Inspiration

WHY

Recently we interviewed a municipal fisher from Mindoro, Kuya Jhun, who had a small fishing crew of three men including him. Their catch for that day, which he considered normal, was worth P800.

Considering their investment costs to cover fishing inputs: ice, fuel, fishing gears, and marine engine parts, their profit margin was a little over PhP500 which they still had to split into three.

With a daily take home of PhP180 and working six times a week, these fishers can only earn PhP5,000 a month. What quality of life can you provide a family with this small amount?!

These small-scale fishers have been the most disadvantaged sector among the actors in the fisheries value chain. This has been despite the fact that they have been providing significant contribution to the fisheries industry and yet, they end up receiving a disproportionately low percentage of economic value in the value chain compared to other players, such as middlemen traders. Based on a report by Rare Philippines on the Value Chain Analysis of Identified Premium Species in Global Development Alliance (GDA) Project Sites, there are wholesalers or traders than can earn as much as P37,000 a month.

According to FAO (2020), the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the entire seafood industry in the Philippines. The small-scale fishers have lost their access to the market, no longer able to transport and sell their catch to their former buyers. They have been forced to sell their catch just within their community for less than its market value. Supposedly, their day’s catch should be able to provide for the daily needs of their families; hence the fishers’ prospects have become bleak due to their lessened daily income.

In Mindanao, a fishing association composed of 221 fishing households in Barangay Concepcion, Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay, have shared with the group that beyond their limited access to the market, they are also experiencing difficulty in accessing fishing inputs such as fuel and fishing gear (hooks, nets, etc.). Consequently, they are not able to fish daily anymore. They miss fishing opportunities and lose the income that further increases the risks of poverty and hunger.

HOW

They say that we are only as strong as our weakest link. Our group believes that in order for us to move forward and strengthen resilience in the fisheries industry, we must innovate the value chain and put our small-scale fishers in a better position to succeed.

Despite the popular use of social media commerce or the attempts of various agri-tech e-commerce platforms to help sell fish catch from communities, there has not been one sustainable innovation that has successfully engaged the tech-deprived fishers to be part of a solution. The opportunity and technology exist - a digital platform could connect the fishers closer to consumers, skipping several layers, for more resilient transactions we can rely on even during times of crisis. However, the barrier that we must solve first is the lack of empowering tech features that can enable simple fishers to participate in e-commerce firsthand. If we are able to do so, then the digital ecosystem for the fisheries industry can start to develop and mature.

When successful, large amounts of data from the platform could be generated which could help industry officials, local and national authorities make relevant and timely decisions thus strengthening the industry’s resiliency to unexpected disruptions.

What it does

Our Proposal

Our initial plan is to develop a direct fisher-to-institution online marketplace to initiate the digital capabilities of the value chain which small-scale fishers participate in. This platform is anchored on an analog-to-digital feature that enables community fish catch consolidators to upload aggregated fish goods to the e-commerce platform.

Additionally to address the lack of stable access to fishing inputs, the same platform and the analog-to-digital feature can be used by the consolidators to order fuel and fishing gear that their fishers need. Tindagat.ph will provide and deliver the orders in a way that ensures cost-efficiency and convenience.

We hope to establish the necessary groundwork towards a more equitable position for the small-scale fishers in the value chain through connecting them closer to retailers and institutional buyers, alongside the introduction to more efficient payment transactions.

Eventually we are hoping to lead this towards a vision of a more comprehensive, easily accessible and usable online platform that empowers small-scale fishers, one that:

(1) connects with retailers and consumers directly and facilitate fair financial transactions between them;
(2) forms a community which fishers can leveraged in finding financial opportunities to support them and in influencing government’s fishery policies and; (3) enables them to be agents of change in fish sustainability tracing efforts.

Unlike the fragmented set of agencies supporting the fish industry whose priorities lie in too diverse aspects, we put focus on empowering the marginalized small-scale fishers who potentially can significantly impact our nation on social, economic and ecological levels.

How I built it

We were able to leverage the contacts of the Bureau of Fisheries in Region 6 and facilitate a bulk purchase of fresh fish between a consolidator and a municipality distributor during this quarantine period - successfully leaving out several layers of traders within a normal value chain. This serves as proof of the opportunity. The economic value saved from taking out layers of traders were redistributed between the transacting parties. Moving forward, our goal is to be able to comprehensively map out the economical value redistribution in the value chain that can arise from our proposed innovation.

At the moment, we have a prototype that enables hands-on participation of fisher community consolidators in posting aggregated fish catches for sale in a B2B online marketplace.

Challenges I ran into

Constraints to Overcome

  • Inability to visit locations of interests due to the quarantine
  • Limited access and experience of consolidators and fishers to the internet, computer, mobile devices, and other digital tools
  • Limited resources of partner organizations and associations in the communities
  • Fragmented and limited sources of information about supply and demand across the different regions and municipalities
  • Limited experience and knowledge in implementing logistics and financial services

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

Tindagat.ph was a finalist at the Food Security track of BAYANIHAN@AIM: Restarting Philippine Business and Society after COVID-19 last May 20, 2020.

Despite the limitations brought about by the health pandemic, we were able to test our idea leveraging on the relationships we have on the ground. The partnership with the local government units (LGUs), Rare and BFAR has been very helpful in data gathering and conducting tests on site. The said partnerships are also giving way to identifying the available logistics and financial services on the site that the project can utilize.

To address the limited access and experience of consolidators and fishers to digital tools, we are on the process on developing a tech product that these actors can easily adapt. We have already developed an app to convert the consolidator forms into digital data and already under usability testing

What I learned

Realizations

When we are able to capture data directly from fishers and consolidators, we make traceability more possible. Buyers in our platform can get information about the fish goods they buy. They can be informed about the fishing community where the products came from, along with background details of the consolidator and the fishers. We can also match the information with illegal or over fishing incidents data of the community’s area to be able to indicate the probability of the fish goods being caught using sustainable practices.

The accounts of fishers and their corresponding transaction records allow them to develop financial profiles which can later be leveraged on for financial opportunities (i.e. loans and financing). Additionally, the transparency and accessibility of supply and demand information could lead to efficient distribution of fish goods among municipalities.

What's next for Tindagat.ph

  1. With the help of Rare (international non-profit NGO), we are able to currently test the concept in Bantayan Island, Cebu. We plan to continue developing the e-commerce platform and onboard initial institutional buyers in the area. Parallel to this, our group intends to conduct trading of fish using offline operations to gain more insights that we can incorporate in the solution.

  2. In order to further define the gaps, we also plan to evaluate the supply chain using the Lean methodology guided by one of our mentors, Prof. Jose Decolongon of the Asian Institute of Management.

  3. We'd like to apply our solution in Kabalasan, Zamboanga Sibugay with the help of Hack-Bang's network.

  4. Guided by our Hack-Bang mentor Redge Rafols, we plan to tackle the following challenge - how do ensure that the actors in the marketplace do not take advantage of the fishers? We are exploring solutions that involve: (1) SMS informing the fishers of their entitled amount from consolidator sales and (2) providing system price brackets as guides to pricing goods in the platform, based on DTI and BFAR.

  5. To address the issues on the limited capability and access of consolidators to the technology, we plan to partner with academic institutions in the municipality, specifically with their STVEP (Strengthened Technical-Vocational Education) Program and train the on-boarded consolidators.

  6. To help increase the financial resilience of the fishing household, part of Tindagat's plan is to incorporate in the platform the "auto-savings" or patronage refund. Based on the percentage of the catch the fisher was able to sell through the platform, it will be automatically generated by the system and can only be accessed at the end of the month or in case of emergency.

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