When we were young, our parents told us not to waste the food on our table. But imagine seeing mountains upon mountains of wasted vegetables? For Rheina de Guzman, this thought was enough to start a movement that would help people access much-needed vegetables and teach people the real value of crops in our daily lives.

From trying to help in her own way to becoming the leader in ensuring that farmers’ produce won’t go to waste, Rheina is definitely doing her part in building a better and more sustainable future for us all.

A Shocking Revelation

Farmers have always been among the underpaid and overworked sectors in the country. They toil under the sun’s heat just to grow crops that big companies and middle men would buy at a very low price. As a result, they cannot earn enough even during normal times. But think about the ordeal farmers had to go through during the pandemic.

The imposed lockdown due to the COVID-19 virus significantly affected the flow of vegetables from farms to markets due to severe travel limitations. Imagine tons and tons of bell pepper and whole tomatoes being abandoned or thrown away because there were no buyers. This was exactly what Rheina saw beside the Nueva Vizcaya Agricultural Terminal at the start of the pandemic.

She posted her sentiments regarding food wastage on Facebook, which gathered a lot of responses.

“Sinabi ng friend ko na may ipapamigay na isang truck ng gulay, kaya pinadala ko sa bahay. Ganoon ang naging sistema namin from that day onwards. Kapag may mga ipinapahingi ang mga farmers, kinukuha namin kaysa itapon,” said Rheina.

(My friend told me that a truck’s worth of free vegetables would be given away that day, so I had them delivered to my home. That became our system from that day onwards. If the farmers are giving away their harvests, we gather them so it won’t be thrown out instead,” said Rheina.)

With her entrepreneurial mindset working, she immediately began turning farm products like sun-dried tomatoes into sauces and ingredients for pasta, among other things. She sold the products and shared all of this information on social media. Fortunately, food manufacturers looking for sources of raw materials contacted her and expressed interest in purchasing the produce.

Little did she know that this initiative would jumpstart something bigger.

KTCM Enterprises Collaborates with Various Organizations

But the enemy is bigger and fiercer than Rheina originally thought. She realized that she could not handle the endeavor alone. For this, she needed to gather allies who could help her in her glorious quest.

KTCM Enterprises rallied small farmers, cooperatives, and their logistics partners such as Mayani Ph and Rural Rising to form a collaborative group for the purchase and distribution of vegetables so that nothing would go to waste. Seeing the impact that this project can make on farmers and consumers alike, the DTI Food Development Program of Region 2 joined hands with the team to launch the Walang Sayang project.

The objective of the project was to help farmers move their produce unhampered and ensure a steady market in order to sustain their sources of livelihood. It also connected local farmers and fisher folk with food processors, food supply chains, retail chains, online stores, and the food service industry, including restaurants and food delivery services.

A partnership with DELIVER-e online marketing platform of The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was also made to link Filipino farmers with consumers through a farmer-to-market digital platform.

Rheina stated, “With our consolidation project, we were able to help a lot of farmers, even drivers, not only in Nueva Vizcaya and in Region 2, but also in other provinces.”

How the DTI Supercharged Rheina’s Entrepreneurial Skills

Rheina attributes her entrepreneurial skills and her project management expertise to the various DTI programs she became a part of. A single mother with four children, she started her business when their home mortgage was foreclosed. She had to strive to support her family.

“Yung business namin ay isang family business talaga,” said Rheina.

“Ang mga staff ko ay ang mga anak ko — si Karl, Theo, Christopher, at Mikael (KTCM). Yung mga natututunan ko sa mga trainings from DTI, itinuturo ko din sa mga anak ko.”

(“Our business is actually a family business,” said Rheina. “My staff is composed of my kids — Karl, Theo, Christopher, and Mikael (KTCM). I taught my kids what I’ve learned from the DTI trainings.”)

Under the Food Connect program, Rheina obtained License to Operate (LTO) standard certification from the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) for KTCM Enterprises’ products, such as banana chips and peanuts. She further enlisted DTI’s assistance in getting a Certificate of Registration, a key requirement in their bid to penetrate larger markets.

“Sa mga start-up na negosyante, you have to find your mentor. You have to surround yourself with positive people. Mas maganda kung ang mga kasama mo ay ang mga utak-negosyante.”

She also participated in the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) program, which helped her have the right mindset to improve her business and adapt to the new normal.

Additionally, Rheina’s involvement with the Great Women Project 2 helped her become an empowered woman entrepreneur and mover. She believes that she has improved as a leader who understands the importance of providing employment to those who want to better their lives.

Because of her perseverance and consistency in attending DTI programs and trade fairs, she was able to improve the quality of her products. This led DTI to include her micro-enterprise in the One Town, One Product (OTOP) Next Gen program.

The Aftermath of a Great Battle

Rheina’s involvement in the Walang Sayang Project contributed to the program’s accomplishments. As of June 2021, the project generated a total sales of approximately Php5 million, with 2,073 Farmers and 13 MSMEs assisted and 191.2 tons of vegetables moved.

She has also been tapped as a consolidator of the monthly Grand Bagsakan project of DTI Region 2 in partnership with the Bureau of Domestic Trade Promotion (BDTP) and Mayani.ph. In this project, they used e-commerce and e-payment platforms in bringing the region’s products to NCR and other areas. The project generated a total sale of approximately Php4 million, with 1,742 Farmers and 6 MSMEs assisted with 187 tonnages of products moved.

The Walang Sayang Project still continues today, gaining more traction and attracting more groups. Clearly, with Rheina de Guzman’s initiative, there have since been no veggies and no farmers left behind. ♦