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Keeping food on the move during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines

This is a summary of a Field Exchange field article that was included in issue 65. The original article was authored by Natalie Sessions and Christine Jodloman

Natalie Sessions is a Senior Nutritionist at ENN.

Christine Jodloman is the Associate Director of the AGREA Foundation.

In the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture (DA) partnered with AGREA to move food from farms to consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The Move Food Initiative relied on AGREA’s wide network to support the needs of the food supply chain, with Facebook being the primary method of mobilisation
  • During the initiative, AGREA witnessed the problems faced by farmers, particularly related to post-harvest losses, and have begun empowering farmers to address these through various measures including diversifying crops
  • Efforts by the DA, including the Move Food Initiative, have led to greater government investment in agriculture with a focus on localising food supply chains to feed families and prevent food waste

Background

During the COVID-19 pandemic, strict lockdowns in the Philippines, known as enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), restricted all non-essential movement. Food supply chains were severely compromised, affecting farmers’ abilities to distribute and sell their produce and the ability of citizens to access it.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) mobilised to support agricultural activities through public-private partnerships. In partnership with AGREA1, the Move Food Initiative was developed to move food from farms to consumers during the pandemic.

Food on the move

The Move Food Initiative assisted farmers to move their produce using AGREA’s wide network and support system. The initiative relied on Facebook to communicate information and distribute produce. Since AGREA’s Facebook page already had a dedicated audience of farmers, they were able to reach out when they had harvested their produce. The network also included those interested in supporting the agricultural sector, for example by providing trucks for deliveries or spaces to store food.  

A simple Google form was used by customers to place orders and provide delivery details. AGREA then delivered the produce to a central point from which volunteers, known as ‘movers’, would set up stalls or mini-markets to pass produce on to consumers.  Movers were generally well known and trusted in their communities.

Emerging issues

As the initiative progressed, a number of issues arose that required creative solutions from AGREA. These included:

Results

By the time the Philippines began lifting quarantine measures in June 2020, the Move Food Initiative had shipped over 160,000 kg of fruit and vegetables from more than 7,400 farmers to nearly 52,000 families. By the end of November 2020, 191,447 kg of fruit and vegetables had been delivered, 28,122 farmers had been partnered with and fruit and vegetables had been served to 78,177 families and 4,690 frontline workers. The initiative has been recognised within the DA and further afield, winning numerous international and national awards.

Supporting farmers in the ‘new normal’

While working closely with farmers, AGREA observed that they lacked the skills needed to reduce post-harvest losses. To build their capacities, brief training programmes were conducted over the telephone. AGREA also tapped into creative ideas from farmers to prolong the life of food and shared these among farming communities. One reason for post-harvest losses was a lack of diversity in crop planting which AGREA and the DA are working with farming communities to address.  

Farmers also lacked the understanding of how to price their produce. AGREA is working with farmers to cost their produce and to understand how to budget their income so that they are less reliant on loans and working with middlemen to keep their farms operational.

Supporting consumers in the ‘new normal’

The ECQ highlighted how consumers have lost their connection to where their food comes from.  As a result, AGREA has been promoting ‘grow kits’ to encourage people to grow food at home. This aligns with the DA’s ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ programme which establishes community gardens and distributes seeds and planting materials. Home gardening was also promoted as a productive family activity that could be done during the ECQ.

Another insight from the Move Food Initiative was the need to connect consumers to farmers. During the pandemic, AGREA was able to educate consumers on the process of getting food from farms to their homes. They were also able to connect consumers directly to farmers via the Move Food Initiative’s Facebook page.     

Building off the initiative’s successes

The Move Food Initiative and the broader efforts by the DA have led to greater investments in agriculture by the Government of the Philippines. Amid the pandemic, the government and partner organisations have focused on localising food supply chains to feed families and prevent food waste. The Move Food Initiative has been shared widely as a success story, including through the SUN Movement, to generate ideas in other countries that are dealing with food waste and struggling to move food during lockdowns.

Lessons learned and conclusion

While the pandemic has brought unprecedented suffering and challenges across the globe, it has also offered an opportunity to rethink food systems and consumption patterns. The Move Food Initiative is an example of a response that is farmer-focused, community-based and sustainable. Lessons learned during rollout provide insights for other countries aiming to adopt more sustainable food systems. These include:

For more information, please contact Christine Jodloman at christinejodloman@agrea.ph

 

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1 AGREA is a group that aims to support the empowerment of local farmers by implementing sustainable agricultural practices and creating inclusive agribusiness livelihood programmes.

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Natalie Sessions and Christine Jodloman (). Keeping food on the move during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. FEX 65 digest , November 2021. www.ennonline.net/fexdigest/65/movefoodinitiativephilippines

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