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Urban farming, community gardens touted as next step in food sustainability

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

IBON Foundation

COMMUNITY gardens are being put forward the best way to engage the public on issues such as food security, production efficiency, and nutrition awareness, a farming advocate said.

“Farmers need to grow efficiently, upskilling on technology and mechanization. In the meantime, home, school, and community gardens can fill an immediate gap. School gardens can provide a model for the community to emulate. But the home, school and community gardener and farmer need to know how best to grow vegetables for a good return on their capital and effort,” Managing Director for East-West Seed Foundation, Inc. (EWS) Ma. Elena P. van Tooren said in an e-mail.

“Agriculture is a science, and a successful farmer is a practicing, competent scientist. We need to train, train, train if we want to plant, plant, plant,” she added.

Between 2017 and 2019, the Philippines was considered the most food-insecure in Southeast Asia, Ms. Van Tooren said, citing a report by the United Nations.

“These sorry findings were reported even before the pandemic. We need to grow more food, make this accessible and affordable at the local level. All of us need to eat and food security and good nutrition are major concerns for the Philippines,” she said.

“This indicates a big problem… requiring a collective effort from both the community and various stakeholders to address it,” EWS added in a statement.

EWS, a vegetable seed company, founded the VeggiEskwela program, which teaches the public how to plant vegetables and hopes to increase awareness of nutrition issues.

“Our mission is to help Filipino families achieve better nutrition by empowering them with the skills and technical know-how to plant and harvest vegetables in their own gardens and make it a part of their every meal.

VeggiEskwela is the main intervention program of EWS to help curb the country’s food security and nutrition problem,” Ms. Van Tooren said.

VeggiEskwela has trained 27,508 students and 2,849 teachers, and established partnerships with 242 barangays and 1,323 schools nationwide.

In 2020, Ms. Van Tooren said that the pandemic forced a shift towards online methods of instruction.

“With the online training model, we are able to reach any corner of the Philippines that has internet connectivity, effectively and efficiently, so this will continue even if lockdown restrictions ease,” she said.

“We are moving more of our on-site training online for the many advantages the online model provides over on-site. Via the online model, we are able to spread out the training over weeks or months, so the participants experience actual grow-out of their plants and are mentored in the process. Additionally, in on-site training, not all participants may take active part in the hands-on activities,” she added.

This led to the launch of the VeggiEskwela Home Gardening Webinar series, which offers online classes on vegetable production.

Ms. Van Tooren said the organization is working with the Department of Education (DepEd) to reach all 47,000 schools under the department.

“We work very closely with the DepEd departments for these programs. While every school is supposed to grow a ‘Gulayan sa Paaralan’ (school vegetable garden), the technical aspects of growing vegetables may not be locally known or available. East-West Seed Foundation fills in this gap, so the schools may have more productive gardens and bountiful harvests in a natural and sustainable manner. We enter into a Memorandum of Agreement at the school division level to cover all the schools within the division. There are 221 school divisions nationwide,” she said.

EWS said it is planning to enter into more partnerships to expand its training.

“If more Filipinos actively learn to plant vegetables, we will be able to help address the country’s food problem, one vegetable garden at a time,” Ms. Van Tooren said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) said it is planning urban agriculture partnerships to create more community gardens and promote sustainable crop production.

The DA has entered into partnerships with Urban Farmers Sustainability Concepts Organization, Inc., the Urban Greens Hydroponic Farm Systems, and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction.

Urban Farmers is currently constructing a community farm in Bonifacio Global City. “The challenge for Metro Manila is huge…and we believe that (this project) has the potential and very substantial contribution to ensure food security,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said in a statement.

Urban Greens Hydroponic Farm Systems is working on vegetable projects using hydroponics, a technology for growing crops with no soil.

Meanwhile, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction’s goals are to make rural residents self-sufficient, and to improve their health, education, and environment.

“We believe in the capacity of IIRR and the objectives you are promoting through diversifying food systems, which we are also embracing. I would like to believe that urban and peri-urban agriculture will serve as key areas to develop and promote food sufficiency,” Mr. Dar said.

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