The agricultural sector continues to face many challenges – from climate change, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – with implications that can seriously affect food availability, livelihood sustainability, and the well-being of the population.

To empower Filipino farmers and encourage more people to get into agriculture, PLDT wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) has ramped up its livelihood programs to promote agriculture and food security.

“Agriculture remains a key component of our economic recovery. We support this industry as we continue to build a wide range of digital services – such as e-learning, e-commerce, and e-payments – that will let Filipinos thrive in the digital age,” PLDT Chairman and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan says.

Communicating agriculture as viable business

Smart supports AgriTalk, a series of virtual trainings spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture –Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI). Conducted in partnership with Agriculture Magazine of the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation, the program highlights opportunities in agribusiness by featuring agri-experts and success stories on agri-entrepreneurship.

Discussions cover the production, processing, and marketing of specific commodities, involving the entire value chain. The value chain approach expands the participants’ perspectives on agriculture, enabling them to have an idea on how to develop small-scale agri-enterprises for additional income.

Aired in Agriculture Online and DA-ATI’s various regional Facebook pages, Smart’s support for AgriTalk reinforces the shift from on-ground trainings to virtual capacity building sessions, in view of the current restrictions on public gatherings.

“Bringing AgriTalk to a virtual platform will help reach more people and raise awareness on the many possible opportunities of agribusiness,” Smart VP for Community Partnerships Darwin F. Flores says.

Leveling up farmers’ productivity, marketability

AgriTalk follows the success of the Digital Farmers Program (DFP), the pioneer collaboration between Smart and DA-ATI aimed at leveling up farmers’ productivity and marketability through trainings on the latest mobile technologies.

DFP links technology-savvy youths with small-holder farmers so that the latter could tap the digital space, and consequently, establish a channel for exchanging ideas—from using modern agricultural technologies, to discovering time-tested farming traditions.

Since its launch in 2019, DFP has already reached more than 15 provinces across the country, benefiting smallholder and intermediate partners and training them on the basics of smartphone use, accessing the Internet, online safety and security, agri apps, social media, and social media marketing. Advance phases will include lessons on mobile agriculture and financial services such as third-party farming apps, mobile e-money, and microcredit, entrepreneurship, smart farming, and financial literacy.

Even in the face of the current pandemic, DA-ATI and Smart are still able to continue with the roll out of DFP training sessions either in physical or online training setup. “We are expanding our training capabilities as we do things online more and more,” DA-ATI Director Alfredo Aton said during DFP’s first virtual leg.

To be able to reach more farmers in the country, an online course on DFP’s introductory course will also be made available soon at ATI’s eLearning platform.

Sustaining corporate ‘RICEponsibility’

An offshoot of the DFP, Smart launched last December 2020 alongside other companies under the MVP Group and social enterprise Cropital the second run of its #BuyLocalBuySmart corporate #RICEponsibility program.

During its pilot run in 2019, PLDT and Smart employees bought rice directly from small-scale farmers in the fourth-class municipality of Magdalena in Laguna. With quarantine restrictions still in place, the campaign shifted online, allowing PLDT and Smart employees and their families and friends to order and pay for sacks of rice via store.cropital.com and have purchases delivered to their homes for free. They can also get a discount of up to P90 if they use the coupon code “pldtbuylocal” or “smartbuylocal” upon checkout.

Furthermore, a “Buy One, Give One” promo allowed Metro Manila-based employees to automatically donate a sack of rice for every sack that they purchase. This initiative formed part of the MVP Group’s #TuloyPaRinAngPasko movement, a call to bring the joy of the yuletide season to storm-hit communities, including 286 Dumagat families in Rizal province. These families, who are partners in PLDT and Smart’s reforestation efforts in Rizal, lost their upland rice crops to #TyphoonUlysses.

Up to P100 of payments for products sold also went to a sustainability fund for a farming community in Pampanga, to support their needs during the next cropping season.

Learning urban farming basics

As many Filipinos developed an interest in urban farming amid the COVID-19 quarantine, Smart and DA-ATI jointly produced a web series called Kalye Mabunga. “The initiative is in support of the government’s Plant, Plant, Plant campaign that encourages people to attain food security at the household level by making available healthy, nutritious food in their own homes,” Flores explains.

The online series aired on the Facebook pages of DA-ATI, Smart Communities, and partners Gabay Kalikasan, Alagang Kapatid Foundation, Bangsamoro Development Agency, and the Department of Education (DepEd).

Each 10-minute episode tackles topics such as choosing which vegetable, fruit, and herbs can be planted in an urban setting. Urban dwellers, especially those with limited spaces, can learn about city space farming, garden maintenance, and proper habits. Episodes on making gardening supplies out of recycled materials, as well as using plants for art projects, aim to encourage parents to get their children interested in plants.

Kalye Mabunga is also among the video resources released by Smart as supplementary learning materials for school year 2020-2021. To make the series suitable for teachers’ virtual classes needs, episodes were aligned with DepEd’s Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCs). Teachers can simply download the materials at the site.

Jumpstarting an agri-business in 2021

As recent studies show that the average of farmers is nearing 60 years old, with more and more young people opting to leave farms to seek work elsewhere, Smart’s upcoming initiative with DA-ATI intends to change the course of Filipino agriculture’s future.

Set to be launched in 2021, Smart and DA-ATII’s Youth AgriConnect aims to link youth to agricultural opportunities and business enterprise. The online campaign will feature resource speakers to promote various agricultural technologies among aspiring agri-preneurs, exhibit various market for youth to venture along the entire value chain, and bridge the youth to several lending institutions to jumpstart their farming business.

Ensuring quality jobs, economic growth

Smart’s agriculture advocacies promote sustainable livelihood and are under the company’s flagship CSR division, Smart Communities, which taps Technology for Development to narrow down the digital divide. The program is also aligned with the commitment of parent company PLDT to support the 17 Sustainable Goals of
the United Nations, with SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth as one of the key areas.