transport, the tricycle, sits in the foreground. 

Team Philippines: Microfinancing from legal and governmental perspectives

Still recovering from jetlag, most of Team Philippines awoke in the wee hours of the morning and either stared at the ceiling for a few hours, sat down for a lengthy breakfast, or got in a workout. At 8am we split into two groups: one group, with Professor Alford (professor of law) and Mauri Miller (law student) went to meet with CRS’ lawyer to inquire about the legal situation for cooperatives in the Philippines. We learned that contracts are quite enforceable through legal mechanisms in the Philippines. Many institutional buyers that reach out to small farmers, such as Nestle and Jollibee (a national burger joint), enter into contracts with the suppliers of their goods, even if they are small cooperatives.  This requires that cooperatives themselves are recognized legal entities, as opposed to an informal, legally-unrecognized group of farmers.

While Team A (Professor Alford, Mauri, Robbie, Krissy) met with the CRS lawyer, Team B (Dana, Sam, Mike) met with a branch of the Department of Agriculture called the Bureau of Agrarian Reform Beneficiary Development.  This governmental bureau aims to provide services to the beneficiaries of land reform: those who have received land titles or are leasing new lands as a result of government (re)distribution of land.  The bureau is involved in various projects, the most exciting of which for the team was a de-centralized model of microfinancing for small farmers and cooperatives which has successfully overcome many of the barriers that inhibits lending to small farmers.

Team A and Team B joined forces again in the afternoon, creating Team Awesome (aka Team Philippines), and we met with the National Livelihood Development Council (NLDC). NLDC is a government-owned social lending corporation that provides funding to rurally-based microfinance institutions and specifically aims to provide services to the beneficiaries of agrarian reform.

Meeting with the National Livelihood Development Council

Meeting with the National Livelihood Development Council

After a full day of meetings, we killed some time at the Mall of Asia, a huge, huge mall, where we bought local SIM cards, played (super cheap!) arcades, and dreamed of getting massages. Team A then headed back to our home base in Manila, and Team B boarded a flight for Davao City. Team A will spend the rest of the week meeting with CRS’ NGO partners, cooperatives, government entities, and financing institutions in the northern island of Luzon. Team B will meet with a similar group of stakeholders in Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines.

Team Philippines: Exploration and Orientation

We arrived to the Philippines in two groups, the majority of the group arriving late Saturday night and the remainer of the team arrived late Sunday night. Sunday was spent exploring Manila. We ventured out on foot and explored Rizal Park, a large public park in the center of Manila, and Intramuros, the oldest district and the historic center of Manila.

Krissy and Mauri outside of Fort Santiago, a historic site in Manila

Krissy and Mauri outside of Fort Santiago, a historic site in Manila.

We took a break from exploring the city on foot by sitting down for some cold juices and desserts. Sam ended up trying Halo-Halo, a popular Filipino dessert, which made everyone jealous until he found unknown surprises in the bottom of the glass.

Sam eating Halo-Halo, a popular Filipino dessert

Sam eating Halo-Halo, a popular Filipino dessert, and discovering yams(?), gelatin, and cooked beans. 


On Monday, with the full Philippines team in Manila, we headed to the CRS offices for orientation.  The CRS staff in Manila provided us with a thorough introduction of the  Philippines and CRS’ work in the Philippines, with an emphasis on CRS’ agriculture program. As our project seeks to address the barriers to financing for rural farmers in the Philippines, we asked many questions of the CRS staff, trying to get a better sense of the scope of their current work.

Day 1 lunch with CRS Manila staff

Day 1 lunch with CRS Manila staff.

After having a lunch for the CRS Manila staff, we headed to a meeting with PinoyME and the Peace and Equity Foundation, two organizations that provide funding for social enterprises. Both organizations have sought to address the needs of poor, rural farmers and have investigated the barriers to financial lending for small farmers.  Representatives from both organizations provided a great deal of insight and information on the status of agricultural microfinance in the country and the barriers that must be circumvented to secure and enhance the the livelihoods of poor farmers.

Team Philippines meets with PinoyME president and CEO, Danilo Songco, and Peace and Equity Foundation chair of the board, Bishop Ledesma.

Team Philippines meets with PinoyME president and CEO, Danilo Songco, and Peace and Equity Foundation chair of the board, Reverand Ledesma, Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.


Team Philippines Project: What impact can financing have on farmers?

Near the city of Davao, CRS helps farmers grow more cacao and get better prices for their crops. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS — Source: CRS

Team Philippines is flying to Manila on Friday to partner with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in addressing the needs of farmers in the Philippines. The team will be splitting up into two groups for the majority of the week. One team will be staying in Luzon, the largest island and the economic and political center of the Philippines; the second team will head to the southernmost island of Mindanao, the most economically impoverished island that is also very fertile and rich in resources.

Team Philippines is primarily attempting to determine where the key financing gaps are in agriculture.  The team will also look at the possibility of bringing a mid-level lending opportunity to the Philippines to help clusters and cooperatives expand operations, add value to their products, and increase yields and storage capacities.  The team will attempt to assess the current level of financing available to farmers and cooperatives and whether mid-level capital investments would help move farmers beyond strictly subsistence-level farming.

The team is eager to learn from the long-term involvement of CRS in the Philippines.  CRS has worked in the Philippines since 1945 and has been involved in agroenterprise since 2005.  In the agroenterprise sector, CRS has focused on organizing farmers into single-crop clusters.  The organizing of small groups of farmers into clusters allows the farmers to collectively produce sufficient quantities of product in order to reach markets and buyers directly, without having to sell their products to mobile traders who pay only a fraction of market value.

Team Philippines will be meeting with many of the clusters and cooperatives that CRS has organized.  The team also has meetings and interviews planned with other key stakeholders: microfinance organizations, government agencies, insurance providers, corporate markets/buyers, traders, CRS’ NGO partners, among others.

The team is excited to hear from all key stakeholders in agriculture to get a sense of how more farmers in the Philippines can move beyond subsistence-level farming and ensure secure livelihoods well into the future.


Meet Team Philippines

Team Philippines is highlighted here in the second of four team profiles.  Team Philippines is flying into Manila and then heading to Mindanao, one of the three large island groups in the Philippines.  Here are the team members who comprise Team Philippines:


Dana Spencer (3rd from R)
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
ND Program: MBA
Post-grad plans: 3M in Minneapolis
Previous experience: I worked for three years as a fundraiser with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Fun fact: I’ve finished two Ironman triathlons
Why BOTFL?: I love a good challenge
Twitter: @dmariespencer

Sam Nichols (3rd from L)
Hometown: Auburn, CA
ND Program: MA in International Peace Studies
Previous experience: Human rights monitor in Hebron, West Bank
Fun fact: I secretly want to earn a living as a bicycle mechanic and vegetable gardener
Why BOTFL?: Peace requires economic security
Twitter: @samuelnichols

Krissy Kalinauskas (2nd from R)
Hometown: Atlanta, GA, USA
ND Program: MBA
Post-grad plans: Ernst & Young Advisory (Consulting) in Atlanta
Previous experience: Coordinated the supply of medical goods for the victims of landslides and natural disasters to be sold in a market created by social entrepreneurs in Costa Rica
Fun fact: Huge college sports fan. Went to two bowl games in 2013 – saw a Gamecock win over Michigan, and a less rewarding national title game
Why BOTFL?: Collaborate to serve, learn, evolve

Mauri Miller (Right)
Hometown: Elkhart, Indiana
ND Program: Law
Post-grad plans: Faegre Baker Daniels LLP
Previous experience: I have traveled and lived internationally on numerous occasions
Fun fact: I am a huge sports enthusiast
Why BOTFL?: New perspective

Michael Kinsella (2nd from L)
Hometown: Various (MN)
ND Program: MBA
Post-grad plans: Consulting in Chicago
Previous experience: Lived in Afghanistan for a year
Fun fact: Carrier landings at night are scary

Robbie Espiritu (Left)
Hometown: DeSoto, TX
ND Program: MBA
Previous experience: The first time I traveled to the Philippines, my brother and I got completely outworked and outplayed on the basketball court by kids wearing sandals
Fun fact: I’m the president of the Notre Dame bowling team
Why BOTFL?: To learn and serve others
Twitter: @robbieespiritu

Faculty Advisor: Roger Alford (Not pictured)
Professor of Law, Notre Dame Law School
About: Joined the NDLS faculty in January 2012. Prof. Alford teaches and writes in a wide range of subject-matter areas, including international trade, international arbitration, and comparative law.