Romeo Cordova is up by 4:00 AM, ready for a full day. Like any farmer, he works for hours tending to his crops and tilling his land. He and eight other farmers grow organic crops like lettuce, eggplant, okra, squash, tomato and string beans. Most days, he works 16 hours, with just a few breaks.
Romy, as his friends call him, has been a farmer most of his life. He now owns St. Isidore the Farmer Learning Center in Pampanga, where he helps others earn a living from farming.
Earning a living from farming has been increasingly difficult these past few months. With the spread of COVID-19 in many areas around the country and the imposition of prohibitive quarantine measures, bringing his produce to market has become very challenging.
“Noong nagsabi na may quarantine na, hindi namin alam kung saan kami bibili ng mga binhi at iba pang gamit dito sa bukid para maipagpatuloy ang pagsasaka at pag-aani. Hindi rin kami makapunta sa mga palengke kaya maraming magsasaka ang walang kita kahit na mataas ang demand sa gulay,” Romy said.
(When the quarantine was imposed, we didn’t know how to get seeds and other supplies to the farm. We also didn’t have access to the market. Farmers were losing money even if the demand for our products remained high.)
Romy is one of many Filipino farmers who are facing immense difficulties during this pandemic. In the first quarter of this year, the Philippines’ agriculture sector’s output decreased by 1.2 percent because of the effect of the virus and the imposition of an enhanced community quarantine. Because of transport limitations, the closure of several markets and stores and related issues, the government’s Plant, Plant, Plant Program, which aims to address food inadequacy by improving agricultural output, has left many crops wasted and farmers unable to earn from them.
Fueled by its desire to help the displaced and the disadvantaged, SM Development Corporation (SMDC) has stepped up to find innovative ways to bring these produce straight to a ready market – its condominium residents. SMDC residents fully embraced the idea. Not only do they get a steady supply of and access to organically grown fresh produce; they are able to help displaced farmers and their families continue to make a decent living in the midst of the difficulties brought about by the pandemic.
The project is part of SMDC’s The Good Guys program, launched last year, which builds and nurtures its communities through various initiatives that promote healthy, happy and thriving neighborhoods. Across SMDC developments, residents are provided with avenues to protect the community (emergency preparedness trainings), live healthy (health and wellness workshops) and work together (Happynings, which foster socialization through family fun celebrations). A special component of the program is its focus on helping the vulnerable – elderlies, PWDs, the youth, and, now, farmers. The Good Guys is anchored on the belief that every single one in an SMDC community is a good guy waiting to serve not only its community, but also, individuals and groups that are most vulnerable.
SMDC serves as a catalyst towards building this community of good guys. It is fully committed to making this project a lasting program that will be replicated in all its current and future developments.
Bringing the market to them
SMDC’s community grocer initiative, The Good Guys Market, has enabled farmers to continue selling and earning from their crops, by providing them with a venue for their fresh produce. Over 26,000 small-scale farmers from Benguet and Pampanga, Romy included, now have a market every weekend for their produce in several SMDC properties in Metro Manila. The initiative is made possible through a partnership between SMDC and SM Foundation’s Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) program.
The Good Guys Market has been delivering fruits and vegetables to thousands of households in Sea, Shell, Shore Residences in the MOA complex, Breeze Residences in Roxas Boulevard and Trees Residences in Fairview. The residents not only enjoy the convenience of having easy access to a grocery and a convenience store in their developments but they also get to enjoy access to farm-fresh produce, while giving farmers a sustainable way of earning.
With the help of SM Foundation and SMDC, KSK farmers are maximizing their profits and growing their business reach.
Elevating the concept of farm-to-table dining
Through efforts like The Good Guys Market, SMDC is not only providing fresh and nutritious produce to its residents; it is also making a positive impact on the lives of farmers. By connecting farmers to residents, SMDC is ensuring that every stakeholder in the whole chain benefits.
The program elevates the concept of farm-to-table dining by sourcing produce directly from farmers or producers; in the process it contributes to the improvement of the environment and the local economy. With fresh produce easily accessible and priced affordably, residents are able to ensure that their families are taking in important vitamins and minerals. The intake of fresh vegetables and fruits is also scientifically proven to boost the body’s defenses, an important benefit especially in times of a pandemic.
The farm-to-table approach directly helps farmers. Their produce go directly to consumers. As there is no middleman in the process, the money paid by consumers goes directly to farmers, helping prop up the agriculture sector and its vulnerable members.
Through The Good Guys Market residents help in bringing about inclusive development for farmers.
Supporting the backbone of our economy
For Romy, The Good Guys Market is a godsend amid all the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic.
“Isang blessing para sa aming mga magsasaka ang programang ito. Dati pangarap lang namin na makapagdala ng produkto namin sa Maynila. Ngayon, hindi lang isang tao ang bumibili sa amin kundi ang buong komunidad ng SMDC,” Romy said.
(The initiative was a blessing to us farmers. Before, it was just a dream for us to be able to bring our products to Manila. Now, not just one but all SMDC communities order their vegetables and fruits from us.)
In addition, he feels that through this initiative, farmers like him are supporting the nation and its people during this critical time.
“Mas nagkakaroon kami ng inspirasyon para magsikap kasi mas naa-appreciate ng mga tao ang kahalagahan naming magsasaka. Hindi lang kami nagtatanim para lang may maihain sila kundi nakakapag-produce kami ng masusustansiyang pagkain na makapagpapapalakas sa kanilang resistensiya panlaban sa COVID-19,” he furthered.
(We got more inspired knowing that people appreciate our hard work. Not only do we bring food to their table, but we also get to contribute in boosting their immunity against COVID-19 with the fruits and vegetables that we produce.)
Heavily dependent on its agriculture sector, the Philippine economy benefits greatly from efforts that ensure the viability of Filipino farmers. The Good Guys Market may be a small one, but it is a necessary step towards making a difference in the lives of farmers. SMDC and its residents are highlighting the important role that every Filipino can play in supporting the farmers.
“Ang pagsasaka ay isang marangal na gawain. Kung wala tayo, walang pagkain ang mga Pilipino. Hindi man tayo frontliner, tayo ay backliner na nagsusustina sa bawat indibidwal. Nawa ay ipagpatuloy natin ang pagtangkilik sa mga produkto natin kahit na matapos ang krisis sapagkat tayong mga Pilipino ang magtutulungan upang umunlad ang ating ekonomiya,” Romy concluded.
(Farming is an honorable job. We are the backbone of our economy. We might not be medical frontliners but we sustain life. Even after this crisis, we should continue patronizing local products. By doing so, we will be able to help our economy.).