by Paolo Rumbines
LB Veggie Move is more than just another online selling platform and here’s why.
When the peak of the pandemic in 2020 forced industries to shift online, virtual transactions became the new normal. From food, clothing, home essentials, and even luxury items, people prefer to order through these shopping apps and have the items delivered to them at the comforts of their own homes.
One such app is the LB Veggie Move, an online fresh fruits and vegetables grocery store. It aims not just to be another shopping app but to help develop the town’s organic vegetable industry as well.
The app was launched as the pilot product of the project entitled “Development of Inclusive and Resilient S&T-based Vegetable Supply Chains for the New Normal.” The LB-based agencies working together in the said project were the following: Office of the Municipal Agriculturist (OMA) of the local government unit of Los Baños (LGU-LB) with funding from the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research (DOST-PCAARRD), and aid from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).
Addressing ‘new normal’ demands
In March 2020, more than three years ago, the entire Luzon Island was placed on enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). People could not leave their houses and access to food supplies has been one of the biggest challenges.
It was during that time when there is a growing number of COVID-19 cases in Los Baños and no sign of ‘going back to normal’ yet that the municipal agriculture office worked on the web app to address the needs of both the LB farmers and consumers.
Los Baños’ Municipal Agriculturist Cherryl Laviña-Gonzales explained the need for the LB Veggie Move project during those months in 2020 “Kasi takot lumabas ang mga tao (Because people are really scared to go out). Kahit bigyan mo sila ng space para magtinda, ayaw nila (they even if you give them [vendors] space)… to protect themselves from COVID,” she said.
Other than the safety concerns, the project also follows the “Farm to Fork” model as a framework which describes the direct farmer-to-market linkage.
This framework aims to remove the presence of exploitative ‘middlemen,’ taking advantage of the pandemic by haggling local vendors. It also aims to address the high prices of fresh produce (such as meat and vegetables) in consideration of the difficulties in production and distribution of products – which resulted in excessive pricing of basic necessities that had added extra burden to Filipino consumers.
Notably, in December of 2020, the price of hot pepper or “siling labuyo” doubled, reaching P800 per kilo compared to its P450 original price. According to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, the prices of vegetables in the country rose to 19.7% in December 2020 while there is also a 10% increase in the prices of meat.
Empowering local stakeholders
In its initial implementation, a total of 42 farmers from different barangays in Los Baños took part in the LB Veggie Move project – where they are subdivided into two groups: 26 are Internal Control System (ICS) practitioners and 16 are pesticide-free (PF) farmers. ICS is the use of minimal synthetic pesticides and fertilizers bounded by the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) set by the Philippine National Standards (PNS). Meanwhile, Pesticide-free farming espouses non-utilization of any synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Training was provided to equip the farmers with necessary skills on food production, management techniques, and marketing practices to guarantee the efficiency and effectiveness of the initiative. Likewise, ICS was introduced to non-pesticide users or farmers who do not apply any synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to their plants.
Other than the business and agriculture aspects, members were also trained on leadership skills and values formation as well as gender sensitivity. These trainings seek to build a more holistic approach in the development of the project as well as the people behind it.
“‘Yung mga trainings na ginagawa natin, magagamit ‘yan ng mga farmers natin even outside the LB Veggie Move,” Laviña-Gonzales said.
In 2022, the Association of LB Safe Fruit and Vegetable Growers and Online Sellers was formed to monitor the production and selling of pesticide-free and ICS-grown fruits and vegetables. They are also tasked to protect and support the rights of agricultural products farmers, pursuant to the Municipal Ordinance No. 2022-2281. The ordinance mainly aimed to regulate the selling of agricultural products produced by the OMA and promote food safety in the municipality.
According to the OMA’s data, as of July 2023, the LB Veggie Move team has only five active ICS practitioners and 10 PF farmers. This could be attributed to the lifting of mobility restrictions – where other members have now ventured into other livelihood opportunities outside the project.
Sustaining agricultural development
More than its pandemic-related promises, Laviña-Gonzales sees the LB Veggie Move project as a way to improve the quality of agriculture, and the way Los Bañenses see it.
She emphasized the need for our local farmers to be their own bosses – and not settling to be small farmers. “Agripreneur na ‘di ba? Income-generated dapat ang mindset,” she furthered.
When asked about the motivations in piloting the LB Veggie Move, Laviña-Gonzales mentioned sustainability in food security where community members can have access to quality and inexpensive food. She added that this is a basic service mandate of the government.
According to one of its members from Brgy. Bayog, Mailen Sequito, the LB Veggie Move project is significant because of its support for the local farmers of Los Baños. “Maganda po ang LB Veggie Move kasi ang mga gulay po namin ay sariling tanim po namin,” she said.
The OMA continually provides agricultural products such as soil fertilizers and seedlings to promote agricultural productivity in the locality. Just last August 4, 2023, the LGU distributed Fertilizer Discount Vouchers (FDV) to registered farmers of the municipality where they received four thousand pesos (P4,000.00) per hectare of rice field they own. The initiative aimed to help farmers have bountiful harvests during the rainy seasons.
Envisioning a ‘healthier’ Los Baños
Almost three years have passed since the LB Veggie Move was envisioned, the app is still collecting orders. Since January 2023, the LB Veggie Move has sold an average of P4,290 in a month, earning an estimated P1,072 pesos in a week. “Sustainable ‘yung application kasi even after the pandemic nagagamit pa rin siya,” Laviña-Gonzales explained.
Currently, aside from the online platform, available ICS-grown and pesticide free harvests are also being sold at a physical store inside the municipal hall of Los Baños every Tuesday and Friday. In its market sales report, an estimated amount of 2,318 pesos per person, per week is being earned directly by its 22 farmer beneficiaries.
In addition to the Tuesday and Friday Market, the LGU monthly sells local products from LB fishermen and farmers in Kadiwa sa Bagong Los Baños taking place at the Municipal Trading Post. This is part of the national government project – Kadiwa.
In the future, the LB Veggie Move aims to have even more institutional partnerships by exporting its products to big companies and become a fixed food supplier of restaurants to help expand not just its brand but the pride of our Los Baños farmers.
The strict COVID-19 lockdowns which birthed the LB Veggie Move, may have come to an end, but the goal for a ‘healthier’ Los Baños remains.