Marketplace Ministry, Updates

The Launch of Food for Life

It has been over 18 months of preparation, teaching, dreaming, and planning. Food for Life is now a reality! Starting with 10 farmer cooperators, Food for Life is in the process of building a community of people who will stand together in the face of significant oppression. Food security is always a maddening condition that no one should ever have to suffer. Food security amongst farmers and farm workers is just shocking and should never happen. As global pressure exerts itself, local small plot farmers are forced to borrow increasingly for farm inputs and are left with less money to support their families every year.


Cooperatives have become a vital part in sustainability for rural communities but have themselves become less stable and many have failed over the past decade. Food for Life is starting small which will allow leaders to learn without placing the community under further risk.

What makes this venture so exciting is the participation with the local church. Congregations are banding together in support of these farmers. In the rural churches it is the farmers who are beginning to think differently about how to support each other, choosing to act as a community rather than solely in their own interest. This has included a collective decision to pursue ecologically sustainable farming practices that will restore soil quality after many years of over fertilization. This was not a decision they were compelled to take, in fact it was their decision to make it a mandatory aspect of membership, community in action for social change. It was an amazing thing to witness. Creation Care and Marketplace Ministry coming together within Sustainable Community Development. It is a Gospel Movement!

In the city, where most of the rice is sold, urban churches have also committed to support these farmers and farm workers. Congregations are making decisions to purchase locally grown rice over imported options that are most often less expensive. This is the reality these farmers face. Factory farming in other S.E. Asian countries has pushed down the price of rice in the region. Farmers in The Philippines, small land holders, are unable to compete if they try to go head to head with such scale. Where these small landholders have an advantage is in their ability to produce higher quality food, Food for Life. These urban churches are learning about food quality and community value, choosing to purchase local products that benefit the local economy and their families. It is a fine example of using the marketplace to assist in transformation, in ways that are sustainable and tasty!


Food for Life

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.