PLDT, Smart vow to continue helping farmers

Published August 22, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

PLDT and wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) are continuously implementing several digital innovations and programs that are designed to empower farmers in the Philippines and help them increase their productivity through technology.

In a statement, the Manny V. Pangilingan-led companies reported that some 2,500 individuals, including 1,000 rice farmers, have already benefited from their FarmSmart programs, which introduced farmers to mobile applications that could boost their livelihood and connected them with capital funding and diverse platforms where they can sell their crops at fair market prices.  

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipino farmers were barely earning enough to support their family. Data from the Philippine Statistics show that 3 in 10 farmers are poor,” said Smart Assistant Vice President and Head for Community Relations Stephanie Orlino.

“To help alleviate this, Smart has teamed up with different organizations to bank on our expertise in technology to enable smallholder farmers,” she added.

Smart, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), has been helping farmers access information to make better decisions, improve efficiencies, adapt digital technology, and tap market opportunities through the Digital Farmers Program (DFP).

The DFP is a ladderized capacity-building track spread over a three-course sequence focusing on empowering farmers through basic digital tools such as smartphone use, social media, agriculture applications, and more complex services like e-commerce.  

With an aging population of farmers who may not be familiar with digital innovations, Smart and ATI are tapping the tech-savvy youth to help farmers embrace the digital shift to boost their livelihood. At the same time, this method helps encourage Filipino youth to venture into agriculture.  

The DFP 101 course has conducted 67 sets of training that was participated in by more than 1,500 individuals since its launch in 2019. As a follow-up, Smart and ATI have piloted DFP 102 this year. The course focuses on advanced agriculture applications and the use of social media to help farmers improve efficiency and productivity.

The course also aids farmers in developing e-commerce skills to manage online transactions and digital payments like PayMaya.  

Central to the course is the SPIDTECH application developed by Smarter Approaches to Reinvigorate Agriculture as an Industry in the Philippines (Project SARAI). Using integrated mobile phone cameras, the Android-based app helps farmers identify, manage, report, and monitor insect pests and diseases of major Philippine crops.    

Boosting this capability is another application called ‘Plant Doctor Online’ that was developed by East-West Seed Philippines that also helps identify plant diseases and provide management guides.  

Recently, Smart and ATI trained more than 50 representatives from the 15 ATI Regional Training Centers across the nation in preparation for the expanded DFP 102 rollout in communities this August.    

Meanwhile, PLDT and Smart further expand opportunities for smallholder farmers by providing them access to sure markets and capital funding.    

Smart has teamed up with social enterprise Cropital to connect farmers with direct buyers through the ‘Buy Local’ program. The project enables PLDT and Smart employees and their families to buy farm products directly from adopted farming communities through the Cropital e-commerce platform.

Part of the proceeds goes to a sustainability fund that is used to extend low-interest loans to farmers as capital for the next planting cycle. Six other companies led by PLDT and Smart Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan have also adopted the campaign.  

By the end of the second quarter of 2021, the campaign had raised almost P4 million in revenues from the sale of more than 56 metric tons of rice. This enabled Smart to help more than 1,000 rice farmers in the country. The sustainability fund has grown to P200,000 opening up doors for more farmers to avail capital support.  

To expand the program’s reach, Smart encourages companies and organizations to source their rice and vegetable donations for community pantries and families affected by the pandemic and disasters through the Buy Local platform.

The Buy Local Farm-to-Pantry initiative has generated more than P200,000 in sales for vegetable growers in Aurora, Bulacan, and Isabela who were saddled with oversupply.

The Buy Local Rice Donation campaign, on the other hand, has raised almost half a million pesos in revenues for farmers in Balungao, Pangasinan through the Rice Aid initiative of the Philippine Business for Social Progress.