This agribiz entrepreneur hopes to simplify the farm-to-table supply chain

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jun 29 2020 04:08 PM

(From left) Lance Villanueva, Mayani co-founder and chief of fulfillment; Josef Amarra, co-founder and COO; Jeff Barreiro, founder and executive chairman; Ochie San Juan, co-founder and chief farmer; and JT Solis, co-founder and CEO. Not in photo (based in Barcelona, Spain) Andrei dela Cruz, co-founder and CTO.

MANILA -- In December 2018, after watching a short documentary on TV about how farmers in many parts of Southeast Asia remain poor, businessman Jeff Barreiro was prompted to take on the cause of Filipino farmers.

“In my head, that is a clear injustice… how ironic that those who feed us are left poor and hungry,” lamented Barreiro. “Surely, present technology should be able to do something about this.”

Barreiro lost no time in seeing his vision into fruition. In May 2019, Mayani.ph was born.

“Our farmers are poor,” pointed out Barreiro, the founder and executive chairman of Mayani. “They are old. Their children do not want to go into farming. After all, why would they want to? They see the backbreaking work, yet they are not lifted out of poverty.”

When Metro Manila was placed under enhanced community quarantine last March, the problems of farmers became even more apparent. “Farmers couldn’t get their harvest outside the farms, into the city,” Barreiro rued. “Photos of oversupply or of produce being dumped were being shared in social media. There were cries for help coming from everywhere.”

It was for that reason Mayani was compelled to mobilize as many farmers as they can to work double-time in delivering their produce that can be enjoyed by the public.

“Going back to problems and their roots, we don’t know all the problems of agriculture,” Barreiro admitted. “We do not have all the answers. But we’ve surely pinned this one down: supply chain. That is the root of the matter we are placing great effort into addressing.

“There are just too many layers to get fresh produce from smallholder farms to our tables. And these layers are not exactly the most efficient, nor the most fair.”

Mayani's dispatch team. Handout

What Mayani did is to break the supply chain down to the simplest: From farmer to Mayani to the customer. That, to them, is more impactful and effective. And so far, Mayani has been successful in employing the process.

“It’s all very simple,” Barreiro explained. “If you have need for fresh produce – vegetables, fruits and other food products – head to www.mayani.ph. Make your selection. Check out and pay. And wait for delivery at your door! That's it!”

HIGHLANDS AND LOWLANDS

Mayani’s agri-operations infrastructure functions admirably that it yields several fresh produce from both lowland and highland crops and products. From the lowland, there are romaine and iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, ampalaya, siling labuyo, string beans, okra, kangkong, malunggay, talong, labanos, calamansi, and upo, even gourmet tuyo and danggit.

From the highland, available are carrots, broccoli, Baguio beans, cauliflower, celery, garlic, onions, cabbage, squash, ube, sayote, potatoes, sweet peas, Taiwan sili, leeks and red onions. There are also fruits and poultry.

Some of the produce carried by Mayani. Handout

Mayani's operations are supported by such establishments as Amici and its sister company Caramia, UCC, Waltermart, Yamato and Max’s Group of Companies.

Barreiro himself was surprised that as soon as the lockdown commenced, Mayani was faced with a sudden surge in demand for their products. “We had to grow capacity almost overnight,” he said. “If our mission was to keep selling the produce of the hundreds of farmers counting on Mayani, then we had to take on this huge challenge.”

True enough, the team stepped up and was consistently on their toes. “A backlog built up, so we increased frequency of delivery days,” Barreiro stated. “In a matter of days, we grew our internal fleet of riders.

“That was actually somewhat uplifting. There were displaced riders from the ride-hailing apps who suddenly found themselves without work. We were able to take in a number of them.”

A Mayani rider. Handout

Notwithstanding the other challenges they encountered, Mayani’s output was never diminished. “Supply was tough those days. Not because there was none, but because access to the farms was severely restricted. But our farm team pushed their way into farmlands and persevered. We were able to gather harvests from different countryside farms, to the relief of the small farmers,” he said.

GULAY NG BAYAN

Mayani uses a play on words that mean “may ani” or “there is harvest,” according to Barreiro. It can also mean “my ani” or “my harvest.”

“I ran it by my co-founders and they liked it,” he said.

Last April, Mayani was chosen as the launch platform for Gulay Ng Bayan, a program crafted by members of the Philippine Agritech Consortium and supported by Department of Agriculture and Department of Trade and Industry.

“It was a massive campaign promoted within a window of about 48-72 hours,” Barreiro informed. “The objective was to move as big an amount of produce from upland farmers to Metro Manila customers. It was a big success.

Sorting Baguio beans. Handout

Yet, it wasn’t 100 percent smooth, too. “Certainly, moving four tons of vegetables and sending those to 400 individual homes in a single day could not be without hitches.”

For instance, Barreiro lamented how actual harvest of some produce was short of total orders. “There were sorting and packing mistakes, leading to delayed dispatch or wrong items delivered,” he admitted. “There were ‘last mile’ difficulties, like addresses that could not be located, buyers who were unavailable when deliveries arrived and the like.

“Of course, with such issues, you have disappointed customers. But overall, it was a win for Benguet farmers and a win for hundreds of Metro Manila homes longing for vegetables from up north.”

Barreiro disclosed that Mayani has since turned over the Gulay Ng Bayan program to a different platform, run by a different entity. 

WHERE TO NOW

The questions of where does Mayani go from here and how does it encourage others to take part prove to be more “challenging and exciting” now for Barreiro and his team.

“We have shown that the process can be cut to its simplest,” he explained. “It can be done! And if done this way, we move away from the inefficient, even oppressive methods of old.

“So when the farmers are happy, their children will be happy. The children might even decide to take up farming in the future.”

Sorting of the produce and prep for deliveries in FTI. Handout

Perhaps, everything sounds simplistic to many, but Barreiro stressed it’s all “real.” He reasoned out: “Imagine it. The farmer does what he does best: he plants. He cares for the land, the soil. He nurtures what he has planted. Then harvest comes.

“The farmer then counts on Mayani as his business partner. No more headaches of access to market, of unfair pricing. Farming, which is natural to him, begins to show its lucrative side. His children see it. He passes on the farming tradition to them. They stay in the countryside.

“They do not move to the city, the overcrowded city. They stay, they farm, they keep the land fertile and productive. Food security. Less urban migration and even families intact.”

EXPANSION

Soon, Barreiro expressed his desire to see Mayani’s eventual expansion, especially now that the lockdown has eased and Metro Manila has been placed into general community quarantine.

“It is our dream, our ambition, our plan to expand this way of doing things,” he said. “We want to reach more farmers, more farmers coops and associations until we cover all critical parts of our country and touch thousands more of farmers.

“Plus, beyond being a marketplace – a new, digital marketplace – we aim to have the Mayani platform enable initiatives and programs that contribute to making agriculture even stronger. Think family farm schools, microfinance facilities, agri-tourism partnerships, tech-enabled productivity tools and many more! As Mayani scales and gets stronger, these agri-related fields can all come together quite smoothly. Enabled by, powered by Mayani.”

Barreiro remains optimistic that Mayani can adopt the new normal route and encourage their buyers to support that way. “By going to the roots – by attacking the present supply chain – we pave the way for a new way, so to speak.

“On our side, as buyers, how is it not wonderful to support this new way? Traditional channels haven’t done it like this. And while such channels have indeed placed food on our tables, what about tables on the other side of the equation?”

Since Mayani offers a more direct connection of produce from farms to tables, “happy farmers to happy eaters,” then that will be a big advantage that consumers can patronize more.

“If we can encourage our people to keep buying food, fresh produce, the way many of us have done so these past three months – by buying direct from farmers – then we shift to a new way. And it can only be good, for all.”