The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted to an unexpected slump in the Philippine economy. The latest report from the National Economic and Development Authority estimates that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth will likely be at 4.3 at best and negative 0.6 percent at worst, assuming the impact of the crisis is felt until the middle of the year.1 This is a staggering decline from the target growth rate set for 2020 which is at 6.5 to 7.5 percent.2 Midway last month, Metro Manila was put under a community quarantine, which was eventually expanded to the entire Luzon, in an effort to contain the spread of the disease. Other provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao have also announced lockdowns.
The “enhanced community quarantine” in Luzon, now extended to April 30, has included the suspension of public transportation, classes, and work for non-essential businesses. Big and small businesses alike have continued to bear the brunt of the crisis as the general population is encouraged to stay at home. Social enterprises are not spared. Among FSSI partners, 31 out of 35 surveyed said that reduced mobility has affected their enterprise.
LiveGreen International is one of the few social enterprises that are able to operate, despite limited personnel. LiveGreen is engaged in the production, processing, and distribution of 100% fresh organic vegetables. Paris Uy, President and CEO, shared that their ongoing production is due to farmers continuing to work despite the crisis. Crops were planted in January and there is still a steady supply of farm produce. LiveGreen has around 30 to 40 partner farmers in Benguet, and some 10 to 15 in Batangas, Cavite, and Tanay.
Helping farmers who feed us
For Uy, the crisis is a wake-up call for society to support the farmers who are relentlessly producing our food. This calls for stronger links between the national and local governments and a better logistical support in transporting produce from farmers especially in the north to where the demand is across the country. Uy shares that they had difficulty transporting vegetables in the first few days of the lockdown, “Tuloy-tuloy ang production. Ang problema lang ay confusion and intervention of the LGU shutting down while the national government said food-related [cargo] can pass through.”
LiveGreen hauls five tons of vegetables from Baguio to Manila daily. In Baguio, farmers who come down to deliver goods to their La Trinidad warehouse often encounter delays due to the lockdown. Fortunately, it became easier when the Department of Agriculture (DA) issued food passes to ensure the unhampered movement of agricultural products through the numerous checkpoints across Luzon.
Uy also identifies the importance of coordination between government agencies concerned in the food supply chain and bringing food from producers to consumers. Come harvest time, if farmers are unable to bring their goods to Manila and with the decline in purchase orders from big businesses due to closure as what they have experienced during the lockdown, farmers are forced to dispose their produce — when local governments could have purchased these to be given out to families as part of COVID-19 relief efforts.
The DA has recently moved to consider workers in the agriculture and fisheries sector as front liners in the country’s fight against COVID-19. Various programs are also lined up to empower these front liners and boost local food production and manufacturing.
This crisis is changing the way we understand our health and even our food. For LiveGreen though, it is more than buying and eating local.
“Natural food is still the best food. Eventually the best way to keep ourselves healthy is to boost our immune system,” Uy shares.
Naturally growing products is the way to go. LiveGreen has always put prime in making sure that they provide organic, clean, and healthy food produced without the use of harmful chemicals. He also encourages backyard farming, as growing your own food makes a lot of difference now when most are confined in their homes and are finding limited access to groceries.
As with every enterprise, the crisis is a continuous learning experience on resiliency and business continuity. This year, it has become clear to LiveGreen that their strategy must be scaling up online. Aside from physical distribution to supermarkets, the enterprise saw triple sales through online deliveries. They also saw an increase in the demand for other vegetable besides lettuces. People buy tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots more than usual, most likely to secure healthy food options for their households.
LiveGreen is determined to bring their systems online for the long term. Along with this is their vision to help farmers build among them a consortium that could potentially bring the price down by cutting off the middle man through an online database where consumers could readily access information on where to source fresh produce.
There may be a long way ahead in the fight against COVID-19, but the end of this pandemic is not about returning to normal; it’s about learning and thinking of ways to become better, and ultimately putting investments where our priorities should be. Our front liners such as our partners at LiveGreen and their partner farmers are seeing us through this crisis. It must be our turn to take care of them as well.