Agri digitalization, e-agriculture, e-Kadiwa pushed as COVID-19 threatens food security, drags down farmers’ income

April 29, 2020

A new approach on digitalization, e-Agriculture and e-Kadiwa is being pushed by government and agriculture institutions as the global COVID-19 lockdown has threatened food security, dragging down farmers’ income.

   The Department of Agriculture (DA) will partner with Grab and other enterprises with online-driven platform in doing business as part of speeding up movement of food and agricultural products from provinces to consumers. 

   DA Secretary William D. Dar said this Tuesday in a webinar hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

   The three types of Kadiwa will all be technology-steered as delivery of goods is now available to consumers online through Grab, among others, and will just be expanded via “Kadiwa Express,” Dar said.

   The Kadiwa Express will use cloud and other information systems in tracking goods—possibly including RFID  (radio frequency identification)  that can monitor where goods are located while in transit or where the blockade in their transport happens.

   The “Kadiwa on Wheels” may similarly be able to track where the goods are needed and may become venues for consumers to buy food direct from farm producers.

   The “e Kadiwa” may enable consumers to order agricultural goods at their fingertips (cellphones and portable devices).

   Such digitalization will make food not only more available but affordable.

   The lockdown due to COVID-19 restricted delivery of food and agricultural goods, sending much volume to waste.  Worse, consumers suffer from higher prices due to supply logistics bottlenecks.

   “Because of COVID-19, food affordability, not only availability, becomes critical.  The threat (food affordability) is as real as hunger itself.  If the supply chain is disrupted, food produced in rural areas just go to waste,” said Dar.

   “Price stability, price affordability, is key to grow the economy.  We need to promote  digitalization of agriculture even in marketing.”

   SEARCA Director Glenn B. Gregorio said during the SEARCA webinar that despite the odds due to the global pandemic, the COVID-19 lockdown has opened opportunities for urban agriculture. 

   It is further opening up the agriculture environment to the envisioned Agriculture 4.0 which SEARCA plans to pursue under the11th Five Year Plan (FYP).

   Agriculture 4.0 is  a concept of the future of agriculture focusing on the use of big data, Internet of Things (IoT), precision farming, and disruptive agriculture for increased business efficiency (Proagrica). 

   It is unfortunate that COVID-19 has not only raised food price but also threatened nutritional security for Filipino consumers, said Gregorio.

  This becomes a critical concern as the Philippines was recorded to already have serious undernourishment level – at around 15% of population as of 2017, placing third after Cambodia (21%) and Laos (20%).

   Nevertheless, the global health crisis brings about  a change in perspective of consumers.  They have now become interested in urban agriculture—even producing their own food from their backyards—no matter how small.

   “Now everyone is interested in agriculture.  Consumers now appreciate the (connection between) the quality of food on their table and agriculture,” Gregorio said.

   The “new normal” where people are encouraged to “work from home” has prompted SEARCA to exercise its strength in conducting forums—even involving a large audience—via digital means.

   This in order to harness and distribute learning and knowledge in agriculture where SEARCA has expertise to benefit a greater number, not only farmers but also consumers and the economy.

   SEARCA, along with its partners, facilitates the distribution of high-quality seeds to not only provincial but city dwellers interested in urban farming. 

   SEARCA will beef up the supply of seeds of the DA and its attached agency Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

   The quality of seeds, Gregorio said, is the foundation of good soil cultivation and farming.

   BPI Assistant Director Gerald Glenn F. Panganiban said that since the COVID-19 lockdown started in mid-March, BPI has been flooded with calls from people requesting seeds and inquiring on urban farming.

   “We have never received more calls at BPI than what we receive now daily,” said Panganiban who also confesses to receiving a huge volume of email from interested urban farmers.

   Garry Hidalgo, Farmers’ Factory general manager, said in the same SEARCA webinar that no matter how small residences are, city dwellers are likely to find a space for urban farming. 

   He is in this webinar series to give tips on urban farming—including the use of portable or used containers as pot materials. Containers may be positioned anywhere in the house or even hung in windows and walls. 

   Dar said government eyes 10 to 15 percent of the area of Metro Manila for urban farming—beefing up  food security level in the National Capital Region.

   DA has started distributing seeds to the cities through local government units (LGU).  It has so far partnered with the LGUs of Quezon City and Manila on this project.

   DA is adopting new strategies for raising the country’s food security level which include the following plans:

1.       Lending via the Sure Aid program not only to individual farmers but to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) at P10 million per SME payable in 5 years at 0 interest.

2.      Promotion of Small Brother Big Brother program that raises farmers’ cooperatives’ participation in value adding and export of agricultural goods. This is by tying them up with bigger companies that can enter contract growing agreements with cooperatives.  Economies of scale will drive private sector to invest more in agriculture.

3.      Training of young farm entrepreneurs and young farm technicians who will monitor and implement agricultural projects (teaching farmers proper fertilization).  DA will provide grant and startup fund for agri-entrepreneurship.

4.      Development of infrastructure—roads food terminals, irrigation, rain water harvesters.

5.      Supporting a “whole of nation” approach to making sure farmers in farflung rural areas have access to internet and technology through partnerships with the Department of Information and Communications Technology  (DICT).  Melody Mendoza Aguiba

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