Think new!

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2021 - 12:00am

The President said we will probably recover by 2023. That seems a long time away, but it isn’t. That is hardly enough time for us to prepare to live in a new normal that is decidedly better than the old.

Indeed, we should take the crisis as an opportunity to think of innovations or new things to make life better as we exit the pandemic.

How we move around is one good area for dreaming better things. For example, they are testing an innovative mass transport system in Davao. It is called BEST Bus Davao, which stands for Business for Environmentally Sustainable Transformation (BEST) Bus.

The project is being pushed by Davao Light and Power Company, GET Philippines, China Dynamics and QEV Technologies (of Spain). Seven BEST Buses were launched last Dec. 11, 2020 in Davao and formal operations started last Dec. 14, 2020.

BEST Bus is fully electric and is environmentally sustainable and because it is free, better for the people. Each bus has a seating capacity of 30 persons, but will only accommodate 15 passengers, to observe physical distancing.

The ride is free of charge, but passengers must register to the BEST Pass QR code and scan it upon entering the bus. The market data gathered is useful to attract advertising that will pay for the operating costs of running the service. There are 9,340 registered app users to date.

The BEST Pass app also has a contact tracing feature that can help the Davao LGU with important information during this pandemic era.

The project aims to leave a lasting impact on the environmental sustainability of the city and the country by significantly reducing harmful emissions, maximizing available new technologies and encouraging inclusive benefits for all.

Since its launch, the seven BEST Buses have served over 39,170 passengers, with as many as 600+ passengers/ day, in over 2,943 rides. It looks like a good marriage of corporate social responsibility (environmental impact) and public service (free transport service).

If the Aboitiz group can show that it is possible to operate a free transport service or even one with modest fares subsidized by advertising, that is a good idea that deserves being used nationwide. It is still too early to say if the concept works, but the Aboitiz group should be congratulated for taking the time, effort and money to try the scheme.

Another exciting idea is urban farming. There is this plantita craze among housewives that grew during the lockdown. Funny, but some people started to talk to their plants. Others, like tourism book publisher Jun Ventura, tried to convert their small house lots to vegetable gardens.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar had been posting stories from abroad about urban farming. But I wish he will go beyond Facebook and actually talk to some of our business leaders to invest time and money to try this scheme out.

Start with property developers like Ayala, SMDC, Megaworld and the Manny Villar companies. They are known to be furiously landbanking and buying properties for future development. In the meantime, the properties are idle.

I recently e-mailed Tessie Sy Coson about the Pimeco property that they bought from GSIS. It is 10 hectares and idle. I understand PCGG still has a claim on it as part of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth. But SMDC or one of its subsidiaries now holds the title.

There are abandoned buildings there that used to house the manufacturing facilities of Pimeco, a meat packing plant. The buildings can be converted to urban farms to grow vegetables using the hydroponic method.

Perhaps my suggestion is not worth the investment from the perspective of a property developer. But it delivers a strong message about utilizing every inch of land we have for food production. It also creates jobs for those who lost jobs during the lockdowns.

San Miguel Corporation, as always, is ahead of the pack. They just announced they will turn portions of their head office in Mandaluyong City into small urban farms for support staff to grow their own food and earn more. They can bring home their harvest or sell the produce at the Malasakit Garden Farmers stall to be set up at the complex.

Converting the grounds now planted to grass to grow lettuce and other vegetables delivers a strong social message about being concerned with having sufficient food supply. Indeed, with recent supply glitches for Baguio vegetables, chicken and pork, every Filipino must take to heart the importance of food security and learn how to grow our own food.

I don’t think Ramon Ang has any illusions about making money on this project but the social messaging is important.

Actually, urban farming is a growing trend abroad. I have read of vertical farms cultivating all sorts of salad vegetables in old warehouses, former steel mills, or other sites in cities abroad.

An article in Fastcompany.com reports they are now starting to build multistory greenhouses directly inside affordable housing developments.

They plan to integrate a vertical farm into an existing affordable housing development in Chicago. Inside each building, the ground level will offer community access, while the greenhouse fills the second, third, and fourth floors, covering 70,000 square feet and growing around a million pounds of produce a year.

Fastcompany.com reports that residents will be able to buy fresh produce on-site; others in the neighborhood may also buy greens directly from the farm. While it will sell to supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals, and other large customers, it also plans to subsidize 10 to 15 percent of its harvest for local food pantries or community kitchens that feed the hungry, homeless and jobless.

On Sept. 10, 2020, Ayala Corporation chairman and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala joined an online panel entitled “Corporate Social Responsibility Revisited”. He made a good point:

“When you have a broader point of view where we are part of civil society, you realize that the business sector has a role in addressing some of the pain points that we have in our development needs… your institution has a bigger responsibility than just to the shareholders. It has a responsibility to the society it’s working in.”

JAZA, was that you?

Now is the time for the rubber to hit the road, right JAZA?



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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