Words by Keanu Plantilla
For most farmers in the Cordilleras, harvest season means a steady source of income. But with the ongoing pandemic, it has become a steady source of loss.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought many challenges to our country especially to the rural economy. Farming activities have been greatly affected making life more difficult for small scale farmers. Many have lost the opportunity to sell their produce or even bring it to the market, leaving them vulnerable and at high risk for food insecurity.
Because of the travel restrictions implemented by the lockdown, they cannot access the markets; their primary source of income. The ripe and freshly picked fruits ready to be sold are mostly laying waste on the ground. Yet, they don’t have much of a choice. They must keep producing harvest because that’s the only way they could keep food on their table.
As the lockdown extended, more and more farmers were forced to sit still as they painstakingly watched their hard-earned harvests slowly die away. And with each passing day, they kept growing hungry. Hungry for answers on how to find ways to sell their produce.
Little did they know, a small group of women over a hundred miles away would have the answer to what they’re looking for.
When Maxine Carasig saw on social media how dozens of Cordillera farmers were severely affected by the pandemic, she took no time in taking action. She set up a group with her former high school batchmates Myrel, Gian, Nikeia, and Dell to help the farmers rise up to their current situation.
They started an online fund drive to raise money so they can buy the farmers’ crops. Maxine donated the money collected to FEED PH, a non-profit organization that gives food aid to disaster hit communities, to help them transport the donations to Benguet. That’s where she met Eric Alvarado, who eventually became their partner.
Boxes of donations ready for transport to the Cordilleras.
Photo Courtesy of Sadiwa
Eric worked with Maxine to help reach the local farmers in Cordillera. They decided to transport a batch of strawberries from Benguet to Manila as a trial. Sales went great and soon after they found themselves frequenting trips to the Cordilleras.
Driven by their mission to connect farmers, they pursued to start an online business that advocates sustaining local farmers’ livelihood and highlighting the role of agriculture in our society.
“Due to the pandemic, it’s become even harder for our local farmers to market their produce to consumers. Some ended up giving their crops for free, whilst others had to throw them away due to spoilage. We (Sadiwa and Eric Alvarado) extended help to them by giving them the market they needed here in Manila in order to earn livelihood for their produce,” said Maxine.
That’s how Sadiwa was born.
“Due to the pandemic, it’s become even harder for our local farmers to market their produce to consumers. Some ended up giving their crops for free, whilst others had to throw them away due to spoilage.”
Sadiwa is an Ilocano term native to the province of Cordillera. When translated, it means sariwa or fresh. It describes the quality of the products the local farmers produce and what the business offers.
“We also wanted to relay the word play of “Sa Diwa” which means essence or pagpapahalaga, in both the country’s agriculture and importance of farmers in our everyday lives,” said Dell on why they came up with Sadiwa.
Sadiwa’s goal is to connect Cordillera farmers to consumers in the metro and establish a link that will help them gain a steady source of income. They offer a special menu of fresh harvest berries like choga, king, and blueberry, but what they’re really known for is their strawberries. They turn some of their strawberries into freshly-made jams and preserves that are ready to serve.
Blueberry jam that’s ready to serve
Photos Courtesy of Sadiwa
“When customers buy our products, they get to help the farmers sustain their livelihood as well as put food on their tables every day. At the same time, they also become aware about the farmers’ situation and the importance of the agricultural sector in our lives,” said Maxine.
She adds, “It’s time to give better appreciation to the farmers who work hard in harvesting the food that we eat every day. It has become evident that they don’t even get proper recognition or treatment… this is an opportunity for people to treasure what we actually have in our country.”
The business also opens opportunities for others whose ability to earn income was hurt. They encourage customers to book their own couriers for delivery giving local riders the chance to get work. They’ve reached out to different networks to help them in dispatching orders giving more people opportunities to earn. The kuyas who carry the boxes of produce, the ates who segregate the orders, and the truck rental owners who assist in delivering the products all of them take part in creating the bigger picture.
Sadiwa hopes to continue making an impact by fulfilling Eric’s vision in shortening the food supply chain to be able to permanently give farmers access to the markets. “This way, farmers can generate more income with less risks and uncertainties. We also want to introduce more tech ways of communicating, transacting, and selling to our partner farmers. We want to keep them in the loop with what’s happening, so they get feedback from the deliveries of their products,” said Maxine.
“It’s time to give better appreciation to the farmers who work hard in harvesting the food that we eat every day. It has become evident that they don’t even get proper recognition or treatment… this is an opportunity for people to treasure what we actually have in our country.”
We have all been affected by the pandemic one way or another especially on how we can find reliable sources of income. It’s already tough enough to think how we can continue to earn while surviving, let alone think of others on how to help them make a living. But Maxine, Myrel, Gian, Nikeia, and Dell has shown that it is possible. Sadiwa brings hope to everyone that we can do our “berry best” to make life better even in the most trying times.
The Sadiwa Team: Maxine, Myrel, Gian, Nikeia, and Dell
Photo Courtesy of Sadiwa
Keanu is from Metro Manila, Philippines and is a Sensereporter for Makesense Asia. He creates content to promote positive mental health. Keanu supports building mental health awareness. He believes that the more we share, the more we care.