Mindanao Farmers Start Off the Year with Natural Farming Systems Technology

For many farmers, the future looks bright, green, and full of good food.

Crops were harvested and caps were thrown in celebration as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines, together with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and the East-West Seed Company, Inc. oversaw graduation ceremonies for its partner farmers in Mindanao at the end of 2019.

Women from Barangay Binuni, Bacolod, Lanao del Norte, teach their fellow community members how to prepare natural fertilizer – a technology that had been passed on to them through the Sustainable Farm to Table Program. The program trains communities how to farm organically, which in turn keeps them from making use of harmful agricultural inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizer. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

The Sustainable Farm to Table Program has been empowering farmers in rural communities across the Philippines since its inception in 2017. A three-phase endeavor, the program first teaches farmers natural agriculture practices, before organizing them into cooperatives for them to pool their finances and make investments for their community. They are then introduced to buyers, to provide their agro-businesses links to potential sustainable markets.

For many communities in Mindanao, the first few workshops are complete. Now armed with knowledge on how to run their own all-natural farms, the farmer graduates will implement what they have learned and will share these learnings to others.

“For our graduates, this is a step in the right direction. It’s about equipping them with better skills for better yields. With the right technology, our farmer graduates are empowered to become agents of change within their communities, to share the knowledge they have acquired and create public livelihood ventures for their communities,” explained WWF-Philippines Sustainable Food Systems Project Manager Monci Hinay. The goal of WWF-Philippines is to defeat rural hunger by helping communities grow their own food with as little cost to the planet as possible.

“At the end of these graduation rites, I’d say our farmers are ready. Ready to share their knowledge and become more productive members of the community,” added Hinay.

Chief technology partner East-West Seed Company, Inc. has overseen the many agriculture workshops held under the program. Travelling together with WWF-Philippines across the Philippines, the agriculture company has helped pass on knowledge to hundreds of rural Filipinos.

“Each of our communities’ farms is proof that they really want what they have been learning with us over the past year,” said East West Seed Knowledge Transfer Manager Girlie Banana, speaking outside the graduation rites of a Muslim community in Brgy. Basagad, Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. Advocates of sustainable agriculture, East-West Seed Company, Inc. helps rural communities adopt natural farming practices that stray away from harmful inputs such as chemical pesticides, which cause massive damage to the land. The hope of both WWF-Philippines and East-West Seed Company, Inc. is for everyone to have access to healthy and nutritious food – and these graduation ceremonies are a milestone toward that dream.

WWF-Philippines Sustainable Food Systems Project Manager Monci Hinay gives his own commencement address to the new farming graduates of Barangay Tibao, M’lang, North Cotabato. The graduation ceremonies were held to acknowledge the hard work, effort, and commitment of the program’s partner communities. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

The graduation ceremonies represent a step in the right direction – but what comes next? What lies in store for the farmers of Mindanao?

“This graduation is all part of a sustainable livelihood program. There are still plans that we have in store to support these communities, such as financial literacy and business development workshops. We’ll definitely be coming back next year,” said National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) Principal Specialist Jenny Afroilan. NGCP works to provide lasting interventions in their host communities, and the Sustainable Farm to Table Program is a step towards uplifting them from poverty. The next step of the program is to link these communities to buyers from the marketplace, while organizing them into cooperatives for joint savings and investments.

For those from the communities themselves, their dream is for them to take their lives into their own hands. Many of the program’s partner communities have struggled with both food and livelihood insecurity, and often find themselves unable to break from poverty. Equipped with new farming skills from the Sustainable Farm to Table Program, these communities have hope once more that they can take control of their futures.

“We’ll keep growing this farm, because we know it will be of help to us. We’ll take care of it and make it bigger, for our community and for our families,” said Herminia Tacardon, a housewife from Barangay Tibao, M’lang, North Cotabato, speaking proudly through teary eyes. Buying food was a challenge for the people of M’lang who already struggled with unstable livelihoods. With their farm in place, however, a healthy meal is never far away, and they have money left over to spend on improving their community.

With their certificates in hand, the men and women of Basagad welcome in the new year, confident that there will be food to come and that their livelihoods will be more stable with their learnings from the Sustainable Farm to Table Program. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

“Thank you for being part of this program,” said Hinay as he gave his commencement address to the farmers of Barangay Tibao, M’lang. “But our work does not stop here. Let’s keep moving forward. Help us, so we can help you as well.” There are still many challenges ahead for the communities of Mindanao on their road to food and livelihood security. As empowered farmers and stewards of sustainability, however, they now start the new year on the path toward a greener tomorrow.

Originally published on the WWF-Philippines website.

These Sack Gardens Are Reshaping How We Think About Farming

When you think of farms, you think of row upon row of crops propped up side by side. Flat land stretched out for hundreds of acres. Between each plot runs a gutter for irrigation. Ever since the dawn of civilization, farming has taken the same form, with the occasional modification to account for hills and mountain slopes.

But what if there were another way to farm? These new sack gardens prove that we might not need that much land to farm with after all.

One of the community mothers plants seedlings through holes cut into the sides of the sack. These sack gardens bring space-saving verticality to agriculture where other, more conventional farming methods require hectares of flat land. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines has been rolling out its latest low-input agricultural technology to rural and urban communities alike all across the country. Developed by technology partner East-West Seed Foundation, these sack gardens have introduced many farmers to a brand new way of thinking about their crops.

“The idea behind these sack gardens is to have fresh vegetables available at the household level. This will contribute to improving vegetable consumption in the long run,” says East-West Seed Foundation Executive Director Crisanto Sabino.

Each sack garden is easy to put together. Heavy rocks are placed inside a rice sack to weigh the garden down. A bottle is inserted in the middle to provide drip irrigation to the garden, before soil medium and fertilizer is shoveled atop the rocks. Holes are cut along the side of the sack, where seedlings are then planted. Finally, wooden trellises are placed into the sack garden to provide additional support to the structure, as well as a guide for vine plants to latch on to and grow along. 

“We want to optimize the outputs of farming. Each sack garden has space for a main crop, around the edges, as well as a secondary crop, like a vine plant, that grows out the top,” adds Sabino. An open top also allows for crop diversification – with the addition of the right, aromatic plants, the sack garden can be kept free of harmful pests.

Sack gardens on display. Each sack garden allows space for one main crop and another secondary crop, allowing for diversification and strategic farming. Photograph © Ysa Calinawan / WWF-Philippines

What are the practical benefits to growing farms vertically? WWF-Philippines Sustainable Food Systems Project Manager Monci Hinay shares his opinion on what he believes to be a game-changer in food security.

“We introduced these sack gardens because we noticed that in our communities, even in the most rural ones, most farmers don’t own their own land. The only land they really own is the land they’ve built their houses on. What we’re doing is really about backyard gardening,” says Hinay. One of the biggest causes of hunger is a lack of reliable access to food. By teaching consumers to grow crops in their homes with little input on their part, they then have direct access to a steady supply of food.

“Limited spaces need wider mindsets. That’s the battle cry of urban container gardening. We have limited space, so we have to be more innovative in our approach.” For Hinay, the point of having low-tech technologies like the sack garden is for anyone to have access to food, no matter where or how they live.

A community looks on at their new sack garden. Food security comes to urban spaces through this low-tech, low-input technology. Photograph © Alo Lantin / WWF-Philippines

“If you have a lot of land, then go and put up a big farm. The point here, though, is that having no land doesn’t have to be a reason for you not to farm. You can still grow your own food,” concludes Hinay. With the challenges of a food-insecure future growing ever more real, it is necessary to explore new ways to think about agriculture. Come and support WWF-Philippines, and help us create a future where everyone has enough to eat.

Originally published on the WWF-Philippines website.