In line with its Great Transformation to become the Philippines’ first Techglomerate, the Aboitiz Group launched Fresh Depot, which seeks to become the first-ever physical and digital solutions platform for farmers in the country. Its first phase involves piloting a modular and sustainable cold storage unit in Mankayan, Benguet, 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 (CEO) 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.
According to a study by the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, about 42% of locally grown produce goes bad before it can be eaten, and farmers, consumers, and other supply chain players are suffering for it.
In 2020, the Department of Agriculture (DA) underscored the need to establish more cold storage facilities in the country. This was echoed by the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), highlighting that it 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.
In addition to offering sustainable modular cold storage, Fresh Depot’s second phase will involve digitizing farmers’ land, and 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 Aboitiz 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 its pilot launch in Mankayan were Benguet Provincial 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 COO Rolando Pacquiao, and Aboitiz Equity Ventures Vice President for Transformation Dea Franko Csuba. Aboitiz is planning to launch a second pilot location in the next few weeks.
Collaborating with local players and global experts
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 collaborating 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.
Meanwhile, Cropin’s services include farm monitoring and management and an easy-to-use, seamless communication solution connecting farmers, agri-businesses, and field officers and helping digitize farm activities. With its presence in 92 countries, the company is known for creating the world’s first industry cloud for agriculture, Cropin Cloud, which helps the agricultural ecosystem make informed decisions that increase farming efficiency, improve productivity, manage risk and environmental changes, and enhance sustainability.
These separate solutions have been tested and proven effective in other parts of the world, such as India, Kenya, and Nigeria. Fresh Depot’s pilot will allow participant farmers to experience how technology has improved agriculture in other developing countries during the period and help future-proof the industry to make it more resilient to emerging threats and challenges.
Moreover, Fresh Depot has been selected by the Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy (BASE), a Swiss foundation and Specialized Partner of the United Nations Environment, to participate in a three-month international Incubator Program.
Fresh Depot was selected along with four (4) other global companies that are making decentralized solar-powered cooling accessible to farmers on a pay-per-use basis instead of traditional methods. The Incubator will support Fresh Depot in digitizing inventory management and monitoring the shelf-life of stored crops in real time through an app.
Great Transformation in action
Fresh Depot is an innovative solution that has been developed as part of Aboitiz Group’s Voyage Program, an internal initiative that aims to discover the most effective solutions to social challenges worldwide. Other initiatives being developed under the program cover a range of sectors, including food and agriculture, power, infrastructure, education, health, real estate, and manufacturing.
Similar to other business ventures of Aboitiz, the Voyage Program initiatives are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Fresh Depot specifically aims to address UN SDGs 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), 13 (Climate Action), and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).