Over a year after the national government imposed strict quarantine measures to curb the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country, a report from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) dated March 30, 2021 shows that about 4.2 million Filipinos, aged 15 and up are unemployed as of February 2021.

In Daraga, Albay, an enterprise funded by the Department of Agriculture Philippine Rural Development Project (DA-PRDP) is making a difference in the lives of communities affected by the pandemic by generating jobs for out-of-school youths (OSYs), rural women and breadwinners who lost their sources of income because of the economic shutdown brought by the COVID-19 crisis.

The P12.30 million-worth Sweet Potato-Based Products Processing Enterprise in Brgy. Anislag, this municipality, being implemented by the Camote Creations Farmers and Entrepreneurs Producers Cooperative (CCFEPC) is an upgrade of the existing Camote Creations enterprise engaged in processing of sweet potato-enriched products including cakes, cake sticks, chips, cookies, noodles, crispy fries, and muffins.

During the Feedbacking Session on Site Visits as part of the 12th World Bank Implementation Support Mission (ISM) to the PRDP South Luzon Cluster held virtually on May 27, 2021, Nolan G. Belaro, chairperson of the CCFEPC shared the success story of the cooperative, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the series of typhoons that hit Bicol Region to the enterprise’s operation, the strategies it adopted to bounce back as well as its sustainability plan.

Among the interventions provided by the DA-PRDP to the I-REAP subproject were the construction of a P3.95 million-worth processing center, upgraded processing equipment including an industrial oven with LPG tank, sweet potato washer, heavy duty weighing scale, and stainless working tables as well as a hauling truck and delivery van for the hauling of raw materials and delivery of finished products.

Belaro noted that through the interventions provided by the DA-PRDP, the enterprise’s current production capacity increased by up to 200 kilograms of sweet potatoes per week or 800 to 1,000 kilograms per month. Previously, the cooperative’s kitchen-type operation took a month to process 200 kilograms of sweet potatoes. From 48 members during the start of business planning in 2017, the Cooperative’s membership grew to 95 as of 2021. These include 54 farmer-members, 20 retailers, 15 on-call and regular employees and 6 processors. On the other hand, the I-REAP subproject has a total of 2,944 direct and indirect beneficiaries, 2,849 of which are non-member farmer-suppliers. Moreover, from having an annual income of P5,028 in 2018, the enterprise has already gained an income worth P80,000 for the first quarter of 2021 only.

“We really want to congratulate the proponent group (PG) for your incredible work. It looks like you made really a transformational impact within the last two years. You had a very tiny income just two years ago and now you already just went border. You really have increased your sales and you have been able to also create jobs just at the right moment when it’s most needed… It’s really nice to see all of the great work you have been doing and the impact that it has had so far,” Eli Weiss, World Bank Senior Agriculture Economist and Task Team Leader, said.

Agnes Deshormes, WB Agriculture Policy, Planning and Business Specialist agreed saying “You have a very ambitious business plan covering a lot of areas, introducing a lot of innovations, and really upgrading not only the process for your sweet potato products but also farm production and it’s also very good… I also noticed the partnerships that you have… You’ve been able to quickly adapt to the new situation, the pandemic and that has forced you to actually reorient part of your marketing strategy.”

Belaro mentioned that the I-REAP subproject is located in a resettlement area where there are limited livelihood opportunities. The pandemic resulted to job displacement of many residents working in the cities. “Because of our Project there, they have an opportunity to work with us. That is why we are very ambitious to respond because aside from helping the farmers, we also provide employment to the area,” he added.

One of the employees of the Sweet Potato-Based Products Processing Enterprise is Jocelyn Flores, a housewife and mother of two whose husband was displaced from his job as a construction worker in Metro Manila.

“It’s hard when one’s husband is jobless. I applied for a job here to help my family. My children are still studying so I need extra income. The income I earn here is a big help because it supports my eldest child’s online classes, he needs Internet connection and prepaid load almost daily. It’s hard when one’s budget is scarce, the child is pitiful because he could hardly study. I am thankful because this helps sustain our family’s daily needs,” Flores said in Filipino.

The WB experts also commended the Cooperative’s efforts to support the DA’s advocacy to engage the youth in agriculture.

“We are very appreciative of your efforts to include the youth and the young farmers… We are very happy to note that this is a feature of your cooperative and in fact a lot of your original members are from the youth sector. Hearing from you all those plans, we really look forward to hearing more on how you prosper with all those plans,” Maria Theresa G. Quinones, World Bank Senior Rural Development Specialist and Co-Task Team Leader said.

Aside from employing OSYs in the enterprise, CCFEPC plans to engage more youth in expanding its operations and in developing other agricultural enterprises such as sweet potato vine basket-making, catfish production, and organic farming to gain their interest and convince them that there is wealth in agriculture thereby, promoting the country’s food security in the future.

On the same activity, the WB experts also listened to the PRDP South Luzon and RPCO-Bicol I-BUILD team’s response to their comments and queries about the Sweet Potato-Based Products Processing Enterprise’s civil works as well as the implementation of the Upgrading/Concreting of Brgy. Poblacion Farm-to-Market Road in Occidental Mindoro.

Similarly, the activity highlighted the PRDP South Luzon cluster’s progress and status of project implementation as of May 20, 2021, sustainability efforts as well as innovations, recommendations, and strategies to adapt to the new normal. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V/PRDP RPCO V InfoACE Unit)

WATCH the full video presented during the 12th World Bank ISM Virtual Site Visit here: https://drive.google.com/…/1iN9j…/view…