When crossing cultures there is always fascinating discoveries to be made about how others view the world. One of the areas we have always found interesting centres on food. This is summed up perfectly in the Filipino expression, “if there is no rice there is no meal.” It would not be overstated to say that rice is life. Enter any local market or chain grocery store and you will find rice, in bags, in bulk, from many various venders and varieties. It fills the baskets, and the stomachs of millions every day. Rice is most definitely life. There is however a certain irony in this. Every day, as rice is being placed on millions of plates, small rural rice farmers are being placed under pressure, finding their livelihood increasingly unsustainable. For the growers of our food, rice is becoming less life giving every year.
There are several contributing factors behind this development. Globalization has increased competition as rice grown outside the Philippines continues to flood local markets. Land reform, intended as a means of fair distribution for the poor, has now created a system where small farms are limited in their ability to achieve economic scale. Farming practices over the recent decades have moved small farmers to input intensive methodologies, dependent on chemical fertilizers, and to make matters worse, these farmers have become reliant on rice traders, increasingly locked into a cycle of dependency.
Through our work with Kabuganaan Philippines Ministries (KPM) we have been made aware of this struggle, specifically with farmers in Capiz Province on Panay Island. The churches of Capiz, where many of these farmers worship, feel this struggle first hand and an increasing discomfort with the situation has caused a small group to begin working through possible ways to help. Michael Waddell and Duane are part of this group. Over the past 15 months we have been working through options, building capacity in leaders, and exploring new concepts for ministry and community engagement that intersect with marketplace and business development. The result is the birth of a dream to establish a cooperative that works with local churches and local farmers, the formation of a system that will work toward just practice and equitable compensation. We are calling it “Food for Life.”
Cooperatives are of course not a new idea. In fact, in the Philippines, cooperatives have long been established as a way to use community cohesion to create stability, especially in the agricultural sector. What is new, for the Baptist churches of Capiz Province, is a cooperative that works with farmers and church congregations. It is the first step into thinking through ministry, and community development, in a new way. Cooperatives have the potential to be long term partners in ministry that are inherently stable once established, stable organizationally and financially. CBM, along with KPM and other community leaders, are now in the process of creating plans to start a prototype that will used to test the idea. Beginning with a small group of 10 farmers and one circuit of churches, Food for Life will establish the market, work through new models of agricultural production, and build capacity in the area of business, all in a contextually appropriate way and all in partnership with local churches.