By Brian James Lu

A doable approach to solving self-sufficiency in food security

We all know that the Philippines is an agricultural country. It is unfortunate, however, that all sorts of agricultural products are imported, undermining local production. What is untenable is that hunger and malnutrition continue to hound Filipinos when we have the most fertile land and abundant rivers and seas in the world. This should be enough to address malnutrition and hunger in the country.

The data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is disturbing. It said that every day, 95 children in the Philippines die from malnutrition; 27 out of 1,000 children do not get past their fifth birthday; and a third of Filipino children are stunted, meaning short for their age.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS), on the other hand, stated that between October and December 2022, around 3 million Filipino families experienced involuntary hunger at least once. The SWS defines involuntary hunger as "being hungry and not having food to eat." Our country is abundant with natural resources, but its people are experiencing hunger and malnutrition.

A worthwhile endeavor to solve hunger and malnutrition is the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) program to promote gardening as a sustained community effort for food self-sufficiency. Dubbed “Halina’t Magtanim ng Prutas at Gulay” (HAPAG), it is a grassroots-based project that aims to strengthen the capacities of barangays towards sustainable agricultural initiatives. HAPAG intends to intensify agricultural activities, primarily barangay gardening, where households and the community can produce fresh vegetables and fruits in their backyards and available land spaces. They are also encouraged to establish community gardens where they can sell surplus vegetable products.

The advocate of this project in the DILG is Undersecretary Chito Valmocina, who is now the undersecretary for barangay affairs and oversees the nation’s barangays. He advises and assists the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (SILG) in the formulation and implementation of the department’s policies, plans and programs. Valmocina is the perfect person to oversee the implementation of the HAPAG project considering that he used to be the punong barangay of Barangay Holy Spirit in Quezon City, where he spearheaded urban agriculture and gardening.

I know Usec. Valmocina, and I know of his successful urban gardening program in his barangay. He pioneered urban agriculture by establishing a model urban farm in his barangay. He also encouraged his constituents to plant vegetables in vacant spaces and idle lots with permission from the owners. His urban gardening project also resulted in a zero-waste management program where waste is recycled and compost is used as organic fertilizer for the urban garden. Using recycled materials and compost, they were able to grow vegetables in cans, pots, rubber tires, bottled water and defective appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines, among others.

His project was so successful that it became a favorite destination for local government units that wanted to replicate it. Many of them even came from rural areas all over the country. What is amazing here is that there is no need for the barangay to set aside a budget for the project since Usec. Valmocina was able to accomplish it through the value of volunteerism or the Filipino bayanihan spirit.

I just hope that the barangays will heed the HAPAG project since it is beneficial to all Filipinos, especially the marginalized. Hopefully, this will imbibe the culture of gardening, which, unfortunately, is fast fading as people rely mostly on those bought from the market. I remember those days when gardening was part of the elementary curriculum and children were taking initiatives to plant vegetables in their backyard. Malnutrition and hunger were not that pronounced then. Fruit trees were also abundant.

It is a worthwhile initiative for the DILG to mobilize all barangays in the country through the HAPAG project to address the issues of malnutrition, hunger and food self-sufficiency. There should be no hindrance to this endeavor since there are many vacant spaces in every barangay. Vegetable seeds are also available from the Department of Agriculture and LGUs and are distributed for free. What it takes is strong initiative and proper leadership from our local leaders to mobilize their constituents.

Food security is one of the major concerns today. The World Food Program (WFP) stated that in October last year, one out of 10 households in the Philippines were food insecure. The BARMM, Regions 8 and 12, are the most food-insecure regions, and they belong to the seven poorest regions in the Philippines. We need more programs at the grassroots level, like HAPAG, to address food security and hunger.

The Foundation for National Development (FND), of which I am the chairman, fully supports the HAPAG project. We view this as one of the solutions that will lead to self-sufficiency and food security. This initiative will also lessen Filipinos’ dependency on imported agricultural products. By mobilizing the community, the people will act as one, geared towards a purpose.

We have already established a community garden in Bagong Silangan, Quezon City — a 2 hectare farm planted with various vegetables. We aim to create a source of fresh vegetables for the residents and a community that is self-reliant and secure for its food source. We are also encouraging the residents to plant vegetables in their backyards and in their homes by using recycled materials, as seen in the urban garden of Usec. Valmocina. There is no substitute for growing your own vegetables. It is clean, organic, and fresh. It also helps the environment since plants emit oxygen, which is needed by our bodies. When we breathe, our body takes in oxygen. Imagine if we had lots of vegetables in our backyard.

For a better environment, the DILG also conducted a simultaneous nationwide bamboo and tree planting activity on Sept. 13, 2022, under the theme "Buhayin ang Pangangalaga sa Kalikasan." The activity aims to remind people of their roles in the care and protection of Mother Earth. The tree planting is a barangay-based activity since the barangay officials and staff are tasked with ensuring that the trees planted are monitored regularly to ensure their growth. The barangay officials are also mandated to submit accomplishment reports to Usec. Valmocina. There is hope for Mother Earth if people are mobilized to plant trees and vegetables. These are doable programs that address not only the people’s need for food and food security but also the environment.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Brian James Lu

BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.