The COVID-19 pandemic radically changed lifestyles and disrupted business operations including those of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), but it also proved how resilient small business owners have been and how they are able to adapt to change and rise above the challenges.
Girlie Sahoy, a farmer from Benguet and president of SG Farmers Association, Inc., was among those gravely affected by the pandemic. After working abroad for several years, she took a leap of faith and ventured into agribusiness. She and her husband rented a 30-square-meter farmland in Balili, La Trinidad and sold their produce in the market nearby.
During the pandemic, Ms. Sahoy’s business took a hard hit primarily due to lockdowns, border restrictions, and market closures. Several farmers, likewise, suffered a similar fate and incurred food and heavy financial losses.
“During the pandemic, we didn’t know where to sell our vegetables. We were able to plant but we couldn’t sell our produce because of lockdown,” Ms. Sahoy said in Filipino.
Amid the uncertainty and struggles, “Byaheng Digiskarte” became a silver lining for her and her fellow farmers, opening many livelihood opportunities and helping them become successful online agri-preneurs.
“Byaheng Digiskarte” is the MSMEs and cooperative mentoring program of Aboitiz Foundation, Inc., in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry, Cooperative Development Authority, Department of Agriculture, and various mentor partners.
Through the collaboration of Aboitiz Foundation, AboitizPower subsidiary Hedcor, Inc., UnionBank, Session Groceries, One Concord Food Solutions, and SG Farmers Association, Inc., “Byaheng Digiskarte” made its way to Benguet to offer resilient enterprises to small-time business owners.
The mentoring program, which was launched in April 2021, aims to help farmers become flexible and adapt to unexpected circumstances, like the pandemic, that directly affect their business and livelihood.
‘Digiskarte,’ a portmanteau of the words ‘digital’ and ‘diskarte,’ means adjusting business strategies using digital tools and innovation in order to ably respond to changes and challenges. The idea echoes Aboitiz Group’s Great Transformation journey which harnesses the power of innovation and technology to help individuals and businesses adapt to a tech-centered future.
Aboitiz Foundation President and Chief Operating Officer Maribeth L. Marasigan shared that they came up with “Byaheng Digiskarte” as a means to help agri and non-agri MSMEs, and cooperatives overcome their daily challenges by using mobile phones, internet, social media, and e-commerce platforms.
“We believe that the disruptions in all industries happened in the digital space. Therefore, to adjust the strategies and tactics to optimize the digital platforms and spaces is our way forward, our ‘diskarte.’ Digiskarte is using digital tools, approaches and innovations in doing business,” Ms. Marasigan said.
“Byaheng Digiskarte” offers mentoring sessions and capacity-building training to farmers with courses such as digital marketing techniques and how to build a digital presence so they can expand their business online.
“At first it was difficult to transact orders online because we didn’t know how. As farmers, we didn’t learn online and technology. So, when we joined Session Groceries, they taught us how to use gadgets such as cell phones, which we initially didn’t use as a mode of transaction for our business,” said Ms. Sahoy, who owns and manages Sahoy Farm.
Through the mentoring program, Ms. Sahoy is able to sell farm products both face-to-face and online and find a way to expand her business amid the challenges brought by the pandemic. She, along with her siblings, are now able to start acquiring land in Tublay, Benguet where they hope to expand their agribusiness.
The collective effort between groups and organizations, and the farmers’ perseverance, dedication and growth, and digital mindset prove that it is possible to adapt and rise above the pandemic despite unexpected hurdles that may come their way.
“To my fellow farmers who lost hope and are struggling, let us continue farming, let us continue to encourage other farmers and listen. If there are opportunities that come in life, grab them,” Ms. Sahoy said.
“Byaheng Digiskarte”now has over 85 beneficiaries in Benguet under the SG Farmers Association, Inc.