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PLDT, Smart uplift farmers in the pandemic with innovative tools

From #BuyLocal to DFP to Kalye Mabunga

Patricio Castillo and 50-year-old Rufo Sarmiento, Jr.
Patricio Castillo and 50-year-old Rufo Sarmiento, Jr. of Pangasinan are just two of the hundreds of beneficiaries of these digital solutions

As the Philippines celebrates the Farmers and Fisherfolk Month this May, PLDT and its wireless unit Smart broaden the reach of their combined digital solutions to help farmers find a sure market for their produce, increasing their source of income.

So far, #BuyLocal has generated more than 2 million pesos in revenues from the sale of more than 36,000 kilos of rice, benefiting almost a thousand farmers. The campaign has also raised P180,000 for the Buy Local sustainability fund intended to provide capital to small-scale farmers, which Smart will be turning over P100,000 to 20 farmer beneficiaries in Mindoro Occidental. Six other companies led by PLDT Chairman, President and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan have also adopted the campaign.

In Pangasinan, 52-year-old Patricio Castillo and 50-year-old Rufo Sarmiento, Jr. are just two of the hundreds of beneficiaries of these digital solutions. Castillo has been growing rice for over 20 years in three hectares of farmland in San Joaquin, Balungao, while Sarmiento, Jr. farms some 15 hectares of land in the same area.

“Things were very different, then. Farming was more physically demanding because everything was done manually. Now, we benefit from farm machines and tools to lighten the load,” said Castillo, who plants twice a year to maximize his earnings. On average, he yields around P60,000 to P80,000 in revenues per hectare. To boost his income, he also grows vegetables alongside his main crop.

For Sarmiento, Jr., rice farming is not only labor intensive but capital intensive as well, “For every hundred cavans that you harvest per hectare, expenses amount to 40 cavans.” To augment his income, Sarmiento, Jr. rents out farm machines to his colleagues.

While technology has unloaded some of the physical burden, the agriculture sector remains one of the poorest in the country, despite the industry employing more than a fifth of the national total work force. Based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), three in ten farmers live in poverty.

In a bid to help improve farmers’ lot, Smart, together with its parent firm PLDT, has partnered with social enterprise and e-commerce platform Cropital for its #BuyLocal campaign. Under the program, PLDT and Smart employees in Metro Manila can buy rice directly from small-scale farmers through the Cropital platform. This helps provide sure markets for the farmers’ produce through employee purchases, thus increasing farmers’ source of income.

“We’re grateful to PLDT and Smart for coming up with this program. This gives us the platform to sell our harvest at a fair price,” said Sarmiento, Jr.

Farming gets smarter

The #BuyLocal campaign is an offshoot of the Digital Farmers Program (DFP), a project of Smart with the Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI) that seeks to empower Filipino farmers by providing access to digital tools and technologies that can help boost efficiency, productivity, and marketability. These tools are most relevant since Filipino farmers face a lot of uncertainties. In the last quarter of 2020 alone, Typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses left more than 12 billion pesos in damaged agriculture.

“Typhoons are a risk we constantly face. I’ve had my crops damaged by severe weather as well. But you have to move on. You need to get up and try to find ways to recoup what you have lost,” said Castillo.

The DFP taps the technology-savvy youth to help farmers access the digital space and establish a channel where they can exchange ideas.

Don Karl Cutamora, who is a farmer’s son in Butuan City, appreciated the different software he learned during the DFP training, “The different applications they shared with us will help farmers, like my father, improve their harvest particularly the mobile app that detects different weather conditions.”

“The basic DFP trainings are particularly useful to small-holder farmers who are unable to tap the vast resources of agriculture apps due to lack of basic digital knowledge. With the coronavirus pandemic creating a new normal, we need to empower our farmers with innovations that will help them live smarter for a better world,” said Stephanie Orlino, Smart Assistant Vice President for Community Relations.

To further expand the reach of the program, Smart and DA-ATI made the DFP 101 eLearning course available at the DA-ATI e-Extension portal. This free certificate-earning self-paced course is composed of bite-sized videos and knowledge and skills assessment tests on the DFP 101 topics.

“Faced with different challenges today, we need to level up our skills. We should take advantage of technology to improve our farming process,” acknowledged Elvira Bequilla, a farmer from Agusan del Norte.

The DFP has conducted 48 trainings in 47 municipalities for more than 1,200 farmers and youth, including 52 officers from the different DA-ATI offices. In the time of the pandemic, the program has produced 16 self-paced microlearning videos on basic ICT skills for farmers.

Improving food security

Apart from DFP, Smart has also teamed up with the DA-ATI to launch Kalye Mabunga, an online information and awareness campaign that guided households and communities in growing their own food. The online magazine show helped families and communities become food secure. The show also gave families additional or alternative income opportunities by selling their produce.

“Kalye Mabunga has become an avenue for recreation among families. It has provided a breath of fresh air now that most people are working from home. It recreated the boundaries of work and home by incorporating the practice of gardening in our lifestyle,” said Antonietta J. Arceo, Chief, Information Services Division, DA-ATI.

Kalye Mabunga

The pilot season aired 10 episodes featuring 15 partners and speakers. The show was a hit with the public averaging around 33,000 views for each video.

Smart has also thrown its support behind the DA-ATI’s on its AgriTalk learning series. Now on its second season, ‘AgriTalk: 2 Easy Learning’ features easy to digest two-minute videos that offer comprehensive guides on urban farming, organic fertilizers and pesticides and fast crop production to promote homegrown food among city dwellers.

All these advocacies are under the framework of Technology for Development that aims to narrow down the digital divide. These programs are also aligned with the commitment of PLDT and Smart to support the 17 Sustainable Goals of the United Nations, particularly No Poverty (SDG 1), Zero Hunger (SDG 2), and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 18).