Keeping food on the move during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines
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
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.
As the initiative progressed, a number of issues arose that required creative solutions from AGREA. These included:
- A limited number of people were allowed to harvest during the ECQ, resulting in harvesting delays and post-harvest losses. AGREA advocated with mayors to enable more people to support the harvesting.
- Paying farmers was a challenge and flexibility was needed to shift from cash payments to bank transfers. In cases where farmers did not have access to bank accounts, alternative strategies were used, including sending money to rural banks or to the bank accounts of relatives or friends, as well as having local government officials distribute money directly.
- The diverse needs of different communities required adaptations and contextualised approaches.
- Obtaining the passes needed for the verification of transport vehicles at quarantine checkpoints was challenging and required support from local DA officials to push the process forward.
- The transportation of produce via sea and air was subject to restrictions and delays while land transport often utilised trucks that were poorly equipped for food storage. Open communication with customers was vital to ensure they understood the challenges and were prepared for delays or for receiving poor-quality produce. The DA also supported by providing cold storage to keep food fresh.
- Post-harvest food losses doubled from 30% pre-pandemic to almost 60% during the pandemic. The Move Food Initiative partnered with chefs on the AGREA Rescue Kitchen (ARK) which used oversupplied foods to make seasonal products including jams, smoothies and soups. Fresh produce was also donated by the ARK to frontline and other essential workers. Further campaigns included ‘Hero Drives’, during which consumers were encouraged to buy fresh produce in bulk for a discount, and the ‘Being Crate-ful’ Drive in which AGREA matched consumers’ purchases by donating food parcels to selected key workers. In just five days, food parcels were delivered to 84 jeepney (local bus) drivers and 12 garbage collectors.
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:
- The need to be creative and agile: The process of food distribution across the country was new to AGREA. The team had to learn on the go, adapting to emerging needs.
- The importance of leveraging one’s network: From the beginning, the Move Food Initiative relied on AGREA’s wide network of allies who volunteered to support at both ends of the supply chain. Facebook played a critical role in this mobilisation.
- The need to complement government efforts: AGREA has always aligned to government goals and objectives, maintaining strong communication links with the DA.
- Contextualising the approach: The Move Food Initiative adapted its model to the needs of farmers and communities as needed.
For more information, please contact Christine Jodloman at email@example.com
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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Reference this page
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