The Aboitiz Group, bidding to become the Philippines’ first ‘techglomerate,’ has launched Fresh Depot, the first-ever physical and digital solutions platform for farmers in the country.
The first phase involves piloting a modular and sustainable cold storage unit in Mankayan, Benguet province, with the vision of helping farmers reduce their post-harvest losses and maximize crop yield.
“Fresh Depot aims to transform the lives of our farmers by offering a platform that optimizes their yield and income while reducing waste, making a significant contribution to our country’s food security,” said Aboitiz Group president and chief executive officer Sabin Aboitiz.
“Uplifting the agricultural sector and our farmers is crucial to strengthening our food supply chain and reducing our reliance on imports. We see various opportunities to make an impact in this sector and this is just one of the many projects we’re working on,” he added.
A study conducted by the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the University of the Philippines Los Baños said about 42 percent of locally grown produce goes bad before they can be eaten, and that farmers, consumers and other supply chain players are suffering from the spoilage.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) in 2020 underscored the need to establish more cold storage facilities in the country. The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) concurred with the observation, stressing the facilities can reduce post-harvest losses and improve farmers’ income.
In the Philippines, however, most cold storage facilities are located near urban areas and are used for storing meat and other frozen products. These conventional, energy-guzzling cold storages are not built for farmers, who need farm-level and affordable cooling facilities for their crops.
The Aboitiz Group, thus, launches Fresh Depot, an integrated solution that aims to help farmers reduce their post-harvest losses and maximize crop yield.
In addition to offering sustainable modular cold storage, Fresh Depot’s second phase will involve digitizing farmers’ land, planting practices, pre-harvest, harvest, and market information. Digitization will allow Fresh Depot to offer advisory services, explore market linkage opportunities and financial inclusion programs, as well as build a database of information that the government can utilize for their agricultural programs.
This pilot, which will initially run for three to six months, will become a case study for this new type of enterprise, which the Aboitiz Group hopes to scale up across other farm locations in the Philippines if proven viable. Ultimately, Fresh Depot is envisioned to assist the government in enabling millions of farmers.
Among those in attendance during the pilot launch in Mankayan were Benguet Governor Melchor D. Diclas, M.D., Mankayan Mayor Dario Banario, Department of Agriculture-Cordillera Administrative Region Regional Technical Director for Operations Engr. Danilo Daguio, Nueva Vizcaya Agricultural Terminal chairman James P. Estong, NVAT general manager Gilbert Cumila, EcoZen Solutions president Ravindra Dolare, Hedcor president and Chief operating officer Rolando Pacquiao, and Aboitiz Equity Ventures vice president for transformation Dea Franko Csuba. Aboitiz plans to launch a second pilot location in the next few weeks.
With the support of government units and agencies, Fresh Depot is working with Mankayan’s Manpat-A Farmers Association for its first pilot site of the cold storage unit. The Benguet region is home to quality highland crops and thousands of farmers.
For its pilot project, Fresh Depot is also teaming up with two leading international agri-tech players: Ecozen Solutions Pvt. Ltd., which is backed by Nuveen global impact fund USA and EXIM Bank of Government of India, and Cropin Technology Solutions Pvt. Ltd., which is backed by Impact Assets Singapore, as one of its investors.
Ecozen manufactured the modular hybrid cold storage unit called Ecofrost. Ecofrost is designed with climate-smart deep tech to harness solar energy to power the unit, with a proprietary technology for battery-less back-up, which after pre-cooling will keep the fresh produce market-ready 24/7.