With the persistent threat of the coronavirus pandemic, the need for a steady food supply has never been more apparent.
But as Filipino farmers continue to put themselves in the crosshairs of the disease, they are continuously met with systemic challenges, including the lack of postharvest facilities and irrigation systems, the increasing cost of producing crops and the consistent decline of farm-gate prices.
The uncertainty of weather patterns brought by climate change has also made farming even riskier that investing in a season’s worth of crops cannot guarantee income.
Indeed, the threat of hunger even among farmers is as real as the threat of COVID-19, and with World Food Day approaching, it is only right to ensure that the country’s food producers who are also our front-liners have affordable and nutritious food on their plates as they continue to till lands and grow crops for Filipino families.
Providing a new distribution channel for agricultural products is a start. Through the “Buy Local, Buy Smart” campaign, PLDT Inc.’s Smart Communications aims to minimize, if not cut, the prevalent problems of wastage and shortage in different parts of the country, trim the markups passed on to consumers and provide local food producers a stable source of income.
Through the initiative, farmers across Luzon are ensured a steady stream of customers while buyers are catered with quality local products at a reasonable price.
The partnership has allowed the likes of Nanay Aida Papa, a rice farmer in Occidental Mindoro, the chance to earn judiciously, learn the use of basic digital tools and mobile technologies in farming, gain access to modest capital and, ultimately, a chance to improve their lives and that of their families.
“Nagbigay po ito ng luwag sa aming kalooban na hindi na po kami hahanap ng pinansyal na tulong sa iba para sa mga pangangailangan namin ngayong darating na pagtanim,” shared Nanay Aida.
As of end-September this year, Smart’s Buy Local campaign has already benefited over 4,000 farmers and raised nearly P5.7 million in revenues from 17,500 orders. A portion of the sale is pocketed into a sustainability fund that is subsidized by rebates from customers’ orders.
To date, the sustainability fund has grown to more than P210,000 and was turned over as low-interest loans to support a portion of the capital needs of rice farmers from Pangasinan, Bulacan, Occidental Mindoro and Pampanga, through the crowdsourcing platform Cropital.
The program has now become an avenue for PLDT and Smart employees to extend help to local farmers and purchase quality food products. The local sulit bundle, for instance, offers rice, coconut oil, onion and garlic for as low as P524 with a sustainability fund contribution for farmers of up to P50. The farm-to-pantry bundles, meanwhile, contributes P90 to the said fund per order for P1,699 worth of rice and vegetables, while the buy-one take-one rice bundles contributes P200.
For Patricio Castillo, a rice farmer from Pangasinan, the program has encouraged farmers like him to continue with their livelihood despite the challenges.
“Ako po’y nasisiyahan at lalong ginaganahan dahil po kinakampanya ng Buy Local ng Smart ang aming mga produkto. Kaya naman amin pong pinagsisikapan na mapataas ang aming ani dahil meron na po kaming regular na buyer na kumukuha ng aming produkto,” he said.
Smart’s blueprint is a testament that profound impacts can be achieved when purpose and technology come together.