Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interviewing Farmers and Collecting Data

Last week I flew down to the southern island of Mindanao to Davao City to take part in phase 2 of my global internship experience. I came to work with ACDI/VOCA - an awesome international organization that is helping to improve the economic opportunities for people all around the world. Here in the Philippines, they have been working to support coconut, cacao, and rice farmers through their COCOPAL program. With the support of ACDI/VOCA, i'm here to conduct a small study of cacao farmers in the Davao region to examine the need, usage, and accessibility of micro-finance for small-holder farmers.

Upon my arrival to Davao City, I immediately noticed how clean the streets appeared. I departed from the airport in Manila so I saw the contrast of Manila which had so much litter. It was definitely evident to me that an intentional effort was being made to keep their streets clean. I asked a few residents and I got the impression that the mayor here is pretty strict. Some like her and some don't but nevertheless I think a clean street is good for tourism which benefits their economy. So good for them.

I met with the director of ACDI/VOCA's operations there in the Philippines, along with the staff of about 12 locals. The director is Australian and he's been there for several years now. This part of the internship seemed much more formal as compared to my visit with the CocoaPhil staff. Probably because I had only met with the CocoaPhil staff in person for three hours at their headquarters before going out to visit farms. This time, I would work out of the ACDI/VOCA office. I was given some work space and I interacted with the other staff as needed. This was good because I still had a degree of autonomy. They gave me some direction and they took care of the logistics of me going out to the farmers. But I still got to do the core of the work on my own.

On my first day, I developed my survey tool and methodology. I had to first identify what kind of information I wanted to collect. What would be valuable for me to know? What would be valuable for ACDI/VOCA to know? How would I measure the responses into something quantifiable? With the input of some of the staff, I was able to develop my sets of questions for the farmers, for the bank, for the microfinance NGO, and for the cooperatives.

On my second day, I went to meet with the Mindanao Microfinance Council (MMC). They are a network of microfinance institutions in Mindanao. I thought it was interesting to see how they were encouraging these lending institutions to be socially conscious and to find ways of supporting the farmers. Typically, microfinance is out of reach for many farmers because the interest is so high, the repayment period is too quick, and the collateral is costly. Farmers can lose their farm land, literally. After meeting with the MMC, I met with a representative at one of the major banks called the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). Since this was a major institution, I could see that this bank's services would be out of reach for many of the small-holder farmers. Though they want to be accessible, their services are more conducive for farm cooperatives and large farm owners.

The rest of the week was spent traveling to several parts of the Davao region and interviewing the farmers. I had the help of an interpreter who already knew many of the farmers. That made it easier to find farmers who were willing to be interviewed. It was an anonymous interview so I didn't collect names. I just collected demographic information and each person was asked the exact same questions. In total, I was able to interview 40 farmers from four distinct areas of the Davao region.

In addition to meeting farmers, I also had the opportunity to visit some post-harvest facilities. I didn't get to see any when I went to Bicol or Quezon provinces because they are at an early stage of cacao farming. It's much more developed in Davao. I also got to meet with and interview representatives from the Bansalan Cooperative Society, a cooperative that serves over 37,000 members. They offer microloans to its members.

After a long week of interviews, my last few days here with ACDI/VOCA is dedicated to compiling the data into a spreadsheet so that I can present some preliminary results to the director. Once I get back to the U.S., I'll write a paper on my study and submit it to both ACDI/VOCA and CocoaPhil. Though not actually part of my class assignment for this internship, I'll be able to use this paper for my final semester's academic portfolio.

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