COVID-19 has affected all aspects of life around the globe. This includes agriculture and food security.

In the Philippines, the government and some private endeavors have made it their mission to help farmers during this vulnerable time.

“COVID-19 has impacted everyone, regardless of race, gender, age or status.  But the impact varies.  Our farmers who lack access to proper sanitation and basic health services are quite vulnerable to health threats. With the enhanced community quarantine being implemented, farmers are also facing challenges that are greatly affecting their main source of income. Delivering and selling their produce in the market is more challenging due to the halt in business operations, suspended transportation and the rigorous checkpoints within city/provincial boundaries. Taking into account also that it is harvest season, the excess supply of their produce tends to be sold at a lower price or worse, not sold at all,” Owen L. Cammayo, Executive Director of BPI Foundation said in an email.

“During this unprecedented and unchartered time, it is important to help out and empower our farmers. We need to support our ‘staple’ front liners and make sure that there is a continuous supply of quality food in the country.”

BPI Foundation x RiceUp

As part of this, BPI Foundation has partnered with RiceUp Farmers Inc. to help local farmers cope with the current crisis.

“We partnered with RiceUp Farmers Inc., an agritech social enterprise that empowers farmers in Pampanga and Davao through innovation, entrepreneurship, cooperative farming and education,” Cammayo said.

We aim to help address some basic challenges that the local farmers are facing: Lack of knowledge and access to sustainable and climate-smart agricultural technologies; lack of market access and opportunities; and lack of agripreneurship skills.”

Both organizations are working with communities in Pampanga and Davao.

“To address these problems, we support RiceUp’s engagements with its farming communities in Pampanga and Davao, including its farm business school operations where farmers are taught lessons on agripreneurship and financial management; financing and turnover of partially funded climate-smart technologies to farmers; and conduct of training on production enhancement, market-oriented planting, vermiculture, and digital literacy in order to build on the farmers’ capacity for post-harvest production and marketing,” Cammayo said.

In addition, we support the farmers by providing them access to markets ensuring that their products get to consumers directly. By replacing the traditional middleman traders with RiceUp as the new middleman, farmers will cut down the trading cost and retain a higher income compared to the traditional middleman trading system. This will be accomplished by directly purchasing the farm produce from the farmers by RiceUp for a higher price compared to the middleman traders, and selling their produce and linking them to wholesalers, food chains, and other food businesses.”

He added, “The beneficiaries of our Farm to Table program are local farmers who are associated and registered members of RiceUp Farmers Inc. They are from different barangays in Lubao and Floridablanca, Pampanga (i.e. Lubao – Brgys. Concepcion and Sto. Domingo, Floridablanca – Brgys. San Roque, Fortuna, Gutad, and San Nicolas) and Paquibato, Davao City (i.e. Brgys. Colosas, Tapak, Paquibato, Malabog, Mapula, Mabugay, Paradise Embac, Pandaitan, and Salapawan).

This is not the Foundation’s first food security initiative. “In 2019, as part of our environmental sustainability advocacy, we launched the Farm to Table program — aimed at increasing local farmers’ produce through the latest climate-adaptive technologies to promote and strengthen the Philippine agriculture industry,” Cammayo said.

Linking farmers to buyers

Cammayo narrated how the farmers were being supported:

“Last April 2, 2020, we conducted relief operations to help the local farmers in Pampanga amid the COVID-19 crisis. Around 310 farmer households in 6 barangays in Lubao and Floridablanca, Pampanga were provided food and sanitation supplies which include chicken, vegetables, soap and bleach.

“We also continue to support our farmers by providing them access to markets ensuring that their produce gets to consumers directly. Through our program partner, RiceUp, we were able to help 50 farmers sell their produce at fair prices, increasing their income by 10%. More than 2,000 kilos of fresh produce were sold through online orders from residential households, institutional and LGU buyers in Pampanga and Metro Manila. The first batch of deliveries in Metro Manila was done last April 6, 2020, with around 1.6 tons of veggies sold to 2 institutional buyers and 15 households in QC, Wack Wack and Makati. This marketing initiative is still ongoing and we aim to help more farmers in the coming days amid this ongoing crisis.

“With the help of RiceUp, BPI Foundation is also organizing a fresh harvest delivery initiative for BPI employees. Employees can avail of an exclusive discount of 5% for a minimum order of P1,500 worth of fresh produce from RiceUp farmers. This will provide our employees access to fresh, affordable and nutritious food which are most essential in boosting their immune system amid COVID-19, while practicing social distancing and providing support to the farmers during the quarantine period.

“BPI employees and other RiceUp customers can place their orders online through the mobile app created by TransFarm, a start-up company co-founded by Elvin Laceda who is also the founder of RiceUp. To know more about this initiative, visit the Facebook page of BPI Foundation and RiceUp Farmers Inc.”

The endeavor has been met with success. “Based on feedback, the initiatives that we do for the farmers and their families help them cope-up and sustain their lives.  More importantly, it gives them hope in this extraordinary time of COVID-19,” Cammayo said.

How the public can help

Food security isn’t just something that concerns farmers and agribusinesses; everyone needs to eat, and thus, everyone should have a stake in the lives of our farmers and fishers. Fortunately, one does not need to till a field to get involved.

“COVID-19 pandemic is seriously affecting our food systems especially the front liners like our farmers. We highly encourage everyone, including the LGUs and those in the private sector to extend help to farmers through financial support and directly purchase the products they are unable to sell,” Cammayo said.

“Another way to help is by making use of social media, mobile apps and e-commerce in building alternative market systems to keep our farmers connected to consumers. Currently, there are various organizations that facilitate online selling of farm produce which people can support. RiceUp, for example, is organizing an online market platform where customers can buy rice, fresh fruits and vegetables directly from the farmers in Pampanga.”

Food concerns everyone. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interests that the welfare of farmers are looked after. They are frontliners in this fight against COVID-19 and even after the virus is eradicated, they remain one of the integral parts of a thriving nation.