Young innovators of the Project Zacchaeus Marketing Cooperative (PZMC) during the dry run activity at Puerto Princesa City Agribusiness Trading Center in Irawan.

A new generation of entrepreneurs is pushing for the agricultural industry to be digitalized, connecting local farmers with institutional buyers.

John Vincent Gastanes, head of Project Zacchaeus Marketing Cooperative (PZMC), said he believes that the digitalization of the market from producers to buyers is the future waiting for the agriculture industry not only in Palawan but also on a nationwide scope.

“More than just marketing, one of the battles in digitalization, they don’t really see the bigger picture of the production system. Nakita namin ‘yan through the city government of Puerto Princesa that focuses on the production. What we did was to digitalize the data of available goods, then we market sa actual demand,” Gastanes said.

One of the female farmers empowered by the PZMC in the community.

Farm Konek, PZC Community Stores, and Go Palengke, all of which were created during the pandemic, are among PZMC’s e-commerce outlets. The PZMC system is a b2b (business-to-business) network, which means that production and demand are determined by volume rather than individual orders.

Farmers, according to the agriculture department, are more concerned with production than with marketing. The PZMC believes that putting more effort into digitalization and data collection would help to create a data-driven market where decisions are made based on facts rather than intuition.

“Hindi talaga alam ng tao, nagpupulsuhan lang kung ano ba ang mabenta sa palengke, ano ‘yong mahal. Parang gut feeling lang lahat, lately napansin nila ang effect. With the oversupply, sobrang mahal ng gulay, nababarat ‘yong farmers. That’s we really saw na napaka-timing ng solution na binibigay natin. The digital world allows people to access data easier in terms of production—yong planning and marketing, it really helps a lot,” he explained.

Members of the PZMC sort out different agricultural products bought directly from local farmers Photo from Project Zacchaeus Facebook Page.

Data-Driven Cluster Production

The PZMC is currently collaborating and planning with various local government entities. Its intended market is small-scale farmers with at least 1.5 hectares of land under cultivation.

“Right now, nandoon na tayo sa partnership with the local government, like Puerto Princesa for instance who helps in the production, funding the production. And matching the actual data of demand coming from us, we match the planning ng grupo. We group by cluster then we match the production to actual data of demand,” Gastanes stated.

He also pointed out that, despite the benefits of digitization, maintaining data integrity remains a concern. PZMC worked with younger farmers who are the children of farmers on the field as data gatherers to address the problem.Gastanes said there are times when, despite having received the data, the real production volume does not match due to traditional customers or middlemen. Digitizing data does not imply the abolition of traditional purchasers, but rather promotes market planning and appropriate pay for farmers.

Photo from Project Zacchaeus Facebook Page

“Ang younger farmers, mga anak nila, o kaya ‘yong mga mahilig mag-mobile legends, ginawa namin na data gatherer to send us the data together with the government. Usually that’s where the issues coming, integrity of the data kung totoo ba na available pa talaga,” he said.”That’s why it’s the usual common threat, to hinder the integrity of the data. External aspects, the traditional business people who want to stop that kasi there are traditional buyers na maaapektuhan. Once we systematize the production, which is the perfect way to help the agriculture—hindi siya ‘yong gut feel. It would really shake the traditional business buyers na ikot-ikot lang, tawad-tawad lang,” he added.He also stated that traders, whether good or bad, cannot be totally eradicated.

“There are traders naman who are good and there are those who are bad. We cannot totally eliminate them but maybe teach them the best practices on doing the trading, that’s the secret, fair trade,” he added.

Empowering women and the community

Not only does PZMC want to improve marketing, but it also wants to empower the community, particularly women in agriculture. PZMC has its own store, Juana Fresh by Farm Konek, where products are marketed to neighboring barangays by women who lost their employment as a result of the pandemic.

PZMC also stated that it is employing a behavioral approach with the farmers it is interacting with in order to empower them in the agricultural business. Its strategy entails community-based leadership techniques, as well as training and introduction of the platform to PZMC’s partner associations and farmer groups.

“Mga babae na walang trabaho, we give them a business that they will be the one to put bridge to help lower barangays to market gulay or goods that we were able to buy from farmers aside from b2b clients na talagang institutional. We have our own retailer ng mga walang trabaho dahil sa pandemya na binigyan namin ng negosyo,” Gastanes said.

“What we want is to empower people, mga tinatawag ko ngang impact farmers. They not just produce crops, they actually have different mindset when it comes to business, in transactions,” he added.

MIMAROPA’s online Kadiwa platform

PZMC signed a deal with the Department of Agriculture (DA) MIMAROPA to act as the province’s first online Kadiwa marketing, digitally connecting farmers to the market within the region.  After signing in August 2021, the PZMC expects the launching of the system by the month of April.

Aside from saturating the city of Puerto Princesa, it is now expanding to other towns and even to Manila and in the international market. 
“Meron akong special project na purely Palawan ang production (for international market),” Gastanes said.

PZMC signed a deal with the Department of Agriculture MIMAROPA as the online kadiwa to help the marketing of agricultural products in the region. Photo from the Department of Agriculture MIMAROPA

Future of digital marketing in agriculture

Gastanes believes that making data-driven judgments must be enhanced, which necessitates the expansion of gathering capacity, and that the future he sees for digitalizing the market is a more strategic cluster production system.

“We don’t want to be forever stuck, right? You want to grow, you want to expand—what we are telling them, there are methodologies, to make your system, production more green, safer to the environment,” he said.

“It will take a little bit of time but—hindi naman siya sobrang tagal. Innovators like us must learn how to be creative so that community can understand better,” he added.