A global community of over 150 countries  observe and celebrate World Food Day, October 16th of every year. Its primary objective is to raise awareness on the importance of food security, nutrition and hunger around the world to help achieve “Zero Hunger,” one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, to eradicate hunger, attain food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

All these, hopefully, will happen by year 2030. 

But based on the 2020 fourth quarter Social Weather Station Survey of Pilipinas Kontra Gutom, an estimated four million Filipino families experienced hunger due to lack of food to eat, at least once.  This makes one of the movement’s missions more urgent, Food Availability and Accessibility, and to help increase farmer productivity and income.

Food and the Philippines

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 850 million people in the world are undernourished. This number is deemed hardly changed for several decades, which is why food availability and accessibility continues to be the focal point of all efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition in the world, anchored on the goal of increasing farmer productivity and income. 

The Philippines is no exception. From being a rice exporter, now the country is one of the top rice importers in the world, making farmers–the soldiers who continue to fight hunger–victims of hunger themselves. This is why efforts are being undertaken to bring back the power to the farmer by helping them plant more rice and other crops to assuage hunger among Filipinos, especially children.

As one of the biggest purveyors of technology in the country, PLDT and Smart are committed to use #TechForGood to fight hunger and promote food security. Tapping into their innovative capabilities, the telcos launched the #BuyLocal program under its #FarmSmart campaign to help boost the livelihood of local small scale farmers.

#BuyLocal to help farmers—and more 

Every year, people hear news about spoiled produce discarded on streets or vacant patches of land because there’s no one to sell them to, even at rock-bottom prices.

Under #BuyLocal, PLDT and Smart link its partner farmers directly to buyers, such as the employees of PLDT and Smart and other companies under the leadership of its Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, assuring that their produce are sold at fair and competitive prices.The farmers are also provided access to affordable capital that they can use for their next planting cycle, done through the Sustainability Fund, which comes from a portion of the sales of rice.

Ever since it was implemented back in September 2019, the #BuyLocal program has already engaged with 11 farming communities and supported more than 4,000 farmers already. It has also completed 17,489 orders with eight (8) companies adopting the Buy Local as their own CSR program.

A total of 97,830 kilograms of rice have been sold, generating gross sales of P5,707,346. From the sales, PLDT and Smart were able to raise more than P210,000 in sustainability fund to support a portion of the capital needs of rice growers from Pangasinan, Bulacan, Occidental Mindoro, and Pampanga. 

The program was also able to raise a total of 44,497 kilos for rice donations, and so far have actually donated 10,175 kilos of rice.

Empowering farmers amid the pandemic through collaboration and innovations

To implement #BuyLocal, PLDT and Smart partnered with Cropital, a globally recognized social agri-enterprise that provides local farmers access to affordable and scalable financing.

Cropital, through its online crowdfunding platform, enables retail investors to directly finance local farmers who need funds for their next planting season, which can run from four to six months. It also provides its partner farmers an e-commerce platform where they can directly sell their produce.

PLDT and Smart collaborated with Cropital to leverage on the latter’s online platforms to support more local farmers to empower them through technology especially amid the ongoing pandemic.

Not only do farmers benefit from the #BuyLocal program but also other stakeholders as well. Consumers, for example, now have access to quality produce even while they are safely tucked in their own homes due to existing mobility restrictions since Cropital allows delivery directly to consumers’ homes anywhere in Metro Manila. This means food will remain available and accessible to everyone, which is essentially the pillars of food security.

Also benefiting from the program are community-based initiatives like the popular Community Pantry, which was established to provide food to those who don’t have access to it due to lack of income, mostly those affected by the pandemic and other economic reasons. Through #BuyLocal, buyers can now support their local community pantries or even put up their own to provide more food for more people, mostly those in marginalized areas.

Even communities affected by disasters, those badly hit by strong typhoons, can benefit from the program’s “Buy One, Give One” initiative to provide assistance during times of crises. For every sack of rice bought from the farmers, another sack goes to families affected by disasters and distributed in the form of relief.

More importantly, children who are hungry due to lack of enough food and suffer from malnutrition can benefit since aside from relief assistance, rice is also provided to feeding missions that help improve nutrition of children. 

With a pandemic that continues to devastate and disrupt lives, having a stable and secure food system is also a way of fighting it by keeping people healthy with a steady supply of fresh, nutritiously good food. Everyone is encouraged to do their share to help the farmers provide Filipinos with nutritious food on their table. Together, achieving a global food goal by acting collaboratively and helping fuel a defining transformation will boost the country’s agri-food system.

To help sustain local agriculture, support local farmers by buying their rice through store.cropital.com. By inputting smartbuylocal, consumers can get a discount and a portion of the sale goes to the sustainability fund for farmers. Interested groups who wish to adopt the program in their own companies or organizations can email farmsmart@smart.com.ph.