Farmers thrive in pandemic through digital communications innovations

Photo courtesy of PLDT FarmSmart

PLDT and wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) empower farmers amid the COVID-19 pandemic through digital innovations and programs that maximize technology to increase productivity and efficiency.

True to the companies’ core value of “malasakit”, some 2,500 individuals including
1,000 rice farmers have benefited from FarmSmart programs that introduced them to mobile applications that could boost their livelihood and connected them with capital funding and diverse platforms where they can sell their crops at fair market prices.

Photo courtesy of PLDT FarmSmart

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipino farmers were barely earning enough to support their family. Data from the Philippine Statistics show that 3 in 10 farmers are poor,” said Stephanie Orlino, Smart Assistant Vice President and Head for Community Relations. “To help alleviate this, Smart has teamed up with different organizations to bank on our expertise in technology to enable smallholder farmers,” Orlino added.

Helping Filipino farmers adapt to the digital shift  Smart, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), has been helping farmers access information to make better decisions, improve efficiencies, adapt digital technology and tap market opportunities through the Digital Farmers Program or DFP.

The DFP is a ladderized capacity-building track spread over a three-course sequence focusing on empowering farmers through basic digital tools such as smartphone use, social media, agriculture applications and more complex services like e-commerce.

With an ageing population of farmers who may not be familiar with digital innovations, Smart and ATI are tapping the tech-savvy youth to help farmers embrace the digital shift to boost their livelihood. At the same time, this method helps encourage the Filipino youth to venture into agriculture.

The DFP 101 course has conducted 67 trainings that were participated in by more than 1,500 individuals since its launch in 2019.

As a follow-up, Smart and ATI have piloted DFP 102 this year. The course focuses on advanced agriculture applications and the use of social media to help farmers improve efficiency and productivity. The course also aids farmers in developing e-commerce skills to manage online transactions and digital payments like PayMaya.

Central to the course is the SPIDTECH application developed by Smarter Approaches to Reinvigorate Agriculture as an Industry in the Philippines (Project SARAI). Using integrated mobile phone cameras, the Android-based app helps farmers identify, manage, report and monitor insect pests and diseases of major Philippine crops.

Boosting this capability is another application called ‘Plant Doctor Online’ that was
developed by East-West Seed Philippines that also helps identify plant diseases and provide management guides.

Recently, Smart and ATI trained more than 50 representatives from the 15 ATI Regional Training Centers across the nation in preparation for the expanded DFP 102 rollout in communities this August.

“The Philippines may be on the preliminary stages of going towards the digital shift in the agriculture sector. But with our passion, perseverance, and heart for public service, we will finish this journey strong. The future is digital. It is our responsibility to shape digital farmers today onwards,” said Alfredo S. Aton, Director IV at DA-ATI

Connecting farmers with buyers, affordable loans  PLDT and Smart further expand opportunities for smallholder farmers by providing them access to sure markets and capital funding.

Smart has teamed up with social enterprise Cropital to connect farmers with direct buyers through the ‘Buy Local’ program. The project enables PLDT and Smart employees and their families to buy farm products directly from adopted farming communities through the Cropital e-commerce platform. Part of the proceeds goes to a sustainability fund that is used to extend low-interest loans to farmers as capital for the next planting cycle. Six other companies led by PLDT and Smart Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan have also adopted the campaign.

By the end of the second quarter of 2021, the campaign had raised almost Php 4 million in revenues from the sale of more than 56 metric tons of rice. This enabled Smart to help more than 1,000 rice farmers in the country. The sustainability fund has grown to Php 200,000 opening up doors for more farmers to avail capital support.

To expand the program’s reach, Smart encourages companies and organizations to source their rice and vegetable donations for community pantries and families affected by the pandemic and disasters through the Buy Local platform. The Buy Local Farm-to-Pantry initiative has generated more than Php 200,000 in sales for vegetable growers in Aurora, Bulacan, and Isabela who were saddled with oversupply. The Buy Local Rice Donation campaign on the other hand has raised almost half a million pesos in revenues for farmers in Balungao, Pangasinan through the Rice Aid initiative of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).

Smart has been collaborating with stakeholders to champion meaningful, inclusive, sustainable, technology-enabled, and crisis-responsive programs in education, livelihood, disaster resilience and tourism to enable Filipinos to live smarter for a better world.

“As our chairman Mr. Manny V. Pangilinan puts it, agriculture can be the engine of our economic growth. It is our continuous mission at PLDT and Smart to find ways on how to help improve the lives and livelihood of our farmers through technology-enabled programs and help the government achieve its goal in creating a food secure and resilient Philippines with prosperous farmers and fisherfolk,” said Catherine Yap-Yang, First Vice President and Group Head of Corporate Communications at PLDT and Smart.

The Digital Farmers Program and ‘Buy Local’ initiative reside under Smart’s framework of Technology for Development that aims to narrow down the digital divide. The programs are also aligned with the commitment of PLDT and Smart to support the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, particularly No Poverty (SDG 1), Zero Hunger (SDG 2), and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

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