“Food security is not easy. It’s not easy to farm. I hope people see that if you really want to grow your food, grow it to the point that it can survive a family,” said Rom. “Don’t just grow food where you’re just joining the fad.”

Months long into the extended quarantine—and as limitations are beginning to relax despite the ongoing number of cases—a common trend has risen from household to household.

The plantitos and plantitas are the dubbed titles of the individuals that have bought, planted, and even named their plant companions. From succulents and bright-colored flowers to potted fruits and vegetables, 2020 has become the unexpected rise of a nurtured urban gardening system. The trend has given way for opportunities to talk about the importance of slow-food advocacies and the all encompassing prevalence of food security.

The OffCrowd team’s own home garden and urban farm

What is food security?

The plantitos and plantitas that found their hobbies today can only be the beginning of urban households from building mini gardens into their own small farms. As new technologies and innovations, such as SNAP solutions or vertical farming, even the smallest of space can grow healthy fruits.

Monci Hinay, co-founder of Kids Who Farm, describes food security as basically the “access, availability, and quality” of the food that we consume. “Food security is being empowered to produce your own food, to grow your own food, make choices of what food you’re going to eat, the quality of food you’re going to eat for your family and for yourself,” Hinay explained in a Google Meet interview with OffCrowd.

The limitations of quarantine brought difficulties in mobility as farms are mostly located in provincial areas. The tightened security of checkpoints with limited passage became a challenge to transfer the production to the populated city of Metro Manila.

Monci Hinay’s homegrown setup. Photo provided by Monci Hinay.

On one hand, families found difficulty in acquiring their basic food necessities. On the other, however, our local farmers are challenged with their reduced income from the surplus of production without a proper and stable market.

“More than ever, food security is always a work-in-progress. I think we have not come to a point really where we’re food secure,” said Hinay. “But with the pandemic affecting everyone, it’s another layer of challenge with regards to food security because before we used to access food from different areas. Now we’re having challenges in mobility, moving food from point a to point b because of the lockdowns—and because of the loss of jobs from our food producers.”

Jojo Rom, a pioneer of urban container gardening in the Philippines, echoes Hinay statements of our country’s delay into achieving food security. “Even before COVID, we’re not food secure. Especially now, with the pandemic.” He said in a mix of Tagalog and English. 

Rom’s urban container gardening setup featured in PTV.

“It hurts to hear and it feels heavy that in the 122 years of [the Philippines] being an independent nation, we’re still talking about food,” Rom exclaimed. “We haven’t resolved our basic needs. Even without COVID, food security is needed because this is what we are teaching our children, that we survive everyday because there is food that we eat everyday.”

Rom and Hinay founded the Facebook group “Home Farmers Club” in 2011 to encourage households to start their own farms. They have worked together in creating a statement that agricultural business needs to be kept alive and underscored into the minds of the youth.

Rom’s current home farm. Photo provided by Jojo Rom.

The youth’s role

A study published in the Philippine Journal of Science in June 2020, proved the global issue of aging farmers and their hesitance in having their children grow up to be farmers themselves “because of the physical, psychological, and financial difficulties encountered” by their generation. This is along with the realizations of the children that farming is not a promoted career-choice in families in our current social climate, where higher education and working abroad is seen as a “success.”

“The reality is our food producers are already aging, and there’s disinterest when it comes to agriculture with the young ones,” emphasized Hinay. Having worked with the WWF (World Wide Fund), Hinay was exposed to the challenges of farmers and the irony of their professions. Their roles as providers for the many Filipino families in the cities do not reflect their ability to provide for their own families in times of crisis.

An article from The Manila Times published last August 2020, has cited the neglect of the government and the existence of present laws that are preventing small farmers from earning just income.

When asked how to prompt people to grow their food, Rom emphasized the need for the involvement of leaders in communities to support households in building farms. “I tell these people, you have to grow your own food. If the land will not allow you, then you have to meet with your immediate leaders that you need to produce your own food, your own facility.”

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It hurts to hear and it feels heavy that in the 122 years of [The Philippines] being an independent nation, we’re still talking about food

Social media has become the catalyst to the emphasis of growing your own food, as the trends continue creating even the smallest of green spaces by the bedside window. Rom had felt excited in seeing tutorial videos on even using recycled mineral bottles to jumpstart urban farms.

Kids Who Farm’s mission-vision is to educate the youth on the basics of farming. The organization saw the ongoing issue of aging farmers and the lack of interest among the youth to pursue a career in agriculture.  

“We want to emphasize that there’s a bigger role for the youth, and for the young ones to participate in not just the discussion of food security, but really how to proactively produce the food for the community or even for the household,” Hinay explained.  “Then down the line, in the near future, we will direct ourselves as an agricultural producing country. We need to appreciate that there’s really big business in food production.”

Rom and Hinay, in both their interviews however, that farming is not an easy task and farmers are not an easy profession. Food security also comes with knowing the basics of production, process, and technology.

Photo provided by Monci Hinay.

Farming isn’t just a hobby

A couple of years ago, OffCrowd’s first feature was an interview with a team of urban farmers that envisioned a future of a green city. A future where everyone has access to a stable supply of healthy food within the vicinity of their homes.

“Access, doesn’t just mean the ability to grow [the food], but [about] the appropriate technology, the appropriate knowledge on how to produce the food,” said Hinay. 

“When we talk about the Philippines being an agricultural country and really pushing for agricultural development, it entails discussing the entire spectrum of the value chain,” 

Reynic Alo is the Executive Director of MUAD Negros, a federation of farmer organizations supporting and implementing programs for small holder farmers. They are tasked with educating the farmers in Negros on not just the basics of production, but also the business and marketing aspects for their daily income.

He develops then educates sustainable practices that are adapting to the changing times, such as soil depletion and the effects of climate change. Sustainable practices include the combination of trees, crops, and animals. “It’s a long term goal for each farmer to have a diversified farm,” Alo said. “That’s how nature works, it’s really diverse. Unlike now, with monocropping and large scale productions. Now we are suffering the consequences.”

Rom echoes the tendency of the country  to practice overproduction of certain goods that lead to extensive food wastes. “It’s always about making more. Food security and farming seems like we produce more, when in fact we are producing beyond what is required.” 

The support from organizations such as Alo’s and further government assistance is one of the ways that can solve the balance between food security and farmers’ plight in the country. Rom continues, “We have vast land in the country, there should be that natural and peaceful livelihood. [Farmers] should be given that livelihood. It should be the government’s responsibility to give them that.”

The plantitos and the plantitas cultivating their tiny gardens and miniature farms were small gates that allowed the conversation on the issues for food security, and the need for better policies and guidance from the people in power.

“The food security issue is a way to advise our policy makers, with legislators in government. It goes hand-in-hand in ensuring that everyone has access and power to choose their food, grow their food, and at the same time provide for the high value commodities that we need,” said Hinay.

“Food security is not easy. It’s not easy to farm. I hope people see that if you really want to grow your food, grow it to the point that it can survive a family,” said Rom. “Don’t just grow food where you’re just joining the fad.”

When a crisis becomes a wake-up call, the holes of previous practices and implementations are further highlighted. Hinay, Rom, and Alo are among the local farmers that are clamoring for better representation in the agricultural sector and a balance that won’t leave farmers in devastating situations—along with trying to empower the voices and educate the masses that food security is not impossible.

OffCrowd is a platform to report working solutions as well as discuss concepts and ideas to nourish solutions among all individuals.

Let us know the groups or individuals already working towards these, let us know existing policies if we’ve missed any, and discuss in the comments.

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