Building a sustainable food supply chain in the age of the pandemic

WHEN the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, a common issue we saw on our social media feeds was truckloads of vegetables and fruit that no one would buy from farmers.

The confinement situation during the pandemic had made it difficult for farmers to access their usual places to sell their products, and their buyers could no longer reach them. Thus, trucks full of fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and onions rotted on the roads while farmers returned home penniless. While community pantries appeared later to help ease the situation, it was still a band-aid solution that was only temporary. The term “salvage buy” has become common as organizations and individuals advertise these products on social media so that farmers have buyers.

A tougher farm life during the pandemic

The Department of Science and Technology-Food and Research Nutrition Institute conducted a Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey between November 3 and December 3, 2020. It found that more than half of all Filipino families had experienced moderate food insecurity to serious during the pandemic.

A sample of 5,717 households was surveyed. Less than 72 percent were forced to borrow money to get food while 66.3 percent asked relatives, neighbors and friends for food. It was also found that 56.3% of respondents said they had difficulty accessing food during the lockdown period due to money issues (22.1%), limited public transport (21 .6%), loss of livelihoods (19.5%) and lack of food outlets (10.8%). . Another notable figure was that 5.1% of respondents were elderly, who had no other family members to buy food for them.

With these statistics, it has never been more important to invest in sustainable agricultural practices, as the state of the world remains unstable with pandemics and other disasters occurring unexpectedly.

The short food chain

A “short food supply chain” (SFSC), according to the European Commission, occurs when there are very few intermediaries in the transport of food. Products generally travel a short distance. Thus, the producer and the consumer can talk to each other. In this model, local producers work together to promote local food markets and are able to boost the rural economy by selling local products and attracting customers who buy them.

We often hear the phrase “buy local” and how it benefits our country. Economically, buying locally reduces transport costs and is also better for the environment as emissions are reduced. With a shorter journey time, there is also less damage on rural roads and less traffic. However, challenges such as the pandemic can make it difficult to set up the SFSC.

Solutions for our farmers

Ayn Torres, an agricultural economist and researcher at World Agroforestry Philippines, told a newspaper: “A resilient food system should guarantee equitable access to supplies at reasonable prices while (guaranteeing) equitable incomes and livelihoods for our farmers and producers,” she said. noted.

Starting now, organizations such as Rural Rising Philippines are helping struggling farmers bounce back from struggles to sell their produce so they can help feed the country. The organization sends relief trucks to areas of vegetable overproduction and pays farmers above farmgate prices. Rural Rising then distributes the recovered products to its members at better rates. For fruits and vegetables that age in 48 hours, they are donated to communities deeply impacted by Covid in the National Capital Region and to community pantries. The organization also helps farmers in other ways by setting up vegetable tram lines in Benguet, creating a water and forest conservation project in Nueva Ecija, and establishing community libraries in various farming communities.

Focus is a must

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Fund for Agricultural Development assessed the impact of the pandemic on food supply chains in the Philippines. He concluded that there is a need to invest in technology and that we should work towards an e-commerce model for our farmers so that their products can be easily accessed online. Some companies such as Session Groceries have taken up the challenge and are selling their products through an app.

Torres also said the pandemic has encouraged digital transactions and therefore it is essential to rethink our supply chain through this lens. These emerging technologies can solve bottlenecks in various aspects. These include post-harvest productivity and handling, improving market access and management during periods of lockdown, ensuring food security and building climate resilience.

We also need to create crisis response measures that address the challenge of supply disruption and even address the underlying problems on the supply side, but not those on the demand side. While the Philippines is still recovering from two years of the pandemic, the agricultural sector has promising prospects as it rebounds; hope this recovery continues as we move cautiously towards the new normal.

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