By Jamie Willett on Jul 8, 2020
In the Philippines, Rachel Bogsit spends her days packing sweet potatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables for delivery to the local market. Bogsit, who runs a farm with her husband in the mountainous province of Benguet, on the island of Luzon, has faced many challenges from typhoons to pests.
But even these experiences could not prepare her and other farmers in the region, known as the salad bowl of the Philippines, for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Luzon shut down in March to control the spread of the pandemic, farmers could continue working, but found it difficult to transport produce to markets. Farmers who did manage to reach markets often found them empty of customers.
In Quezon, a busy farming region, for example, residents could only leave their homes once each week for a period in April. With no one to sell to at markets, farmers were in crisis.
“Many of us were facing bankruptcy,” said Bogsit. “Tonnes of vegetables were not being sold, bought at minimal price, given for free and worst of all, being left to rot.”
Helping front-line workers
The Pilipinas Shell Foundation (PSFI), the social investment arm of Shell companies in the Philippines, had been working on a programme to teach farmers new methods of farming. When the virus struck, the foundation saw a chance to help.
“We realised we could help farmers sell their produce, and also provide food to people on the front line,” says Timothy James Laurel, a projects adviser for PSFI.
The foundation bought fruit and vegetables including papayas, pumpkins, avocados and aubergines, from around 3,000 farmers at fair market prices. Connected Freight, a Shell-owned company that uses technology to make deliveries more efficient, then helped transport the produce to major cities. From there, it was made into meals and distributed to front-line workers with the help of World Vision and Frontline Feeders, two non-governmental organisations.
The foundation, together with Shell companies in the Philippines, has provided more than 500,000 meals to front-line workers, including health-care workers, in 68 municipalities.
“When lockdown came in, we acted quickly,” says Laurel. “The first delivery, from a farm to the plate of a front-line worker, was completed in less than two weeks.”
The Foundation plans to adapt its support as the COVID-19 situation continues to develop. Laurel plans to introduce farmers to Connected Freight’s online portal, which will allow them to sell directly to convenience stores at Shell-branded retail stations.
On July 2nd the Department of Health in the Philippines reported that total cases had reached 38,805, one of the highest totals in south-east Asia. Restrictions on movement are still in place. But Bogsit remains hopeful that as the country gradually emerges from lockdown, the financial pressures on farmers will begin to ease.
“We continue to plant, come what may,” says Bogsit. "In our lifetime, we might only need a doctor, lawyer or an engineer once, but we will always need a farmer at least three times a day.”
How Shell helped in the Philippines (March–May 2020)
- 3,831,820 litres of discounted fuel provided to health-care workers and hospitals.
- 522,957 meals provided to front-line workers.
- 168 tonnes of food bought from local farmers and fishermen.
- 19,098 pieces of personal protective equipment donated to health-care workers.
- 11,750 households near Shell’s operations provided with food packages.