Interview: How can an NGO drive social transformation with 5,000 scattered coconut farmers in the Philippines?

The Integrated Rural Development Foundation (IRDF), a Filipino NGO, is implementing the Livelihoods-Coconut project on the ground and will monitor it for 10 years. Arze Glipo, Executive Director at IRDF, explains her organization’s role in the project and the challenges that lie ahead.

Arze Glipo, Executive Director of IRDF
Arze cofounded IRDF in 1989. She was working as a training coordinator with rural communities and felt the need to link education programmes with economic opportunities. She therefore convened some farmer leaders, development workers and professors to build a hands-on organization to support farmers associations. IRDF is now a renowned NGO in the Philippines and is very active at an international level namely for advocacy on food and trade policies that protect rural communities. The Livelihoods-Coconut project is a timely opportunity for the NGO to scale its actions with the support of the private sector.

Livelihoods Venture: What are the key features of IRDF’s ‘integrated’ approach with smallholder farmers in the Philippines and what will be your role in the Livelihoods-Coconut project?

Arze Glipo: IRDF is a social development foundation created around 30 years ago. We started by improving rural communities access to land because when people own lands, they start having a voice. We are currently working with around 16,000 farmers and fishermen in various parts of the Philippines. Our work starts with understanding people’s needs and we bind them into associations so that they can respond to their problems in a collective manner. We develop programs around crop productivity, water issues, access to small machinery and capital for example, based on farmers’ specific needs.
In Mindanao, what farmers want right now is to have more revenues for their whole nuts to improve their livelihood. Today, farmers only deal with middlemen. So, our core mission in the Livelihoods Coconut project will be to help them increase their yields and connect them directly to Franklin Baker, the processor partnering in the project. If farmers have a bigger share of coconut’s market value, they can reinvest in their farm and get access to more services like training and finance. We will support the farmers to develop their own farm plan to make existing coconut trees more productive with organic fertilizers, replanting, etc. and to launch a diverse farming system with coconut, cocoa, banana…


“This is not a mere sourcing programme but a comprehensive project that will benefit farmers and their communities”,
Arze Glipo, Executive Director at IRDF


L.V.: What are the main challenges for IRDF in this project?

A.G.: The scale of the project is quite a challenge. 5,000 farmers is a big number. But our team has the necessary skills to mobilize the farmers. We will strengthen existing organizations and create new ones to come up with 50 associations and around 10 cooperatives within the next 5 years. It will be a step-by-step process to make the farmers feel they are the actors of change and not only recipients. We are sure that when they see this is not a mere sourcing programme but a comprehensive project that will benefit their community and themselves, they will be fully engaged, and it will strengthen their loyalty to the direct sourcing scheme.
Moreover, this is the first time that IRDF is working directly with the private sector. At the beginning, there could have been some issues of trust. But we discussed a lot with the teams of Livelihoods Funds and Franklin Baker. And we discovered that we had the same vision when it came to improving the lives of vulnerable coconut farmers. We are optimistic that we will have a mutually beneficial project and that local governments will be supportive of it. Its 10-year span offers us the possibility to continuously adjust our plans to make sure the targets are achieved.

L.V.: How will women be involved in the Livelihoods-Coconut project?

A.G.: Women don’t have enough economic opportunities in this region. Of course, they take care of the children, but they also want to be more involved in production activities. They support their husbands for harvesting roughly every two months but, in between, they don’t have any income-generating activity. The households cannot rely solely on coconut and women will play a major role by being directly involved in the crop diversification of the farms. They will be trained to grow new food and cash crops and then sell them to local markets. We will also provide them with support, so they can engage in other activities like pig fattening, small poultry…
With the necessary investment, new opportunities will be offered to women associations. For example, the coco husk is currently thrown away by farmers. But it can be processed locally and used as fiber for making nets, planting material, etc. The project will provide women with coco-twining machines they can weave the fiber into nets, sold in the island. The market is there, and we will just give them the means to go and get the benefits!