One of the problems highlighted, if not created, by the Coronavirus disease (COVID) -19 pandemic is food insecurity or the lack of access to a sufficient, affordable and nutritious food. The pandemic disrupted the economy and caused unemployment which in turn affected the purchasing power of the people. Further, the community quarantines also affected the transportation systems that the delivery of food supplies from the farms to the consumers were cut or, if not, diverted to areas where local governments are not strict.
COVID-19 has no vaccine yet and as such, it is expected that the virus will still be around for some time and that community quarantines and lockdowns might be implemented from time to time. As such, there are some sectors in the country as well as local government units that tried to adapt to the situation and innovate ways to ensure that food reaches the table.
Below are some of these innovations.
1. Distribution of food relief packs. This had been the common response among local government units (LGUs) and charitable organizations especially in areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Some LGUs distributed food packs in retail (i.e., per kilo of rice along with cans of sardines, coffee and other essentials) while others did it in bigger volume. Ormoc City, for instance, distributed rice per sack per household.
Food pack distribution, however, addresses only temporary food insecurity and will not always be sustainable. In fact, when the ECQ was lifted in Luzon, food distribution immediately ceased.
2. Direct procurement of agricultural produce from the farmers and including these in the food packs. Some LGUs went a step further by buying agricultural produce directly from the farmers or farmer cooperatives and including these in the food packs. This addresses not only food insecurity but also the possible loss of income of the farmers particularly the fruit and vegetable growers. On top of these, the LGUs are also addressing the needed nutrients of the people by buying and distributing fruits and vegetables, and sometimes, fish.
3. Encouraging home/urban gardening. Emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that food supply may be cut off if it is not grown right in one’s home. For this reason, the Department of Agriculture and local government units started encouraging home or urban gardening. the municipal government of Tulunan, North Cotabato, for instance, had started distributing booklets on how to grow food in one’s home while other LGUs like the Provincial Governments of Albay and Zamboanga del Norte distributed seeds.
4. Increased assistance to rice farmers. But of course, not all can be grown at home. Rice, for instance, need a bigger area in order to economically tenable. For this reason, LGUs started expanding, if not establishing, rice farms in their areas of jurisdiction to minimize rice importations in the future. Calapan City government for example enhanced their farm production inputs distribution program and started providing local farmers with seeds and fertilizers in addition to farm implements.
5. Mobile Palengke/Markets. To encourage their constituents in staying at home, local government units like the City of Pasig established mobile palengke or markets. Goods, mostly agricultural produce, are loaded to trucks or vehicles and sold at residential areas on scheduled days. Some LGUs act as the sellers themselves while others just act as coordinators and allow the legitimate vendors renting at public markets do the commerce.
6. Distribution of food stubs. Instead of giving food packs, LGUs like Casiguran in Sorsogon just distributed food stubs to its constituents. These stubs are then used to buy food items at the LGU-designated or authorized stores or public market. The practice relieves the local government the burden of purchasing, warehousing and even distributing food. In addition, the practice also ensures that the local economy continue to operate.
7. Online food distribution system. Cargo and document delivery services like Grab and Lalamove, and online shopping sites like Lazada, have started delivering and selling agricultural produce. Even Facebook and other social media sites are now also being used to sell agricultural produce. This is in addition to the online Kadiwa Stores established by the Department of Agriculture. A number of farmers and their families have started selling their produce online. This eliminated middlemen and technically lowered the prices of goods which is beneficial to both the producer and the consumer.
The listing presented above may still be limited. The COVID-19 pandemic is on-going and it is possible that there are still innovations being implemented by individuals, LGUs, and civil society organizations waiting to be documented and shared. These innovations could help us as a human race adapt without starting from scratch, and eventually survive. As Charles Darwin puts it, it is not the strongest who are able to survive but those who are able to adapt.