FOOD security has long been a concern of Filipinos and much more so during the Covid-19 pandemic. The quarantine restrictions have made access to food and the market more difficult. The small farmers' produce rot because there is no one to deliver them to the market. Oftentimes, farmers have to sell them very cheaply just so their harvest won't totally go to waste. For the consumers, the shortage of farm produce in some areas has led to higher prices.
The government and the private sector continuously try to remedy the situation. But the problem persists.
"Food security is a major concern especially these days," says BPI Foundation Executive Director Owen Cammayo. "The unimpeded supply of farm produce is essential in feeding our population. But farmers are having difficulty finding a market for their products given the lockdown restrictions and the rising costs of getting their produce to the consumers."
"Our aim is to employ a more holistic approach to ensure we have enough supply of food for all Filipinos, especially those in the poorest communities," he added.
It is for this reason that the BPI Foundation -- the social responsibility arm of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) -- thought of the Farm-to-Table program. Through this program, BPI Foundation hopes to help the agriculture sector -- at least a part thereof -- by further capacitating farmers to improve food and nutrition, boost agricultural productivity and production, and ensure efficient supply chains during these uncertain times.
In collaboration with RiceUp -- an agritech social enterprise that helps farmers to directly connect with consumers -- the program hopes to engage over 1,200 farmers and to increase their income by as much as 400 percent.
To do this, RiceUp acts as a middleman and directly purchases farmers' crops for a relatively higher price compared to the traditional middleman traders. This way, beneficiaries of the program are given the opportunity to cut down trading cost and earn more. Based in Lubao, Pampanga, RiceUp presently covers Floridablanca and San Simon; Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija; Bayombong and Solano, Nueva Viscaya; all 13 barangays of Paguibato District in Davao City; and Metro Manila.
And there's more to the program than managing supply chains. It also provides farmers with sustainable livelihood opportunities to maximize their land potential and boost their knowledge and agripreneurship skills through farm schools.
Farmers are assisted to become members of farm cooperatives so they can gain access to capital through lower-interest loans, enabling them to save more and invest in innovative farming technologies.
The BPI Foundation has also set up a donation campaign to raise funds to provide long-term, sustainable farming solutions for low-income urban and rural communities. The project aims to build food houses using the Food Shed Farming Enterprise System to address food security and help at least 600 families earn in the "new normal."
This initiative is done in partnership with the World Wide Fund Philippines (WWF-Philippines), an NGO that has been active in climate change, sustainable livelihood and conservation initiatives. BPI Foundation aims to raise P5 million through a donation drive to build 20 food sheds. The funds raised shall be turned over to WWF-Philippines.
The Food Shed Farming Enterprise System is a compact, protective, regenerative, and diversified food production system that adopts natural and climate-smart farming technologies and practices to produce quality and healthy food products.
BPI Foundation, in partnership with Green Earth Heritage Foundation Inc., also helps bring innovations in farming, e.g. rainwater harvesting tanks and greenhouses, to 32 farming families in Bulacan.
While the government and the private sector continue to roll out relief and stimulus packages, we need to do more to ensure that, even with a pandemic, we are still able to provide a more inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and resilient food system for our countrymen, nourishing them and uplifting their lives.
There are many battles worth fighting. But this fight for food security is one that we must neither forget nor neglect.
(Disclosure: This writer sits in the board of BPI as an Independent Director.)
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