Let’s face it: 2020 has been a challenging year—and it’s just been the first month.
What with the novel coronavirus outbreak, the massive Australian bushfires, the Taal Volcano eruption, and the series of unfortunate events in the Philippines and across the world, it might be all too easy to feel helpless and hopeless.
Instead of giving in to this temptation, however, it’s better to remind ourselves that there is still a lot of good in the world that we can be grateful for, and that we can do a lot to help ourselves and others, especially with all the online tools available to us in this digital age.
The inspiring story behind Session Groceries (https://sessiongroceries.com/) is a great example of how technology can empower people and bring together different individuals for a common cause.
“Ever since, our dream has been to help and make a difference,” Session Groceries founder Iloisa Diga told TessDrive.
Diga, who was born and raised in Baguio City, initially created Session Groceries as an online grocery delivery service in Baguio. She shared that the focus of the site evolved into helping their community during Typhoon Ompong (international name: Mangkhut) in 2018.
“We accepted donations and gave immediately to victims, and since we strongly believe in sustainability, we partnered with the city government and taught the typhoon victims how to create rags out of donated clothes,” Diga said.
In January 2019, Benguet farmers faced a crisis as they were forced to throw away tons of vegetables due to the oversupply that resulted from the delayed harvest. While normally crops would have been harvested in December, which is the peak season, farmers were unable to do this because of monsoon rains and the strong typhoon.
“We posted a call for help on social media and we just started selling vegetables for delivery to Manila,” Diga said.
The response on social media was overwhelming, and Session Groceries soon found itself building a thriving online community that not only wanted to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, but also believed in their advocacy of helping local farmers.
“Social media is the reason we have customers and how we were able to show the current situation of our farmers,” Diga said.
In May 2019, they launched the Session Groceries Android app on Google Play, followed a few months later by the iOS version on the App Store.
It was actually my wife Ellen who first discovered Session Groceries on Facebook and got us hooked on it. She was concerned with the plight of our farmers, and was happy to find a service that would deliver fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers in Benguet and neighboring provinces straight to our doorstep.
More important, the farmers are the ones who were setting the prices for their goods on the online platform, instead of being forced to accept low prices dictated by traders. We have ordered more than a dozen times from Session Groceries and have become loyal customers. Not only does it help us achieve our goal of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, but it also empowers farmers while allowing more people to help them directly.
In fact, as part of their commitment to sustainability, Session Groceries does not only empower farmers with an online platform for selling their crops, but also provides them with training on entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and legal wellness.
Diga recounted how she started building this relationship with Session Groceries’ partner farmers.
“I started with one partner farmer. Then we posted online that we will conduct training sessions and accept partner farmers so they can sell crops on our website. At first, farmers didn’t believe in our advocacy kasi sino naman ang maniniwala na (who would believe) this time, yung farmer ang nagdidictate ng price nila (the farmer dictates the price) according sa production costing. Akala nila scam, pero nung may nakikita na silang reality sa ginagawa nila at ng mga ibang farmers, mas may mga sumasama na sa training at nagbebenta kami ng crops nila weekly (They think it’s a scam, but when they see the reality of what they and the other farmers are doing, more joined the training and we have sold their crops weekly). Nakita nila na mas bayad ang effort sa ginagawa nila sa Session Groceries (They’ve seen that their efforts get paid more with Session Groceries). Yung relationship building, nag-start nung nakita nila yung concern namin para sa kanila, na hindi lang pagbebenta ang kailangan naming gawin (The relationship building started when they saw our concern for them, when they saw that we weren’t there only to sell),” Diga said.
Diga emphasized that providing farmers with the right knowledge is the key to sustainability. She said that the problems of food security and the low income of farmers require more than band-aid solutions.
“We don’t just sell. We ensure that our partner farmers understand the needs of the market and gain more knowledge about their business. We also ensure that our partner farmers don’t compromise good agricultural practices,” Diga said.
She believes the long-term solution is for the farmers they train to go on sharing their knowledge and empowering other farmers.
“Kasi wala namang ibang makakaalam ng hirap ng magsasaka kundi kapwa din nila. Kaya kung may ma-empower ka sa kanila at mahawaan ang iba, mas mabilis nating magagawa yung mission natin para sa mga magsasaka (No one else can understand the difficulties of farmers like their fellow farmers. That’s why, when you can empower one of them, that will catch on with the others. We can fulfill our mission faster),” she said.
Diga acknowledged that Session Groceries has had to hurdle several obstacles in pursuit of its mission.
“One of the biggest challenges is how to ensure that we maintain quality products. There are a lot of factors: Temperature, handling, transportation, and prices,” she said. She shared that they were surprised by the demand for vegetables and overwhelming support of customers, and that Session Groceries makes it a point to maintain low prices.
This year, Session Groceries will further improve its mobile app.
“We want it to become more user-friendly, provide information about our partner farmers, and show customers how they improved the lives of our partner farmers. We will also create a user-friendly application for our partner farmers where they can record sales, and see how they can improve the quality of their crops and increase the yield,” Diga said.
She added that they would like to invest in state-of-the-art facilities to ensure product quality, while expanding their delivery service to new areas. Diga said that Session Groceries is now open to delivering to restaurants as their partner farmers are ready for bulk orders.
How can we encourage more Filipinos to buy local and support farm-to-table initiatives?
“Aside from helping local farmers, we want to reduce the prices of goods. This is why we are asking our partner farmers to submit production costing. That way, we have a baseline on where to improve so we can offer our products at lower prices and cater to every Filipino. Consumers will consider Session Groceries not only because we provide high-quality products, but also because we offer the cheapest price,” Diga said.
Reflecting on her journey, Diga said she was surprised by the success of Session Groceries.
“We owe it to the consumers who responded to our plea and to people who want to see change in our society.
“I was amazed by how God orchestrated everything for us. We didn’t know anything about farming. Our experience is all about technology, and we didn’t know how to offer our products to NCR (National Capital Region) and other places. Doing this project is outside our comfort zone. But this project is just amazing and it’s a miracle. I will never forget God’s goodness to us.
“Sharing ideas with our partner farmers makes me grounded. I will never forget every conversation that we have that gives me the motivation to do more and give my best.”
Indeed, the world is full of amazing people and of wonderful opportunities for us to make a difference in the lives of others.
Let’s make 2020 a better year for all us!