By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

In the Disney film Aladdin, the kingdom of Agrabah has a marketplace that sells an assortment of goods and trinkets that cater to everyone’s needs, whether it’s fresh fruits and vegetables, or a little bit of magic to spice things up.

Joselito “Jun” Ocol, the CEO and co-founder of an agritech startup company in the Philippines, has a goal of bringing the concept of accessibility and availability from the fictional market into reality to benefit Filipinos, especially the farmers.

Named after the kingdom where Aladdin flies around in his magic carpet, Agrabah is a tech startup company that serves as an online platform where farmers and consumers can find each other and make transactions at a fair price.

Residents from the coastal community found a new livelihood through farming cottonii.

“We’re empowering Filipino farmers to steadily earn a fair profit through our online platforms that connects them to institutional consumers and partners,” Ocol said.

Agrabah acts as a mediator by sourcing orders from big companies then reaching out and employing farming communities who could meet the request for fresh products.

Ocol and his wife, Josephine Gumino, started by bridging fishing communities with institutional consumers, then later added crop farmers to their list.

Wharf, marketplace, and fair

Ocol said that there are three different platforms that Agrabah offers where farmers can gain a fair profit as well as direct access to the market: the wharf, marketplace, and fair.

First is the “Wharf” which is a business to business (B2B) model that connects farmers to institutional consumers by providing the former with an order before they even start planting.

“The good thing about the Wharf is that we can assure the farmers that we can buy everything that they will be planting,” Ocol said.

In the meantime, Agrabah is developing “Marketplace,” a business to consumer (B2C) model that functions as an online store where consumers from the Metro can select from the available products and place an order which will then be delivered as soon as possible.

“For us, it’s not on demand and we’re setting proper expectations. We’re actually targeting small karinderyas. So it means they can order before the cut-off time, then the product will be delivered the next day,” Ocol said.

Josephine Gumino and Joselito Ocol pose with a resident (center) from the Caramoan island.

The “Fair”, on the other hand, focuses on value-adding so that farmers can earn more from what they grow without having to compete with other brands, thus decreasing the price of the product.

“We’re enabling institutional consumers to create their own unified brand where they get their products or ingredients from farmers,” Ocol said.

He added that this platform helps farmers learn more about postproduction processing so that they can sell their raw materials to big companies directly.

Shining, shimmering, seaweed

At some point, the team behind Agrabah Marketplace became genies of sorts because they managed to accomplish three goals that have been a priority for many for a long time.

The first one involves creating a new source of income for fishfarmers located in the Bicol region. After receiving an order from the Wharf, the team adopted a fishing community from the Caramoan Islands to fulfill orders of cottonii, a type of seaweed used for making gulaman or gelatin.

“Cottonii is actually more expensive than rice and can be harvestable every 15 days,” Ocol said.

Before the fishfarmers of an island in Caramoan were asked by Agrabah to start growing cottonii in order to meet a specific demand, they engaged in dynamite fishing that eventually led to the destruction of nearby coral reefs and the decline of their primary source of livelihood.

With a new source of income, residents from the Caramoan Islands have less to worry about.

“Cottonii is easy to care for since they just need to be in the water. When there’s a storm, the residents can just pull the line with the cottonii to shore to protect it from being washed away, and then they can return the line to the water when the storm subsides,” Ocol said.

Cottonii seaweed being dried under the sun.

Another benefit that the residents from the Caramoan Island received from Agrabah is becoming a sustainable community since their livelihood depends on it.

“Ever since they started farming the seaweed, they became more conscious about their environment, because the first thing that comes to their minds is that the sea is where they get their livelihood. In order to keep a steady income and harvest good quality products, they have to maintain the water’s cleanliness,” Ocol said.

Lastly, Agrabah managed to teach the seaweed farmers to become self-sufficient by assisting them in postproduction processing which involves drying, weighing, packaging, and more.

Currently, there are 1,000 farmers who grow cottonii. Ocol said that they plan to expand the industry by visiting other islands.

Grow kits to encourage urban farmers

Other than creating new opportunities for farmers, Agrabah also aims to teach urban settlers the value and satisfaction of growing their own food right at their own space.

“We have grow kits which we sell to corporate employees. Our aim is to encourage them to grow plants here in the city even without prior experience or knowledge,” Ocol said.

Aspiring urban farmers can choose the kind of vegetables they want to grow such as basil, siling labuyo, arugula, lettuce, and Italian parsley.

Ocol reported that there have been positive results from their customers who have started using the vegetable kits in their workspaces so they can easily pick some from the pot when they feel like adding more flavor to their every day meals.

He hopes that the company will be able to entice more people and advocate growing their own food and supporting local farmers as well. (Photos courtesy of Agrabah)

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s August 2019 issue.