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Digital farmers: Rising above the pandemic through e-commerce

Girlie Sahoy - Byaheng Digiskarte
Girlie Sahoy, a farmer from Benguet, is among those who benefit from Aboitiz Foundation Inc.’s ‘Byaheng Digiskarte’ mentoring program. This project helps her to effectively sell products online, process food, and better manage finances through online banking.

The Covid-19 pandemic radically changed lifestyles and disrupted business operations including those of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), but it also proved how resilient small business owners have been and how they are able to adapt to change and rise above the challenges.

Girlie Sahoy, a farmer from Benguet and president of SG Farmers Association, Inc., was among those gravely affected by the pandemic. After working abroad for several years, she took a leap of faith and ventured into agri-business. She and her husband rented a 30 sq.m. farmland in Balili, La Trinidad, and sold their produce in the market nearby.

During the pandemic, Girlie’s business took a hard hit primarily due to lockdowns, border restrictions, and market closures. Several farmers likewise suffered a similar fate and incurred food and heavy financial losses.

“Nung pandemya hindi namin alam kung saan namin ibebenta ang mga gulay namin… may tanim po kami kaya lang hindi namin maibenta kasi lockdown, walang mga buyers, walang mga tao kaya nag-stop (During the pandemic, we didn’t know where to sell our vegetables… we were able to plant but we couldn’t sell our produce because of lockdown),” Girlie said.

Amid the uncertainty and struggles, ‘Byaheng Digiskarte’ became a silver lining for Girlie and her fellow farmers, opening many livelihood opportunities and helping them become successful online agri-preneurs.

Through the collaboration of Aboitiz Foundation Inc., AboitizPower subsidiary Hedcor Inc., UnionBank, Session Groceries, One Concord Food Solutions, and SG Farmers Association, Inc., ‘Byaheng Digiskarte’ made its way to Benguet to offer resilient enterprises to small time business owners.

The mentoring program which was launched in April 2021 aims to help farmers become flexible and adapt to unexpected circumstances like the pandemic, that directly affect their business and livelihood.

Girlie Sahoy
Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic to the agriculture industry, Girlie and her fellow farmers found a way to continue farming and selling their harvests by opening an online shop.

‘Digiskarte’, a portmanteau of the words ‘digital’ and ‘diskarte’, means adjusting business strategies using digital tools and innovation in order to ably respond to changes and challenges. The idea echoes Aboitiz Group’s Great Transformation journey which harnesses the power of innovation and technology to help individuals and businesses adapt to a tech-centered future.

“We came up with the project ‘Byaheng Digiskarte’ because we want to help agri and non-agri MSMEs and Cooperatives overcome their daily challenges by using mobile phones, internet, social media, and e-commerce platforms. We believe that disruptions in all industries happened in the digital space. Therefore, to adjust the strategies and tactics to optimize the digital platforms and spaces is our way forward, our ‘diskarte.’ Digiskarte is using digital tools, approaches and innovations in doing business,” said Aboitiz Foundation President and COO Maribeth L. Marasigan.

‘Byaheng Digiskarte’ offers mentoring sessions and capacity-building training to farmers with courses such as digital marketing techniques and how to build a digital presence so they can expand their business online.

“Noong una, mahirap po yung aming pag-transact sa mga orders lalong lalo na sa online selling at mga online na ginagawa namin kasi hindi po namin alam yun. As a farmer po, hindi kami natuto sa online at technology kaya nung sumali kami sa Session Groceries, tinuruan nila kami na gumamit ng mga gadgets katulad ng cellphone… na hindi namin ginagamit as our [mode of] transaction for our business (At first it was difficult to transact orders online because we didn’t know how. As a farmer, we didn’t learn online and technology so when we joined Session Groceries, they taught us how to use gadgets such as cell phones, which we initially didn’t use as a mode of transaction for our business.),” said Girlie who owns and manages Sahoy Farm.

Through the mentoring program, Girlie is able to sell farm products both face-to-face and online, and find a way to expand her business amid the challenges brought by the pandemic. She, along with her siblings, are now able to start acquiring land in Tublay, Benguet where they hope to expand their agri-business.

The collective effort between groups and organizations, and the farmers’ perseverance, dedication and growth and digital mindset, prove that it is possible to adapt and rise above the pandemic despite unexpected hurdles that may come their way.

“Sa mga katulad kong mga farmers na nawalan ng pag-asa at nagsu-struggle, patuloy lang po tayo na magtanim, patuloy lang po tayo na mag-encourage sa ibang mga farmers [at] makinig. Kung may mga opportunities na dumating sa buhay, grab it (To my fellow farmers who lost hope and are struggling, let us continue farming, let us continue to encourage other farmers, and listen. If there are opportunities that come in life, grab them),” Girlie said.

‘Byaheng Digiskarte’ is the micro, small, medium enterprises (MSMEs) and cooperative mentoring program of Aboitiz Foundation in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), Department of Agriculture (DA) and various mentor partners. It now has over 85 beneficiaries in Benguet under the SG Farmers Association, Inc.


About Aboitiz Foundation

The Aboitiz Foundation is the corporate foundation of the Aboitiz Group that was established in 1988. Its purpose is to drive change for a better world by advancing business and communities through programs on education, enterprise development, and environment. Since its inception in 1988, the Foundation’s CSR interventions have evolved from one-time donations to carefully designed programs that empower its beneficiaries to pursue their aspirations.

Today, the Aboitiz Foundation, through the Aboitiz Business Units, develops and implements corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs or CSR 2.0 projects that aim to co-create safe, empowered, and sustainable communities. These CSR 2.0 projects are aligned to the Group’s core competencies, are scalable nationwide, and create a deeper social impact on the communities and beneficiaries it serves.

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