By Julius Barcelona and Marivic Padilla

Many people lament the current local market system for food trade, in which farmers sell their products to an often-convoluted chain of traders and resellers. This increases the cost of food without adding value, and results in greater food wastage due to the use of inappropriate post-harvest technologies.

But in some parts of the Philippines, there is a positive trend, in which groups of smallholder farmers grow incredibly high-value crops under a financial consolidator. Under this arrangement, each member is treated as a partner, and profit is shared fairly among all.

Randy Danor with his Jade Lady fruits.

Just ask Randy Danor, 30, of Nueva Ecija. For ten years, he has been an avid grower of Jade Lady honeydew in his tiny property of only 5,000 square meters. Normally, honeydews need a large day-to-night temperature difference to become sweet, but Jade Lady has the unique characteristic of being able to store sweetness in its fruits regardless of temperature conditions. It is this reliability of sweetness and quality which makes Danor a fan of Jade Lady.

He also notes its hardiness against very wet conditions, making it a good year-round crop. Most important of all is that Danor can produce, with care, around nine to ten tons of Jade Lady in his tiny piece of land.

Danor is just one of many farmers under the wing of a mysterious benefactor, whose identity he and his fellow farmers fiercely protect. This person organizes and consolidates the Jade Lady harvest from all of the farmers working with them—and almost all of these are small-holder farmers averaging only a few thousand square meters of farmland. Yet it is exactly this limitation on land that allows each farmer to put greater focus on growing high-quality Jade Lady—a high level of quality that may otherwise be lost in a larger scale production.

Danor says he can sell his harvest for around thirty pesos per kilogram of Jade Lady that passes his benefactor’s quality standard, and up to forty pesos per kilogram during the off-season, as it is much harder to get fruits that fit the sweetness and size standard during the rainy season. The incredibly high standard is due to his benefactor’s customer base, which are often high-class hotels and restaurants.

He must ensure his fruits are always around 1.2 to 1.5 kilograms (kg) each, which can be tough because Jade Lady easily swells up to 2 kg if there is more than enough water around. Danor also needs to maintain the beautiful silver-green color of Jade Lady’s skin, which is easily damaged if the weather is too hot or if the fruit is mishandled. Because of these strict requirements, he needs three people managing his tiny farm at all times. He uses plastic mulch to protect Jade Lady from bruising and damage, and does careful fruit selection and pruning to divert as much of the plant’s growth into the fruits as possible. The seeds of Jade Lady themselves are not cheap, and the risks of failure are high.

Plastic mulch is a must for Danor, as it protects his Jade Lady fruits from direct contact with the dirt and soil. This may cause unsightly bruising on the fruit’s silver-green skin, and can also introduce bacterial infections. Inset photo shows a close up of quality Jade Lady fruit.

Despite all this effort just to get his harvest to its best quality, Danor does not regret for a single moment his choice to plant Jade Lady over his previous crop of native melons many years ago. Though the native melons did not require almost any upkeep whatsoever, he felt it was
unfulfilling work, because the native melons didn’t improve much even if he exerted effort trying to do so. With Jade Lady, he says, insufficient care produces bad fruit, but with hard work and dedication, it will reward you generously.

None of this is possible without his mysterious benefactor though. The fierce loyalty Danor and his fellow farmers feel towards their benefactor becomes clearer once one understands that many farmers in the Philippines are still at the mercy of unscrupulous traders who do not value them and keep them poor through unfair trading practices. Danor and his fellow farmers were probably once victims of the same practices; to find someone who truly values them as partners in business, who shares the profits fairly with all of them, is someone they will naturally protect.

Bags of Danor’s highest quality Jade Lady are always in demand and are quickly snapped up by customers.

Thus, as a new generation of farmers comes in, perhaps this practice of high-value cooperative farming will continue to burgeon throughout the country. Under this system, farmers can gain high value from small pieces of land, and high-quality fruits and vegetables can be enjoyed by all. Perhaps Danor’s story can help inspire more people to do the same: to treat farmers as valued partners and friends instead of just low-cost tools of production.

Jade Lady Honeydew is a product of Known-You Seed Philippines, Inc. and has been distributed in the Philippines for the past 18 years by Harbest Agribusiness Corp. For inquiries and orders, please call 0917.320.1689 (Globe) or 0999.968.0630 (Smart and Sun), fax (075) 632.1785, or email kyp@ knownyou.com. “Like” them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kyp168.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2016 issue.