In a business assessment survey conducted by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Technical Working Group for Anticipatory and Forward Planning last April, 86 percent of 6,863 farmers and fisherfolk were able to continue agricultural activities despite the crisis—but only 65 percent were able to sell their produce. This blow on agriculture resulted in P94 million worth of loss in produce, majority of which came from Region IV-A followed by Central Luzon. 

Limited supply has a direct effect on market prices, and with two out of five Filipinos considered poor, the constant battle on food shortage and hunger was only worsened by the pandemic. The country cannot afford agriculture to halt, especially in the middle of a crisis where it’s crucial to bring forward agricultural initiatives that will keep the country’s head above water.

FARM TO MARKET LINK

With limited movement, farmers can’t regularly tend to their fields which puts harvests at risk especially this dry season. Now, farmers are turning to social media in an attempt to sell their produce, while some had to give their crops for free instead of letting it rot. To address this, the Department of Agriculture (DA) established four supply chains clusters: two in Luzon, one in Visayas and one in Mindanao. Government agencies and local government units (LGUs) will work together to segment agricultural products and seek potential markets for the local supply chain. 

“With this pandemic, there is tightening of global food supply and we know that when there is not enough food, disorder is probable. While improving our food adequacy level, we should aim for food security. If no action is done, the threat of hunger is as real as the threat of the virus,” says DA Secretary William Dar.

Here are a few examples from Oxford Business Group to demonstrate how the system works:

  • Farmers in Eastern Visayas are connected with public sector organizations. This includes the region’s medical center, the designated referral hospital for COVID-19 patients, who are LGUs themselves and are responsible for disbursing food packages (they also oversee the country’s jails).
  • The city of Iriga  in Camarines Sur also has a “Vegetable on Wheels” scheme where a truck sells fresh local produce across the city’s 36 barangays.
  • Agricultural enterprise Agrea launched a “Move Food Initiative” in some areas of Metro Manila which provides direct agricultural products from farmers to consumers via an online platform

The result? LGUs were able to purchase P1.6 billion worth of agricultural goods directly from farmers over a two-month period.

PEER-TO-PEER SYSTEM

“I think generally we need to pay more respect to our farmers and fishermen. They’re always relegated to the bottom rung of our economy. They are amongst the poorest. I think the people who grow and procure life-sustaining and health-promoting food for us should be regarded just as [healthcare is] valuable,” says Hindy Weber of Holy Carabao Farms.

Seventy-five percent of the country’s population are unbanked, which means financing rural businesses can be challenging due to limited access to financial infrastructures, resulting in people seeking monetary support through the family instead of financial institutions. Informal lending channels are risky since they’re barely covered by legal grounds and are susceptible to impose higher interest rates, especially for farmers and agricultural workers with limited financial literacy.

As an alternative form of funding for agricultural workers, peer-to-peer lending through crowdfunding startups will provide investments in the forms of farmer education, enhanced input and increased mechanization. Here are some systems: 

  • Cropital: A crowdfunding platform which allows investors to choose a local farm and then get a fixed-rate return on the investment depending on the harvest’s success. Aside from receiving financing, Cropital allows farmers to connect with insurance providers and agricultural training and resources, and even gain support from institutions from other countries such as the US, Malaysia and the Netherlands.
  • FarmOn: A local startup whose alternative investments work by letting investors select a crop (instead of a farm) which allows farmers to acquire the necessary inputs and technologies. They will then share the profits of the crop 50-50 with the investor—a solution grounded on sustainable agriculture through mechanization and productivity 

If more of these initiatives will be pushed forward, the country’s agricultural production and linkages will continue to thrive despite the pandemic. For example, Nigerian startup Farmcrowdy’s crowdfunding platform connected small-scale farmers to finance in 2016. The following year (as well as in 2019), they were able to raise $1 million in seed funding. The farmers soon reached major processors and international buyers. The enterprise was also able to launch an e-commerce system (farmers were connected to consumers via web platform and mobile application) right in the middle of the global crisis.

“Farmers are not getting the support they need, from governments or from consumers. There needs to be a shift in the way farmers are regarded across the globe. Farming is considered a lowly job. But in fact, it is one of the most noble and important jobs in the world. No farmer, no food. Simple as that,” says Karla Delgado of Kai Farms.

Imagine if the local system is able to channel major efforts to advance and shift the talk to Philippine agriculture as well as give credit where it is due. As an agricultural country, it is quite ironic to see that the people who work to keep the nation alive are held in low regard and something as essential as farming is taken for granted during a pandemic. The future of farming has to be secure and crisis-proof—we don’t need  another global health crisis to help us realize that.

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