• As COVID-19 lockdown measures affect food distribution in the Philippines, one woman has found a way to get food from farms to consumers.
  • Social entrepreneur Cherrie Atilano has enabled farmers to sell food that otherwise would have been dumped.
  • Now she plans to help her fellow citizens set up city farms to improve food security.

When Cherrie Atilano set out to change the lives of farmers in the Philippines she couldn’t have imagined she would one day be helping to feed people in the nation’s capital, Manila, during a global pandemic.

Agrea, the social enterprise she founded, wants to end rural poverty by helping farmers move from subsistence to small-scale commercial farming. But when the Philippines started to lock down to slow the spread of COVID-19, farmers found their routes to market cut off.

The restrictions meant some could not even go into their fields to pick crops and, although trucks were available, drivers were staying at home. Before Atilano launched her #MoveFoodInitiative, farmers had been forced to dump tonnes of edible food.

coronavirus lockdown philippines food hunger transport supply chain truck road closures waste agriculture farming
A pineapple farmer is forced to dump his crop after losing his market due to lockdown.
Image: Cherrie Atilano

Atilano, one of the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Young Global Leaders, decided to use her extensive network to appeal to private truck owners to help ship the food to consumers in towns, villages and the capital.

Feeding key workers

By 26 April, the initiative had shipped almost 138,000kg of fruit and vegetables from almost 4,000 farmers, reaching nearly 30,000 families.

In addition, the project is donating food to eight community kitchens set up to feed frontline medical staff treating people with coronavirus. So far more than 2,000 medics have benefited from free food.

coronavirus lockdown philippines food hunger transport supply chain truck road closures waste agriculture farming
Farm to table.
Image: AGREA

The project has recruited an army of “Movers” who have created impromptu community fresh food markets using locations as diverse as public parks and closed restaurants. They place bulk orders, which are delivered by the project’s drivers at the end of each week.

coronavirus lockdown philippines food hunger transport supply chain truck road closures waste agriculture farming
A community fresh food market set up in a public park.
Image: Cherrie Atilano

The next step is to deliver directly to households, Atilano said in an interview with the ANC news channel. The project also aims to help farmers get access to refrigerated transport. A third of all food shipped in conventional trucks goes bad before it reaches Manila, she said.

Going local

Atilano also plans to encourage the development of urban farms. “It is time to learn how to produce food near to you,” she said. “This is the new normal that we need to prepare for.”

Atilano is not the only entrepreneur helping to get food from farms to urban consumers. Dom Hernandez, Chief Operating Officer of Philippine fast food chain Potato Corner, has set up a scheme to allow farmers in his home province of Benguet to sell directly to consumers.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

“This idea was conceived back in 2014,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “But we were able to realize the plan only now due to the quarantine. It was out of necessity.” The fact that Hernandez’s family owns a bus line, which is still running to Manila, helped get it off the ground.

Under the scheme, which has shipped as much as 5,000kg of produce in a single day, customers order through the Bangon Benguet project’s Facebook page and then collect food from the bus company’s city terminal.

The World Economic Forum has set up the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, bringing together over 40 leading global organizations to coordinate responses by social entrepreneurs as they work to overcome the impacts of coronavirus.