MANILA, Philippines– Settled in a corner at the Balintawak Market is 38-year-old farmer Mylene Rafer, as she waits for buyers to pick up at least some of the thousands of pineapples she brought all the way from Camarines Norte.
With the Luzon lockdown in place, Mylene has been struggling to get buyers for her fruits due to the stringent measures set up to arrest the spread of COVID-19.
With 4 children waiting at home, Mylene has no choice but to drop her prices to about 30% to 50% just to sell off her goods and ensure no produce gets thrown away. Still, she goes home with no profits.
“Nasa 12 hanggang 15 oras ang byahe namin mula Camarines Norte hanggang dito sa Balintawak. Swerte at may sariling truck kami kasi ‘yung iba na umuupa, aabot pa sa P25,000 hanggang PhP30,000 ang renta. Nasa 18,000 na pinya ang dala namin na isang taong inalagaan. Pero lugi kami, wala kahit balik puhunan,” Mylene explained.
(The travel from Camarines Norte to Balintawak lasts 12-15 hours. We’re lucky because we have our own truck because other farmers have to rent trucks at P25,000 to P30,000. We’ve brought about 18,000 pieces of pineapples which took us about 12 months to harvest. But we still don’t have any profits.)
The breakdown in the supply chain of fresh fruits and vegetables poses a threat not only to farmers’ livelihood but also to the country’s food security. (READ: Farmers trash spoiled vegetables while poor go hungry)
Mylene said she had initially invested at least P120,000 for 18,000 pieces of pineapples, but she went home with P70,000 after a two-day camp-out at the Balintawak Market parking area where she also had to pay P10,000 for the parking fee.
This situation is true for all other farmers struggling to bring their produce to main markets—it is expensive and taxing. (READ: [OPINION] The Filipino farmer is not a dying breed)
Bridging the gap
The plight of Mylene and several other farmers are known by Filipino agriculture and technology enterprises that formed the Philippine Agri Consortium in February, just a month before the lockdown implementation in the whole of mainland Luzon.
The consortium collaborated with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and came up with DELIVER-e, an end-to-end application system that directly connects farmers to buyers through a seamless and market-based platform. (READ: What you can do to help rice farmers)
The DELIVER-e application system is developed by the Insight Supply Chain Solutions (InsightSCS), a logistics technology startup in the Philippines in collaboration with other consortium members AGREA, AGRABAH, Mayani, and Verdecalle.
DELIVER-e integrates and connects agriculture applications and logistics services from different providers into a single platform powered by a blockchain—basically a platform with synergized application systems from transportation, to consolidation, and to end-user delivery. It hopes to solve the supply chain gap from farmers to the markets or doorsteps of consumers.
AGRABAH, one of the members of the consortium, had tapped Mylene to be a partner farmer supplier bringing fresh produce to Manila through the DELIVER-e digital platform. They had met Mylene beforehand when they needed a truck and rented hers to transport seaweed from Caramoan to Manila.
Paving the way for the platform is Gulay ng Bayan, the first business-to-consumer e-marketplace linked to the main DELIVER-e system.
Through the Gulay ng Bayan, AGRABAH was able to secure over 9,000 pieces of pineapples from Mylene, with more coming up as more online marketplaces linked to DELIVER-e develop.
“Malaking tulong na online na yung selling. Malalaman na namin agad ilan ang kailangan tapos ‘yung bayad, idedeposit na lang sa bank account namin. Malaking tulong yung AGRABAH at ‘yung DELIVER-e, napabilis at simple ang pagbili dahil sa advanced orders,” Mylene noted.
(Online selling is a big help. We will be able to know ahead of time the number supplies needed and payments are directly deposited to our bank accounts. AGRABAH and the DELIVER-e platform because it hastened and simplified the process of advanced orders)
Putting down roots
The USAID played a key role providing technical support on the systems improvement of the DELIVER-e.
It also linked Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, and the Metro Manila Development Authority to establish a long-term public-private partnership on innovations that will help uplift the lives of Filipino farmers even after the pandemic.
DELIVER-e’s partners are now exploring ways to on-board electronic payment channels, such as GCash and PayMaya, to ease transactions for every order made.
The platform now has a consolidation hub and staging point for fresh produce for distribution as well after Food Terminal Inc opened its warehouse facility to DELIVER-e.
To date, it has moved over 156,000 kilograms of fresh fruits and vegetables around Metro Manila.
It’s also collaborating with local government units (LGU), such as Quezon City and Muntinlupa, as a platform where LGUs can procure fruits and vegetables for food pack relief supplies or mobile palengke programs.
“Nabuhay ang pag-asa namin. Mas may pag-asa na ngayon kahit matapos pa ang COVID-19 dahil may ganito na kaming koneksyon sa mga pagbebentahan namin na siguradong kikita kami at walang mabubulok na mga gulay at prutas,” Mylene said.
(Our hopes are renewed. We have this hope that even after COVID-19, we are assured of buyers and profits, and that no vegetables and fruits will go to waste.) – Rappler.com
Tricia Lorbes is a development worker and volunteer aiming to help find solutions to empower communities that are most often left behind.