Ifugao farmer Jomar Bagnade threw away tons of salad-ready tomatoes in a Facebook video and caught the eye of an entrepreneur couple, who told him that chronic oversupply of produce that is exacerbated by the lockdowns shouldn't kill his livelihood.
Because of Ace and Andie Estrada, Bagnade did not need to give away his harvest that soon found its way on Rural Rising Philippines or RuRi, which connects highland farmers to Metro Manila's markets. It's more than "pasa-buy", it's rescue-buy.
Their co-working space business in Baguio shuttered by the quarantines, the Estradas thought of a way to help farmers in surrounding areas weather the quarantines. Oversupply has long been a problem as some farmers are not well versed with crop rotation. Ever-changing movement restrictions add to this problem.
"It took a pandemic to pause everything we did -- mga negosyo namin -- and give us time and opportunity to do 'yung aming plan for retirement which is to create something that will help the farmers," Ace told reportr.
In Bagnade's case, the Estradas reposted his photos to RuRi's 63,000 Facebook followers. It urged followers to buy 20 kilos of tomatoes for at least P510. That's P25.50 per kilo, or almost half of the P40/kg tomatoes when you buy it from a wet market in Quezon City based on DTI's latest price monitoring list.
How Rural Rising works
Those following the RuRi page or its Facebook group know what to do when there's a call to rescue buy from farmers: pay the amount mentioned, upload the proof of payment in the link provided, and pick up the goods at either of the two drop-off points in Quezon City and Muntinlupa City.
It's inspired by South Korean cooperatives where farmers' sole focus is to grow the fruits and vegetables which will be turned over to the cooperative in charge of marketing the goods. Andie, who taught English there for six years, wanted to bring the concept home to the Philippines.
"She dreamt na bakit walang ganun sa Pilipinas? Farmers for the longest time have to worry about marketing. They have to worry about the prices. This is the model on which Rural Rising is based on, na sana standard ang pricing for farmers, sana may marketing arm sila, may tutulong sa kanila sa packaging, so we got to do it," Ace said.
RuRi offers the produce to Metro Manila residents for a lower cost compared to those sold in supermarkets or even the city wet markets in Balintawak or Divisoria, where the cheapest veggies and fruits are found. They purchase it straight from farmers, cutting out the middleman.
Kamote farmers, for example, would sell their goods for P15 per kilo, middlemen would try to bring the price down to P9 (the farmgate price). Prices could go as low as P5 if there is oversupply of goods.
RuRi would offer to buy at P30 per kilo, giving the farmers higher margins by cutting out the middlemen.
The community is "story-driven," Estrada said. RuRi receives videos of distressed farmers throwing away perfectly good harvest from all over Luzon, from local persimmons to marangs, and locates them to purchase goods by the bulk. RuRi shares the videos on Facebook so netizens know where their money will go.
"By hook or by crook," RuRi promised to reach far-flung areas and use carabaos, boats, or raw muscle to pick up the produce. It also taps the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Army, or friends who lend trucks to bring the goods from the provinces to Metro Manila.
"We're setting an example para sundan kami ng ibang grupo, ibang tao na may influence kaysa sa amin. We are showing other people na puwede pala, you can do this. Ang tawag doon, RuRi effect."
Estrada said the group would rescue buy carrots next after reading about the news that cheap imported carrots from China threaten the livelihoods of farmers.
"Doon sana ang buyers sa local, walang formalin ang local," he said. "We do not answer the questions politically... we do not know the answers. We just know we can save one farmer at a time."
How you can help
Those who want to purchase fruits, vegetables, and other seasonal goods can visit RuRi House at 72 Maayusin st., UP Village, Quezon City or at RuRi South in Alabang Town Center's old transport terminal in Muntinlupa where you can fill a crate with produce for a price or pick up your online orders.
RuRi eyes opening another dispatch area at Nuvali in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Farmers in Southern Luzon will be free to bring their goods there, too, Estrada said. When you want it picked up by a courier, RuRi pledged to give an extra bag of goods to the riders for free.
While P500 is cheap enough for 20 kgs of tomatoes or calamansi, it could be one kilo too many for some people. Estrada reminded those who want to join the rescue buys that they can leave their excess to RuRi, which will give them away to poor communities so it won't spoil.
"We saved the produce para 'di mabulok sa rural areas, dadalhin mo sa Manila at great expense -- truck, time, pagod -- tapos 'di makukuha. Do you let it rot? No, you give it out!"
Aside from buying directly from farmers, RuRi also teaches farmers how to process their produce. Since no one would buy coriander by the bulk, farmers were taught how to make chimichurri, Estrada said. Bottled products, like chimichurri, ube or strawberry jams, also end up at RuRi Houses for purchase.
Can't afford to partake in the rescue buy? That's alright. Join the group and share the post so more potential buyers can see it.
It's been two years since Ace and Andie switched from snacking on apples and grapes to atis and chico. For them, it's the first step in supporting disadvantaged farmers.
"You know, if you buy local you're helping the locals. You buy local and it helps the economy," he said.