How to solve hunger

Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

I now buy fish and seafood only from a supplier who delivers twice a week to my village. I buy fruits from someone who brings them in from Davao and sends me a text of what’s available. My lowland fruits and vegetables come from the farm and, best of all, our talbos ng kamote is given by the neighbors. Saluyot and more talbos come from the herbal garden we recently finished.

Last weekend, we lived on malunggay, kangkong, talbos and papaya – all from a vacant lot we planted on as an extension of the property. I was thinking – one can really live a healthy simple life just picking up edible shoots and vegetables. It’s like foraging in the forest but simpler and safer. We cooked sinigang, soups from whatever we found around the house, like green papaya for tinola and other simple fare. It was like a cleansing weekend, away from the noise of Makati.

Recently I attended a webinar on “Solving hunger.” There were speakers from government, private sector and an NGO. There were reactors from the private sector, and an economist and a young community leader. The conclusion: solving hunger must first come from a united force – that of community or grassroots, helped by NGOs and hopefully, strengthened by government – local, regional or national. Hunger, specially that affecting children of pre-school age, must be addressed and the solution I see is starting from the bottom.

We must start or remind or teach mothers to get malunggay and kamote and feed their children the basic staples we find in our backyards instead of instant noodles and canned goods.

Then it is about teaching our public and private school teachers to restart community gardens from where a whole community can get its supply of vegetables, aquaponics for fish and chicken for protein. There also is the lowly monggo which is a good protein source. The far flung communities have their own collections of beans like bukel in the North, kadyos in the Visayas and more protein sources that are not expensive like meat.

There also are efforts for organized philanthropy through NGOs. Companies donate money and the NGO buys the produce straight from the farmers and give them to communities, along with seeds for planting, There are notable social groups that organize community farmers in barter, swapping two vegetables and getting 25 kinds in exchange (unbelievable but true, they say).

In the end, hunger is best solved by the very family that needs the food. There must be a mindset of being resourceful in one’s own backyard – pamamaraan or looking for ways to get food. It may not work in the asphalt jungle of a city but in a small plot of land, malunggay can thrive along with talbos ng kamote. Papaya grows by the roadside. You can get green fruit for soup and ripe fruit for dessert.

We must go back to basics – planting a tree or two of papaya, malunggay and sowing some saluyot and kamote. These last two are actually wild like weeds but they make good food for all.

The easy solutions are :

• Community gardens. In the urban areas, these can be on tops of buildings, empty lots, school gardens.

• Checking our local beans for protein as alternatives to expensive animal protein.

• Churches can also start community gardens for their parishioners.

• Municipal health officers and municipal agricultural officers can work together on growing healthy food in vacant lots as vegetables are short term crops anyway.

• Rice and corn can be harnessed rather than bread, which makes use of imported wheat.

• Local fruits like banana and papaya can grow in backyards.

Solving hunger may be achieved by teaching a community to be self-reliant rather than waiting for dole outs or soup kitchens, which may be temporary solutions but hardly sustainable.

What I gleaned from the webinar is that hunger can be solved by the smallest unit in society, which is the community. Though corporations can give for philanthropy, they must also work on changing mindsets in the poorest of the poor – to be more self-reliant and to go back to the soil. By giving them community garden starter kits rather than packages of noodles and processed food empty of calories.

I experienced this myself and was so happy to have found vegetables around our backyard. Then, I sent someone to bring P500 and brought back kangkong, mustasa, bananas, corn, sitaw and three days’ worth of vegetables – all for less than P500.

It is possible to grow for our own needs than to dream of scale and plant for profit. We must start planting for our own families instead. A little malunggay, a little talbos, some bananas and papaya. The same healthy diet no matter where your garden is. It can be grown in a modest place like a backyard or a vacant idle piece of land near you.

Once you have experienced eating off the land’s bounty, you can share the experience with others to change their minds that hunger must be solved by dole outs. Hunger is solved by one’s efforts to find what Nature has prepared for us.


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