Food security is a major global concern, especially in our country. Obtaining food security means a nation’s population has access to sufficient nutritious food to meet their dietary needs, and live healthy and active lives. Ensuring food security and nutrition is so critical that the United Nations identified “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” as Goal 2 in its Sustainable Development Goals. These have never been more crucial. However, there are numerous challenges that restrain nations from fully achieving these like global warming, rapid population growth, water scarcity, loss of agricultural lands, and diseases, among others.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, in 2018, the Philippines’ agricultural land areas were reduced to 13.32 million hectares. Moreover, frequent calamities, absentee landowners, vacant and idle lands in rural and urban areas have made it difficult for our country to achieve food security. Earlier this year, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that Typhoon Odette caused P17.7 billion worth of damage to agriculture.
In 2021, the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) ranked the Philippines 64th among 113 countries. In addition to natural disasters, other factors such as low farm incomes, inadequate support for agricultural research and development, conversion of agricultural lands, water scarcity, inefficient logistics and supply chains, and fewer people choosing agriculture-related jobs have made our food production systems and supplies vulnerable.
According to the World Food Program, “Many Filipinos suffer from lack of food or poor diets despite rising food availability because of inadequate access to food due to high poverty and low income.” As our urban population continues to rise, so will the demand for sustainable and resilient food supply systems. By 2050, our nation’s population is forecast to reach 146 million. Will our food supply be enough to sustain us and future generations come 2050?
To address this major challenge our country is facing, we at Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group strongly believe in promoting and strengthening “agropolitan” development nationwide. Why not bring food sources closer to where people live? Why not empower each barangay, municipality, city, and province in the Philippines to be self-sufficient with urban farming?
An agropolis is an ideal approach to solve food insecurity and malnutrition because it integrates agricultural farms as a vital component of urban and regional development. The word “agropolis” is derived from “agros” meaning farm and “polis” meaning city. In other countries, the agropolitan approach is known as urban agriculture. Even though Singapore only has one percent of its land allocated for food production, it was No. 15 in the 2021 GFSI. According to food security experts, the prevalence of community gardens serve as valuable alternative food sources when disruptions to food supplies occur.
According to Singapore’s National Parks Board, the country’s nationwide gardening movement has contributed more than 1,800 community gardens planted with various vegetables, spices, fruits, and other native plants that are present in public and private housing estates, schools, corporate premises, and rooftops, among others. In addition, Singapore launched its “30 by 30” program in 2019 through which they aim to locally produce 30% of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030.
Advanced research and technology have also allowed Singapore to efficiently grow quality produce with less natural resources and without harmful pesticides. It is likewise very encouraging to see how local food production has brought together people from all walks of life, and they now share the same goal of strengthening urban farming.
Another good example of how the local government responded to address extreme poverty and hyper-inflation of food prices and how agriculture can be successfully included in urban development can be found in Rosario, Argentina. In December 2001, 60% of the city’s population lived below the poverty line. Today, it is one of Argentina’s most prosperous cities. Key initiatives that transformed Rosario were strong support for low-income urban areas to achieve small-scale, self-production of fresh food, and promoting vegetable gardening in the poorest parts of the city. The local government had a clear vision of making urban farming a permanent activity in the city. A farmer’s market was opened within six months from when the program was established. The first stage of the initiative was so successful that it resulted in helping producers earn up to $150 per month, and it supported 10,000 low-income families.
For our country to successfully adopt agropolitan development and create a thriving industry, local governments must develop land use plans and policies that favor balancing development with nature. In addition, financial resources and expertise must be invested to intensify human capital and technology. To reduce the parasitic relationship between cities and the farms, let us have a more symbiotic integration of urban, suburban, and rural farms.
Cultivating an agropolis has numerous benefits. It can empower low-income households to establish livelihoods, and families can eat healthier by growing their own nutritious vegetables and make a profit from it. Carbon emissions can be reduced because fresh produce no longer needs to be transported an average of 2,000 kilometers from farm to table. The presence of urban farming in the metropolis can help neutralize price surges and shortages of fresh produce during natural calamities in the provinces. Developing urban food systems provides green spaces that offer relief from pollution, urban heat, and other deteriorating conditions of the urban environment.
In designing affordable housing, we at Palafox have incorporated green walls where households can plant crops, such as eggplant, tomato, cucumber, talbos ng kamote (sweet potato greens), and ampalaya (bitter melon), among others. We have also helped develop agropolitan plans in India, Vietnam, Pampanga, Metro Davao, Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna. We were involved in the master planning of leisure farms like The Leisure Farm in Lemery, Batangas; Ponderosa Leisure Farms in Silang, Cavite; Tierra Madre Estates in Lipa, Batangas; and Agria in Panabo, Davao.
With a strong and sustainable agropolitan approach to development, our nation can revive the agricultural sector. We can optimize our diverse ecologies and unlock the immense agricultural, agri-industrial, and agri-tourism potential that await in our towns, cities, provinces, and islands.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.
Felino “Jun” A. Palafox, Jr. is chair of the MAP Urban Development Committee, and the founder, principal architect and urban planner of the Palafox Associates and the Palafox Architecture Group.