At the World Food Prize, Catholic Relief Services President Outlines Role for NGOs:
Helping Subsistence Transition to Commercial Agriculture
DES MOINES, Iowa, Oct 18, 2012—In remarks at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, President & CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), highlighted the unique role played by her agency and other international non-governmental organizations in helping impoverished and food insecure farmers gain skills and organizational management to sell their produce to international grocery companies and national restaurant chains.
Worldwide, smallholder farmers often grow only rain fed crops and use low quality seed. They produce for family consumption and rarely have surpluses. As a result, they don’t benefit from the profits made in the resale of their goods in larger markets and remain trapped in a cycle of poverty. “We learned that the transition process from a subsistence farmer to a market ready or market engaged farmer can take 3 – 5 years,” said Dr. Woo, during which farmers fully take advantage of skills to eventually realize the benefits of commercialization.
In 2004, Catholic Relief Services signed a deal with Wal-Mart’s Central American affiliate, Hortifruiti, to facilitate the production and sale of fruit, herbs and vegetables grown by small farmers to its Pali supermarkets. That relationship has evolved over the years and Wal-Mart has been a supporter of another project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, which has helped nearly 8,000 farmers participate in the market system. These farmers have seen a remarkable growth in their earnings.
CRS is involved with a similar program in the Philippines with the Jollibee Foods Corporation which runs one of the largest fast-food chains in that nation. Jollibee needs onions – lots of them – for its burgers, but relies on traders who oftentimes, during supply shortages, only sell to the highest bidder.
With training in how to produce onions up to the quality standards of Jollibee, a group of farmers now supplies more than 10 percent of all the onions Jollibee uses for its stores. Jollibee wins, because the produce is purchased directly from source, providing a more stable price and supply. The farmers win because they earn far more for onions than they do for growing corn, and they earn more for their produce by dealing directly with the institutional buyer.
For the farmers who have moved into the market system, the reward is clear: they have more income and assets. These give them greater resilience against the vagaries of weather and rising food prices. If there is one truism about our food problems, it is that only poor people are hungry. When farmers have more income, even when price of food rises, they are less likely to be pushed over the edge, as is so often now the case when the poor in many countries spend some 80 percent of their income on food.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in nearly 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. For more information, please visit crs.org or crsespanol.org.