Revisiting sustainable food supply chain with PSFI

DUE to the COVID-19 pandemic, food supply chains have undergone unprecedented stresses with bottlenecks from farm labor, processing, transport and logistics but also saw pivotal shifts in consumer demand. However, resiliency prevailed so much so that food moved to where it was needed during lockdowns.

The last two years gave the world an invaluable lesson: that food security was not just about food availability, but also about access to and delivery of food from farm to table that was safe and clean.

An advocate of a sustainable food supply chain has been Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI) since it launched its programs in agriculture in1985.

"Through PSFI's programs to train dependents of farmers and farmer-entrepreneurs, including women, we are able to promote the importance of agriculture as an industry in itself, provide the support to communities to make food available on the table and improve agricultural productivity," PSFI Program Manager for Nutrition, Agriculture and Food Security Maria Pamela Castro informed.

"When we talk about food systems and food supply chain, we're not just talking about the actual food products themselves. We're talking about the people, the various players like the farmer-producers with whom we directly work with and the markets with whom we connect to support the farmers. We are also talking about the logistics space that supports the program – Shell and other partners, and the communities in general who are the subjects of our interventions," she continued.

She added that sustainable food supply is a long process that starts with production, and PSFI works directly with all of these stakeholders to enable food sustainability for the country's increasing population.

Agriculture programs

PSFI's corporate social responsibility programs arose from three very important tenets – Shell's intent to help, the needs of the communities and the state of poverty in the country.

"As the social arm of the Shell companies in the Philippines, PSFI's vision is to enable the disadvantaged to become productive and responsible members of Philippine society and in helping strengthen community systems; thus, contributing to the country's sustainable development at all times, upholding the Shell core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people. Nutrition and food and livelihood through agriculture are seen as major interventions to uplift the lives of the Filipinos," Castro said.

Agriculture is always seen as the backbone and key economic sector of the Philippine economy with 22.5 percent employed in agriculture, according to a World Bank report in 2020.

Add to it the fact that more than half of the people in the country live in rural areas and are highly dependent on agriculture and agriculture-related industries. Less than a quarter of the population or 23.7 percent (Philippine Statistics Authority, 2021) still live below the national poverty line. Farmers and fisherfolk remain the groups most affected by poverty, which was further exacerbated by the pandemic.

According to the PSFI executive, Shell's programs on the Sanayan sa Kakayahang Agrikultura and the Integrated Farming Bio-Systems (IFBS) are the foundation's core interventions in agriculture.

"The approach has always been on the provision of appropriate knowledge and skills on sustainable agriculture, coupled with entrepreneurship and linking to markets," she said.

The pandemic brought a lot of challenges to growing the food that people, not just in the country but globally, have depended on. Since there were some breaks in logistics and an increase in unemployment during the pandemic, people have to really produce food on their own.

"Thankfully, the farmers, who we trained, have continuously supplied the rice and crop (vegetables) for the food packs we distributed to communities at the height of the pandemic in 2020 to 2021. Our Roots to Shoots program has been able to train more than 580 mothers since 2020 and is counting to this time," she further informed.

Right now, PSFI has three training farms in Pililla, Bombon and Palawan. With proper support and funding from its partners, it looks to replicate the gains of the three farms to advance its advocacy.

"The farms have been PSFI's technology demonstration hubs and resource centers for sustainable farming technologies, with the mission of creating more impact to farmers and the communities through the services it provides. They are accredited by the Department of Agriculture as an organic farm and learning site for agriculture, with products certified as organic by the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines," Castro said.

The IFBS training has benefited more than 19,000 farmers nationwide. Its course includes modules that range from the crop, livestock, poultry and fertilizer production to agroforestry and farm entrepreneurship.

The Future Filipino Farmer Project, which carries the IFBS footprint, hopes to show that a 2-hectare farm with diversified farm enterprises, utilizing efficient, sustainable organic and climate-smart agriculture technologies with appropriate mechanization, will produce at least P500,000 per year, for a farmer.

According to Castro, they are rolling out the project this year with the support of the Department of Agriculture. IFBS sessions and related technology sessions are ongoing and mapped out for the year at the farms.

Support for renewable energy

PSFI has recognized that there are many remote areas with little to no access to energy. Specifically in Puerto Princesa in Palawan, there are many households with no immediate prospects of being connected to any electricity grids over the next 5 to 10 years.

Many areas remain unlighted and without power despite it being the host of the Malampaya Natural Gas Project. That being said, Project SINAG, which stands for Save Invest Nurture Access To Green Energy, was established in 2015.

"This project is intended not just to provide power, but also to upgrade health and safety to each family in benefiting communities. The priority beneficiaries of the project are indigenous people and households in the coastal [barangay](villages) that are in the Malampaya Impact Zones who are affected by the implementation of the inclusion zones. The Access to Energy intervention provided can be micro-grid or distribution of solar home systems. The micro-grid was piloted in Sitio Kalakuasan in Barangay Tanabag, Puerto Princesa City," she explained.

Today, there are a total of eight microgrids in communities across Palawan with an estimated beneficiary count of 2,000 individuals.

Nutrition as core advocacy

Castro asserts that the value of nutrition is important for the future of the country.

In a report released by United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in 2020, a third of Filipino children are stunted (low height for age). The Philippines ranks fifth among countries in the East Asia and the Pacific region with the highest stunting prevalence and 1 of 10 countries with the highest number of stunted children in the world. Most of these children also belong to the lowest wealth quintile.

A study, supported by Unicef (2019) on the economic consequence of undernutrition, indicates that stunting costs the Philippine economy more than $3.1 billion per year due to losses in individuals and social productivity with effects on the growth of a child to be irreversible within its first 1,000 days.

"These and all justify the need for more PSFI's foray into farming and nutrition as they all contribute to the country's overall welfare," she said.

Besides World Vision and Manila Water Foundation, PSFI also collaborates with the Ayala Foundation and East-West Seed Foundation PSFI has partnered not just with like-minded civic organizations, but with the government, the academe and other international research institutions for the implementation of its agriculture and nutrition programs to support SDG 2.

"The Department of Agriculture and its attached agencies, Department of Agrarian Reform, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) have been ardent advocates of our programs. We have supported the Angat Buhay initiatives on sustainable agriculture and livelihood of the Office of the Vice President. The International Rice Research Institute, PhilRice, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture, and the University of the Philippines in Los Baños provide us with research support," she informed.

PSFI is also an active member of the UN FAO Food Security and Agriculture Cluster, the Scale-up Nutrition Business Network and the Pilipinas Kontra Gutom alliance and just signed a partnership agreement with the UN World Food Program.

Throughout the years since PSFI was established in 1982, it has benefited the lives of more than 890,000 Filipinos. It has helped an estimated 29,000 individuals gain better employment or livelihood through its programs in community skills and enterprise development and education.

PSFI is led by Cesar Buenaventura, the first Filipino chief executive officer and chairman of Shell companies in the Philippines. He established the foundation on Aug. 19, 1982, marking the beginning of Shell's commitment to empowering communities and fueling progress for the Filipinos.

The Shell companies in the Philippines, particularly the Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation, provided a seed fund that enabled PSFI to become sustainable for the long term.

A Board of Trustees, composed of leading personalities in Philippine civil society, provides policy directions and vision for the foundation while day-to-day operations are carried out by a team of consultants and project-based staff.

The other officers are Lorelie Quiambao Osial, president; Sebastian Quiniones Jr., executive director; and Timothy James Laurel, program director.

This year, PSFI celebrates its 40th year and continues to strengthen its advocacies through its various programs all over the Philippines with a focus on helping the country achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in September 2015.

"To date, PSFI has touched more than 13 million lives. However, its mission is far from over. There are more needs to address, more partnerships to forge and more lives to improve. As the social arm of the Shell companies in the Philippines, PSFI has had 39 years of experience in pursuing capacity-building programs managed either on a national scale or community-based level," Castro ended.