CHARM2 Scale-up Project: working through the COVID-19 Enhanced Community Quarantine to support farmers

Author: Isabel Tejo  | Country: Philippines 

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On March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines’ government declared Luzon under “enhanced community quarantine” (ECQ) -which implies a total lockdown with some exceptions. Initially, it was planned to last until April 13, but it was extended until April 30. 

In response, the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office in the Cord+illera Region (DA-RFO-CAR) called project staff to a meeting on March 17 to inform the measures to be taken. 

Key measures included the skeleton-staff to be maintained at the project support office (25% of the existing workforce), with vulnerable staff (with a history of illness and/or aged over 60) working from home. All project personnel, together with their supervisors, prepared tasks and individual work-from-home (WFH) plans to be submitted for approval. It was agreed that WFH staff would submit weekly accomplishment reports based on these work plans. 

Moreover, admin and project employees who are also health professionals became part of an emergency medical team to monitor the health of the skeletal workforce and to disseminate verified information on the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, a group chat was created to keep everyone updated on the global and local status of the pandemic. 

With these measures in place, project staff could focus efforts on assisting the DA-RFO-CAR by providing support in:  

1. Informing local farmers:

  1. How to apply for a food-lane pass so that they could continue to transport agricultural products to markets.
  2. How to protect themselves when going to public markets with their products.
  3. The stringent measures to be undertaken at checkpoints to disinfect their vehicles.
  4.  Markets in need of their products.
  5. That the DA will buy their products in bulk to sell at the store in the regional office.
  6. When the local government will buy their agricultural products for distribution to their constituents.

2. Informing neighbors about products being sold by farmers in their locality and in the trading post. Products can be bought by households from the trading post on their scheduled market day, and in some cases, farmers deliver to the households buying their products. Project staff receives this information in the group chat so they can disseminate it in their communities. 

3. Joining the discussion of options on how to regulate the use of food passes so that farmers can continue to provide food in urban areas without compromising the measures of ECQ. 

From my personal experience, in my village, the local government has bought vegetables grown by local farmers and gave these out for free to the households. It is a very welcomed assistance to families who can buy food only once a week. However, relatives who reside in Metro Manila tell me that vegetable sellers from the Cordillera Region have had difficulty getting through the checkpoints, so some of them opt to sell their products to the local governments nearest to them. As a result of this, some urban areas did not get a supply of vegetables. 

While everyone is certainly suffering economically from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, it has somehow brought out the best in people. Kudos to the DA-RFO-CAR staff who have been working and cooperating with other government agencies and supporting the farming community so that food can be brought to highly urbanized areas. Still, I expect that the coming days will challenge our creativity in coming up with solutions to a situation that looks like it won’t be going away soon.