WAGOEN story no.3: The strength of Wagoen, its structure and culture.

I am so sorry for the people who is curious about Japanese farmer’s enterprise, Wagoen. I had been away for a while and didn’t updated since the beginning of Aug this blog. I will add more things today about Wagoen, since I haven’t disclose its real strength yet.

On the bus going around Wagoen’s site, we talked with the staff of Wagoen, discussing about its strength.
“Please give us the brief structure of Wagoen system.”
“OK, the Wagoen is composed of 2 structure. One is Wago, and another is Wagoen, and those are different entitites. Wago is the corporative of farmers, and Wagoen is the supporting entity for it, by doing some administrative or marketing, business development.”
According to the Wagoen staff, the Wago is composed of more than 50 farmers, and they are devided into several groups aligned with the crops they produce. Each crop has each taskforce, and they are learning by themselves how to produce better crops or vegetables, how to integrate the latest methods into their operation fields, how to make a brand of themselves, and how to appeal to the urban market. All learnings are shared and developed by farmers themselves. No one is teaching them to do so. They spontanuously began to do it. Now it became the core of its system, but this committee decide the standard of quality of products which is crucial for Wagoen’s brand. Sometimes, their standards are much higher than the ordinary products in the market. But it was decided by the farmers.
The staff said, “Farmers know the better than anyone else about farming.”

We asked, “so what is the WAGOEN entity’s role?”
“Well, it is the company, not agricultural corporative. So, the company is making the environment that farmers in the corporative can comfortably work and produce as much as they can. Sometime, Wagoen company side will help them in terms of finance as well.”
We asked.” So, for example, does it mean Wagoen company do some Microfinance?”
“Hmm, we cannot say it’s categorized as Microfinance or not. but, for example, when Tsunami happen in March, this area (Chiba Prefecture) was affected by its market’s rumor that the soil here was polluted by nuclear radiation. So the sales are going down and the farmers were suffering for long time after that. Wagoen entity had supported them from its fund (which is always functioning as social fund from each farmers) to survive the long down-turn period by covering its cost for recovery.”
It’s totally the same system as I had been observing in Africa (especially rural area in Ghana I visited), India or Bangladesh. The Merry-Go-Round or Social Fund / Group lending system that works in developing countries here in Japan have another form of funding with business entities (much more aggressive business activities) works as a insurance or safety net for their living. Without any intervention by NGOs or governmental policies or initiatives, but from their spontanuous demands, the farmers and Wagoen system required to develop its funding system.

Japan had long the system called “KOU”(講)or “Mujin Kou”,(無尽講)”Tanomoshi Kou”,(頼母子講)”Moai / Muei” (模合)which is another type of microfinance since 12th century, which was developed in self help groups among the people, based on the religious/ geographical community. Self help system is very strong in Japanese history, and Wagoen had revised its culture into their business activity naturally, (as far as I think).

Wagoen had devided its body into 2, which is really interesting to me. Self help group sometime has its difficulties to develop as a independent business group, since it has a lot of complicated human relationship inside (which always easily connect with hierarchy or corruption and younger innovative generation suffers from it), but those 2 were separate in terms of exercise of its power. So, the Wago will work as purely self help group, and literally they self-help themselves to improve their productivity aiming higher and higher. The Wagoen purely work as a supporting business entity. But still, those two are connected in a way of human touch.

The system is not fixed or ruled. They will change by the hands of farmers. But the Wagoen it self will last long. This flexibility is another key that Wagoen can get along with many farmers with different ideas, and even attracting more talented people to come into their space. The natural born open source innovation space is there.

I will continue my next article to write more about the fanatical innovation that Wagoen is pursuing, which looks crazily innovative but we cannot help getting more and more excited about them.