Vegetable farmer benefits from low-interest loan from the “Buy Local” smart fund.

Farming, they say, is a big gamble. With farmers saddled with debt before they even till the soil, they can only hope to reap literally everything they sow. Harvest damage is not an option.

Celeste Naguiat, 40, of Floridablanca, Pampanga, credits the Sustainability Fund with a soft loan to help her farm recover from crop damage

But that’s exactly what happened to 40-year-old vegetable farmer Celeste Naguiat from Floridablanca, Pampanga. Using the loan from Smart Communication, Inc.’s (Smart) Buy Local Sustainability Fund, she spent part of that on seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Smart’s Buy Local program is part of the telecom provider’s Technology for Development framework aimed at narrowing the digital divide.

“I choose eggplants because they sell easily. Once ripe, you can pick the fruit every two to three days for the next seven months, providing a stable source of income,” explains Naguiat.

The Buy Local program is part of Smart’s technology for development, which aims to reduce the digital divide.

While she was able to harvest a sizeable crop in the first four months, everything collapsed when her crops became infected with a species of fungus that decimated the entire plantation.

“I was devastated. But since I’m also a greengrocer, I put the rest of the capital into buying and selling other vegetables and switched to growing corn,” she said.

Naguiat credits the sustainability fund’s soft loan for her recovery. She’s also grateful for the evenly spread payment schedules. Given enough leeway, what could have been a calamity was averted. Naguiat was able to recoup her expenses and pay her dues without missing a schedule.

“The traditional 5-6 loan system hits you with a 20 percent interest rate. Also, you have to pay every day. You can barely save,” she shared.

The sustainability fund is tied to Smart’s “Buy Local” campaign, which allows PLDT and Smart employees, as well as employees of other companies run by Manuel V. Pangilinan, to buy directly from farmers, giving them a safe market for their crops. A portion of the proceeds goes to a sustainability fund, which is lent to adopted farmers through its social agribusiness partner Cropital as low-interest loans for farm supplies. The initiative aims to promote the RICEsponsibility of companies in the private sector to increase the income of small farmers.

The program also aligns with PLDT and Smart’s commitment to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly No Poverty (SDG 1) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8).

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