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Biz Leaders: Entrepreneurs, farmers need to embrace circularity and digitization

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Businesses and agriculture workers should look seriously at understanding and adopting circularity and digitalization because this is not only about saving the planet but also, from a practical standpoint, about saving on operational costs, according to startup leaders.

“I know the circular economy must be the last thing on your mind as a businessman, as an exporter, but we’re trying to make the case that we can save money through circularity,” said Karl Satinitigan, founder of startup Meron, a B2B resource-sharing platform for reusable resources.

The circular economy is about closing the loop so we don’t generate waste and are able to reduce our material footprint, Satinitigan told the audience at a recent conference in Pasay City on encouraging the digital transformation of MSMEs.

He cited data showing that a successful green energy transition will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 55% by 2050. But if it is complemented with the shift to a circular economy, it could result in an additional 38% reduction.

There is much opportunity for circularity—which describes economic, technical, and environmental systems that aim to eliminate waste and maximize the reuse of resources—noted Satinitigan. This is because only 7% of materials and goods used on this planet are circular, leaving 93% of the rest going to waste.

Satinitigan said there are three principles in circularity. One is to eliminate waste and pollution to reduce GHG emissions, another is to regenerate nature to sequester carbon in soil and products, and the third is to circulate products and materials to retain their embodied energy. He said Meron is engaged in promoting the third principle by helping companies, especially SMEs, with their circular economy needs.

He advises entrepreneurs and exporters to rethink how materials, items, and resources can be reused or recycled, observing that many don’t even know what they have in their warehouses, stockrooms, or branches. If they can extend the life of their laptops and furniture, for example, it will significantly help them slowly but steadily go circular. In this way, firms can eventually save money while helping the planet heal, too, he said.

In the same forum, Mary Elaine Timbol, CEO and co-founder of agri-tech social enterprise Sakahon, identified agriculture as the one sector in need of the most support in transitioning to digitalization and circularity.

“Agriculture is the least digitized industry in the Philippines and we know that adds to the complexity of the sector. But we know we can do something to help solve the agricultural crisis through digital technology,” she said.

Timbol said the sector continues to be very traditional and largely resistant to change, thus needing immense help to see the benefits of digitalization and a circular economy.

The agriculture industry grapples with a variety of problems, key among them income inequality. This is due to a lack of financial literacy and being mostly cash-centric and unbanked, which prevents farmers from accessing better markets and leaving them vulnerable to dubious traders and loan sharks.

Farmers also need to resolve issues with market gaps owing to a lack of projection of market needs and to contain food wastage from an oversupply of produce, she continued.

Sakahon tries to break this harsh cycle by helping farmers know what the market needs three to six months before they even begin to produce the crops, mainly through implementing a data management system that allows these tillers to raise their income and minimize wastage, said Timbol.

The agri-tech enterprise also implements a financial literacy program that she said has enabled farmers and fisherfolk to qualify for 0% interest loans from banks.

While the least digitalized, “the good news is the agriculture industry in the Philippines has so much room for growth,” Timbol said.

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