MANILA, Philippines – The Bayanihan Musikahan Coalition of individuals and organizations has been campaigning for food security for the poor families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns in many parts of the country.
Over the past weeks, one of the lead organizations in this coalition has been figuring out ways to rebuild the supply chain amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), allowing them to provide food to families unable to stock up during the period. (READ: Bulacan farmers group sells 4 tons of produce online since lockdown)
With an initial target to provide food packs to 15,000 urban poor families in the National Capital Region, and supermarket chains experiencing low supply, the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), had to find other means to address food requirements of the most vulnerable sector.
Meanwhile, farmer cooperatives across the country were forced to discontinue their operations due to strict limitations called for by the ECQ.
What started as an experimental run with Tublay farmers of Benguet resulted in the successful sourcing of over 200 tons of fresh produce direct from farmers and fisherfolk organizations. (READ: Farmers trash spoiled vegetables while poor go hungry)
PBSP Executive Director Reynaldo Laguda said this model has allowed them to provide benefits to both sides of the chain by directly linking the market to the producer.
“This has a dual effect because it allows us to address the food requirements of families and also gave us the opportunity to provide a market for farmers who otherwise would have had difficulty selling their produce because of the affected demand,” Laguda said.
Concerns such as payment modalities, finding suitable transportation, observing physical distancing measures, and proper identification of recipients were among the different elements that needed to be ironed out to ensure a sustainable pipeline.
This model allowed PBSP to provide food packs composed of non-traditional relief goods such as fresh vegetables, chicken, and fresh and dried fish – a healthy mix of food groups to help keep a balanced diet during the pandemic.
Lost and found
Josefa Kidpalos is a member of the COBASA Farmer Organization in Benguet. She said their family’s average daily income prior to the ECQ was at P1,000, but they found themselves at a loss when a Luzon-wide lockdown was ordered by the government.
“Nakatunganga kami, para kaming natulalang bigla. Nagbasura kami ng tone-toneladang gulay dahil naglockdown at walang lalabas dahil mahuhuli ang lalabas. Nasira ang mga gulay at nabulok dahil hindi na namin nadeliver. Natigil ang packing namin dahil hindi kami pwedeng lumabas. ‘Yung mga nagtatrabaho at mga studyante, natigil din kaya walang pagkakitaan,” she said.
(We were dumbfounded and shocked. We discarded tons of vegetables with the implementation of the lockdown. No one was also allowed to go out for fear they might get caught. The vegetables rotted because we were not able to deliver them. We also stopped packing our products because we aren’t allowed to go out. Classes and work were also suspended so we had no customers.)
COBASA is one of the farmer organizations tapped by PBSP to deliver fresh vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, potatoes and cabbage to Metro Manila.
“Masaya kami. Guminhawa ang buhay namin. Ngayon, nakakapag-ulam na kami ng masarap din. At least nabenta ‘yung mga gulay namin, hindi nabulok. ‘Yung mga sobra sa mga gulay na hindi mabibili, binibigay namin sa mga nasalanta at mga walang pagkain,” Kidpalos said.
(We are happy. Out lives got better. Now, we are able to have delicious meals. We’re now able to sell our vegetables instead of just letting them rot. For the unsold vegetables, we give them to those affected and have nothing to eat.)
Farmer cooperatives in Central Luzon suffered the same fate upon the declaration of the ECQ, until they too were contacted by PBSP.
“Farmer-members were able to sell their produce in bulk. No need to transact with middlemen or traders who buy their produce at a cheaper price. With PBSP, farmer-members were able to sell their produce at a reasonable price,” said Yolanda Castro, manager of GP-125 Golden Pance MPC, a member of the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO).
Additional income is also provided for farmer members who help in packing the vegetables.
‘Blessing in disguise’
Meanwhile, in Batangas, a newly established commissary run by a consortium of 3 cooperatives found the need to accelerate their service in order to beef up their capacity to secure and sell food.
According to Henry James Sison, vice chair of the Batangas Organic and Natural Farming Agricultural Cooperative, they currently move 8 to 10 tons of produce twice a week and 2 to 3 tons daily for the rest of the week.
“We’ve gone beyond the 80-ton mark since ECQ started. A huge jump from our usual turnover that was probably 1 to 2 tons a week. This ECQ was a blessing in disguise as players in the food supply chain suddenly found themselves without sources,” he said.
“We had our farmer network to bank on. Further, while trading posts like Balintawak or Divisioria where initially shellshocked with their inability to bring produce to the Metro, a few days before lockdown, we already had the necessary permits and capability to start moving food around,” Sison continued.
At the time of social distancing, various communities find themselves working closely with an attitude of agility and adaptability, together with a learning mindset needed to evolve with the situation.
“This is a collective effort to rebuild the supply chain amidst many constraints. It is not just one entity that’s doing everything and that’s what makes it resilient. We harness the strength of each organization to make sure that the entire supply chain in complete,” Laguda said.
Through Bayanihan Musikahan, Filipinos are presented with the opportunity to help each other – from the artists giving free performances, donors providing funding, farmers providing food and manpower, and the urban poor who organize themselves so that distribution is done properly with minimal concerns – a concrete model of bayanihan in the time of ECQ.
As of April 23, Bayanihan Musikahan have provided over 42,000 food and vegetable packs to urban poor families in Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan, and Cebu City. – Rappler.com
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