The implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the whole of Luzon due to the dreaded Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) had undeniably affected the normal daily movements of people and businesses. Only those essential food and non-food products were allowed of unhampered transport, thus, the issuance of food passes by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to suppliers and truckers of agricultural-related commodities.

The DA-CAR has also mobilized its transport system and continuously implements the KADIWA Ni Ani at Kita to directly link farmers to buyers at a reasonable price while ensuring that these agricultural products, particularly vegetables, reach the consumers. This is especially important as the Department continues to work on food production, food availability, and food accessibility.

However, due to unfavorable factors related to the ECQ such as limited truckers, and low demand for specific vegetables, there are instances that not all delivered vegetable produce in the trading centers particularly in La Trinidad, Benguet is bought. These products, if not sold, will rot and may go to waste if not acted upon.

In this critical time, the local government units (LGUs) play an important role as partners in assisting the local farmers and prevent their unsold produce to go into waste if it can still be consumed.

One is the municipal LGU of La Trinidad, Benguet.

Through the Office of the Municipal Agriculturist (OMAg), they initiated and strategized ways to make the most out of the unsold products. They went around the trading centers particularly in La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post and other private marketing centers to ask and collect unsold vegetables for donation. These vegetables are consolidated and packed for distribution-in-bulk to the different barangays in the municipality, local institutions, non-government organizations, religious groups, hospitals, and police force, among others. They also provide some to other agencies and/or groups who are doing relief operations.

Municipal Agriculturist (MA) Felicitas Ticbaen estimates that as of May 9, 2020, they have collected 61, 866 kilograms of assorted vegetables such as carrots, onion leeks, lettuce, potato, radish, cucumber, and tomatoes. Of the donated vegetables, carrots ranked the highest with more than 86,000 kilograms followed by celery with more than 13,000 kilograms. These were donated by varied farmers and trading centers since April 2, 2020.

MA Ticbaen noted that most of the unsold vegetables which were donated at their designated donation center in front of the Municipal Gymnasium were those crops that are highly perishable and are mostly utilized for special occasions and/or mass gatherings such as carrots and lettuce.

“Kaadduan nga naium-umay ditoy nga for donations ket dagijay very perishable ken nalalaka nga nateng during the ECQ. Ken haan gamin nga sinmang-at amin nga traders isu nga limited metlang ti maala da nga nateng. So kaadwan na metlang dagidjay saan nga magatang ket idonate da laengen ken adda metlang um-umay ditoy vegetable donation center isu ti iwarwaras mi (Most vegetables brought for donations are those very perishable and with low prices during the ECQ. Some of the traders also did not travel [to Baguio], thus, the volume of vegetables being marketed is also limited. That unsold produce has then opted for donation, some are brought to the vegetable donation center which we distribute),” Ticbaen shared.

These donations are distributed to the barangays, hospitals, Non-Government Organizations, uniformed personnel, among others.

Vegetables are also being displayed daily within the donation center so that the household representatives could freely get some for their home consumption during window hours.
Through this initiative, unsold vegetables are not put into waste; instead, these are provided to groups and individuals who are in need especially in this time of crisis.

In return, therefore, the farmers were given Php1, 500.00 worth of gas slip, one-half cavan of rice, and a minimal cash amount through the Office of the Municipal Mayor. They were also given a Certification from OMAg certifying that they have donated their products. The Certification is specifically given to carrot farmers who were heavily-affected since their products are mostly bought for occasions and by business establishments. The Certification may be shown to their concerned LGUs in case there are assistance related to COVID-19 for them to be prioritized if qualified.

Mr. Jony Sacpa Jr., a vegetable farmer from Tawangan, Kabayan, said that he is thankful to LGU-La Trinidad for their support towards the farmers who were unable to sell much of their products. He himself has donated a truckload of carrots to the Donation Center on May 14 instead of transporting it back after it was not sold due to limited and specific size requirements of buyers. “Agmula kami ladta ta isu met ti pagapuan ti pagbiag mi (We will continue to farm because it is the main source of our livelihood),” he said when asked about his plan. He opts to plant cabbage next.

This initiative will accordingly continue during the community quarantine or until the supply and demand for vegetables become better and stable.

Aside from that, the Benguet Provincial LGU also conducted a “Sampung Piso para sa Farmer” Program in partnership with the Movement for Farmers Civic Action Group. The program aimed to provide assistance to farmers by buying those vegetables with very low price and/or not sold from the trading centers at Php10.00 per kilo. These products are distributed as part of relief packages.

Similarly, other LGUs in CAR, as seen in various posts in social media and reports from personnel in the field, are also making waves in continuously assisting their local farmers and the community members in general. Not only that the farmers were assisted, but assorted agricultural products were also made available and accessible for the community members who are required to stay at home.

In abnormal situations like this, helping each other is very crucial for everyone to keep moving and ‘healing as one’. As DA Secretary William Dar said, the threat to hunger is as real as the threat of the COVID-19 if no action is done.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture through its Agricultural Credit Policy Council is currently implementing the Expanded Survival and Recovery Loan Program. The Program is meant to further assist and finance the emergency requirements of the marginalized, small farmers and fisherfolks (MSFF) and the agri-fishery-based micro and small enterprises (MSEs) who were affected by the ECQ due to COVID-19 pandemic. As of May 19, 2020, DA-CAR and ACPC reported that 3,611 farmer-recipients have already received their loans amounting to Php25, 000 pesos each with no interest, no collateral, and payable within 10 years.//DA-CAR, RAFIS