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Securing the future of our agri heroes

By Dr. JAIME ARISTOTLE B. ALIP
CARD MRI Founder and Chairman Emeritus
May 1, 2020

Not all heroes wear capes; many of them spend days under the heat of the sun ensuring that every family in the country can have enough food on the table.

In this time of COVID-19 pandemic, every Filipino household face an equalizing basic need: enough and steady supply of food so that their families will not go hungry. More than ever, the important role of our farmers now is highlighted as they serve as one of the frontline heroes in this trying time.

However, not all agricultural workers and businesses have the capacity to run their livelihood during this crisis. From Day 1 of the community quarantine, farmers are deeply distressed by the health threat and hampered by the necessary measures laid out by the government in containing the virus. The agricultural sector, which is heavily reliant on transportation facilities, faces the challenge of transferring goods from farms to markets.

Additionally, peddlers and vendors cannot simply roam around to sell their products due to restricted movement. They encounter financial losses even as their perishable products could not be sold, hence were either consumed, given away to the neighbors and sadly, left to rot. If not for institutions and organizations who protected our food security frontliners, the agricultural sector would have been on the brink of collapse.

Fortunately, the government has timely put in place programs that support the sector. On the forefront is the Department of Agriculture who has been implementing initiatives in order to respond to the needs of agricultural and fisheries workers. DA has announced the provision of cash subsidies and other financial assistance to farmers which can be used for farm inputs or their families’ basic needs. In partnership with TESDA, DA is offering online training on the “new normal” in terms of food production and food value chain. Another important initiative is Kadiwa, an online shop for agricultural produce. Through this, the general public has greater access to cheaper and healthy food supplies. This approach will directly connect the farmer-producers to the consumers which will lessen the cost of the agri-products.

On the other hand, a number of LGUs have started distributing seeds to encourage residents to plant in their backyards. In addition, they have been buying produce from local farmers to include in the package of relief goods that they are distributing to their communities.

These initiatives to support farmers have greatly inspired us in CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) to implement similar meaningful programs for our clients in the agricultural sector.

Rebuilding small agri-businesses

CARD MRI has long recognized the significant contributions of farmers from the time it initially provided its services to landless farmers during its establishment in 1986. The COVID-19 pandemic has called us to go back to our roots and come up with innovative solutions to the challenges our farmers are facing now.

It all started with one CARD MRI client who supplied agricultural products as part of relief packages to a local government unit in Panabo, Davao del Norte. It sparked the idea of consolidating all CARD MRI clients with on-going businesses through a Facebook buy and sell group. As CARD MRI strives to create impact on a bigger scale, CARD MRI partnered with DA to serve as a consolidator to the Kadiwa online shops through our network of microfinance and SME clients all over the Philippines. With the accreditation, our clients will be indirectly supplying commercial volumes of agri-products to local government units (LGUs. Through this, CARD MRI hopes to support many microfinance and SME clients.

As the health crisis greatly changes our buying habits, we also saw an opportunity to ease the delivery and distribution of food supply more locally. We recently launched Likha ni Inay Palengke on Wheels to help our farmer-producers and vendors earn during the pandemic while providing the general community greater accessibility to basic farm products while on quarantine. The food lane pass granted to CARD MRI allows us to bridge several producers and vendors to consumers. This virtual initiative is hoped to significantly help in reducing the spread of the virus. The Palengke on Wheels is now available in San Pablo City in Laguna, Lipa City in Batangas, San Fernando City in Pampanga, Bais City in Negros Oriental and Mati City in Davao Oriental.

Securing the Future of our Agri Frontliners

As many of our farmers, vendors and peddlers are crippled by the crisis, they will need greater assistance to help their family and the whole nation in taking small steps forward towards the “new normal” way of life.

While ‘high-risk’ areas in Luzon remain on lockdown until May 15, CARD MRI will gradually bring back its normal operations on May 4 in some areas in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to help its clients slowly restart their business after more than a month of confinement and amidst financial difficulties.

The financial institutions under CARD MRI will resume offering agricultural loans to its clients to use as capital as they start the planting season. Looking at the picture holistically, this will help the agricultural sector address food security of the country especially those in lockdown areas. As Department of Agriculture Secretary Dar correctly points out, “While improving our food adequacy level, we should aim for food security. If no action is done, the threat of hunger is as real as the threat of the virus.”

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