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SMC sets eyes on third ‘Better World’ facility for farmers

The first was a learning and feeding center and food bank in one of Manila’s poorest districts. The second, a COVID-19 testing lab, aimed at boosting the country’s testing capacity during the pandemic. Now, San Miguel Corporation (SMC) has eyes set on its third “Better World” sustainability project — a hub and marketplace for fresh produce from farmers from all over Luzon, and made available to consumers and resellers at farmgate prices.

Dubbed “Better World UP”, the project is a strategic partnership with Rural Rising PH, a social enterprise established by Ace Estrada, dedicated to harnessing the potential of the countryside and fostering rural prosperity through agri-entrepreneurship.

To be housed in a property owned by SMC in UP Village, Diliman, Quezon City, Better World UP, is San Miguel’s latest initiative aimed at helping the agricultural sector.

Said SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon S. Ang: “The lockdown and restrictions in mobility have been especially hard on farmers. They’re unable to market their produce. In some provinces, they’ve been forced to throw away a season’s harvest of vegetables simply because they can’t get their goods to market or because restaurants have closed. The curbed demand has caused prices to plummet.

“Together with Rural Rising Ph, we hope to further boost the incomes of farmers, particularly by aggregating their fresh produce and selling directly to customers here in Metro Manila.”

Ang said that while Better World UP will initially function as a ready marketplace for vegetables and fruits, Rural Rising Ph and the San Miguel Foundation will develop programs to teach farming skills and cottage industries to both farmers and consumers.

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Estrada says that over time the property can be used as a food distribution center, where excess produce will be donated to urban poor communities. “You have all this waste—food being thrown or given away by the truckload or fed to animals for lack of buyers. In towns worst-hit by COVID-19 restrictions, you can smell tomatoes rotting in the ravines before you see the helplessness of it all. On the other hand, you have the urban poor of Metro Manila with little or no access to food. With this partnership with San Miguel Corporation, we are able to move products that would otherwise go to waste, pay farmers the right price, and bring it to where it is most needed, where it could do the most good.

“The urban poor, informal sector workers, these are among the most vulnerable groups likely to face the worst consequences of the pandemic,” added Ang.

“Better World UP will be able to engage and support more farmers, not just to sell their goods, but for it to be a resource center for agriculture-based entrepreneurship. This is one way we hope to capacitate our farmers and make them more resilient during times of crisis.”

During the two-month lockdown, when farm produce could not be transported to major markets, San Miguel Corporation committed to buy more raw materials for food production from local farmers. This included 78 million kilos of corn from farmer cooperatives all over Luzon. It also bought 5,000 liters of excess milk from carabao farmers and offered to provide R&D support to maximize the shelf life of their product.

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In the same period of time, Rural Rising Ph moved more than 100 tons of produce from the distressed farmers of the Cordilleras, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Pangasinan, Tarlac, and La Union.

SMC’s Better World initiatives, which bring to life the company’s corporate slogan, “Your World Made Better”, is geared towards addressing various social issues impacting different segments of society. It does so by partnering with non-profit groups like Rural Rising Ph who are then given access to SMC’s vast resources and networks, to amplify their efforts.

The first initiative, Better World Tondo, a learning and feeding center that also functions as a food bank, aims to address issues of hunger and food waste, and help the poorest districts in Tondo, Manila.

Opened by Ang—himself a Tondo native—in September 2019, it became one of the hubs for SMC’s food relief efforts during the quarantine. To date, the company’s food donations have reached PHP 511.1 million, the largest in Philippine history.

Meanwhile, before the end of June 2020, SMC operationalized Better World EDSA, a Covid-19 testing center set up primarily to test some 70,000 employees and extended workforce in SMC’s nationwide network, and boost the country’s overall testing capacity.

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