BY IKE SEÑERES
IT’S an old story that I still remember.
Many years ago, the people of Taiwan planted every parcel of vacant land in their country to grow food for their own survival, and to produce enough surplus for export purposes.
It is a big wonder how they were able to do that, but it proves the saying that if there is a will, there is a way.
It is also a big wonder how Israel is able to produce food for their own survival plus a lot of surplus for export purposes, despite having limited land areas for agriculture.
Many miles apart from each other, Taiwan and Israel are two small countries that have similar challenges, and these are the challenges of surviving and thriving in the face of danger from being attacked by hostile elements around them.
The situation in the Philippines is completely different from that of Taiwan and Israel. Unlike these two countries, we have plenty of land areas for agriculture, and we do not have the problem of being attacked by hostile elements from around us.
We could perhaps say that we also have the challenge of survival, but obviously not due to outside forces that threaten us. It does not take a genius to realize that our challenge to survive are born out of the internal factors within us, factors that are affecting our capability to grow enough food for our own needs, factors that are also preventing us from producing enough surpluses for export purposes.
In this article however, I will not be writing about our shortcomings in commercial agriculture, but in small scale production that we could do in every parcel of vacant land within our towns and cities, just like what Taiwan has done before.
As I talk about this concept, please take note that I am not just talking about food production, but also about sanitation, beautification and disaster preparation.
Yes, it is possible to do this four-in-one combination, and it actually forms just one value chain. More than just being a value chain, it could actually form a logical sequence that could be done one after the other. As an added benefit, there will be many opportunities for everyone to generate livelihood from the surplus of food production, aside from the fact that they will be able to eat fresh and organic foodstuffs.
Since there are many reasons for turning this concept into a reality, we should no longer come up with reasons why we should not be doing it.
Recent issues about the safety of commercially produced food have actually created a demand for safe food. The issue nowadays is how and where the food was produced, and whether or not it was produced with safe methods.
That is as far as the food safety side is concerned. On the environmental safety side however, there are issues about whether or not the food items were produced without damaging the environment or not. Aside from environmental safety, there is also the issue of how much carbon was produced in producing, processing and transporting the food items.
This latter issue has in fact created a new generation of “locavores”, people who prefer to eat locally produced food, for the purpose of reducing their own carbon footprint as they consume food for their own survival.
Aside from the “locavores”, there are now many people who are always looking for the “fair trade” label, a mark that guarantees that the food items (and other consumer products) were produced without harming people and the planet.
The mark also guarantees that human rights and animal rights were not violated in the production of the food items.
All told, it is actually home grown food production that will provide an answer to these concerns for safety and rights. The only question now is how to turn this concept into a reality, in a way addressing all the problems that could prevent it from happening. It seems to me that the answer to this question is the cooperative approach.
On the practical side, it would be best if there will be an outside market for all food surpluses produced, aside from the local market of home consumption.
Towards this end, it would also be best if there will be a local cooperative that will collect and sell the surpluses, with specific buyers in mind.
In the past, livelihood and food production programs have failed because there was no market for the food items produced. We should no longer make that mistake; otherwise we will just go back to the old routine of failure. That is the reason why I am suggesting that we should plant only the crops that have ready buyers, and that should not be too difficult to do nowadays.
Raw materials for the production of alternative flours and food supplements are the crops that have buyers that are already waiting. Malungay is a case in point, because it could be processed both as a flour material and as a food supplement.
There are, however, many other crop choices that could be grown in vacant lots for the purpose of processing into flour materials, such as sweet potato, carrots, squash, taro, pigeon peas (kadyos) and buckwheat, a variety of wheat that could also be processed into homemade noodles (soba).
Believe it or not, our local manufacturers of food supplements are importing bitter melon (ampalaya), because the local supply could not keep up with the demand of production. This is also the situation in the case of turmeric (luyang dilaw).
I am suggesting the involvement of cooperatives, because I believe that these community based organizations are the only ones that are capable of collecting small amounts of harvests from many community based producers, for purposes of consolidation into large volumes for big orders.
I suggest that there should be one cooperative for every barangay, subject to the condition that there should be no overlap among the directors of the cooperatives and the members of the barangay councils. This is one case wherein we should not mix business with politics./PN