By: Krizzia Mei C. Esperanza

The Los Baños Science Community Foundation, Inc. (LBSCFI) Technology Forum (TechnoForum) Committee, chaired by Dr. Alexander R. Madrigal, the Regional Director of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) CALABARZON, organized a virtual forum via Zoom and Facebook Live on December 3, 2020. The TechnoForum titled “Si Plantito, Plantita sa Pandemya: Food Security Challenges and Opportunities Under the New Normal” is part of the 12th Los Baños SyenSaya Science Festival. Around 200 individuals, coming from different parts of the country, attended the event.

Dr. Melinda dP. Bandalaria, the Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) and the President of the LBSCFI, highlighted the virtual or online character of this year’s TechnoForum during her welcome address. She said, “While we will be missing the usual physical or face-to-face gathering that characterizes our TechnoForum participation during the previous years, this virtual TechnoForum was designed to achieve the same set of objectives—to provide information, models of good practices, on the application of science-based products and services to our daily lives, and to stimulate discourse concerning issues that are controversial to many.” She cited how food security is a relevant issue, given the instances of families not having enough to eat, or of farmers restricted to sell their produce under the “new normal.” However, she continued that the forum is a celebration of resilience—“to move past these initial challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and even surface opportunities that kept many of us going.”

Dr. Madrigal shared the active participation of the DOST-CALABARZON to the recently concluded National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) celebration, and presented the rationale behind the TechnoForum’s program of activities. The forum covers the 4 thematic Ks of the 2020 NSTW: Kalusugan, Kabuhayan, Kaayusan, and Kinabukasan. Under Kalusugan, Dr. Eufemio V. Rasco, Jr., the Chair of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Agricultural Sciences Division, was invited to talk about how food security involves not only adequacy, but accessibility to nutritious food. Under Kabuhayan, the organizing committee invited Los Baños-based produce sellers, Carbonn Farms and Sierreza, to talk about how the pandemic both posed a threat to, and offered opportunities for, food security. Under Kaayusan and Kinabukasan, Ms. Cheryll Laviña-Gonzales, the Municipal Agriculturist of Los Baños, and Hon. Filomena Cinco, the Barangay Chairperson of 412, Sampaloc, Manila, were invited to share local government and community projects on food security, and how these has helped them cope with the pandemic.

Dr. Eufemio V. Rasco, Jr., the Chair of the NAST Agricultural Sciences Division talks about “Food Security Challenges and Opportunities Under the New Normal,” December 3, 2020.

Dr. Rasco, during his talk, detailed how the challenges to food security—the 3 U’s: Unjust, Unsustainable, and Unhealthy food system—can be dealt with by these 3 Ds: Diversification in the dining table, Diversification in the farms, and use of Digital technology. He shared some opportunities for both food producers and consumers amidst the many food security challenges. For consumers, he recommended the integration of the “prosumer” lifestyle, encouraging households to plant and grow their own food resource. Towards the end of his talk, he challenged agencies and organizations, the DOST and the Department of Education (DepEd) in particular, to be more active in responding to food security. For the DOST, he suggested the development and distribution of production technologies, and provision of science-based guidance related to food security to the general public. For the DepEd, he advised the integration of learning materials on healthy diet and food production to classes. 

Ms. Gonzales shared the initiatives of the Municipal Government of Los Baños in addressing food security issues. Some of these are the distribution of seeds, seedlings, and fertilizers, provision of agricultural and livestock extension, provision of farming equipment, and establishment of markets, testing laboratories, and a bakery (catering to malnourished children). Hon. Cinco, on the other hand, narrated the story behind her organizations’ involvement with the DOST National Capital Region (NCR) and the DOST Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resource Research and Development (PCAARRD), through the Gulayan sa Pamayanan project. The Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda, Inc. (NML) and Jesse M. Robredo Homeowners Association, Inc. (JMRV HOA), which Hon. Cinco represents, are organizations advocating for housing plans for the poor. Through their efforts, they were able to house families in Estero de San Miguel in Sampaloc, Manila. These same families became beneficiaries of the Gulayan sa Pamayanan project, which supports the establishment of urban gardens

Dr. Madonna C. Casimero, representing Carbonn Farms and Solita’s Farm Diner, shares “Finding Opportunities Amidst the Food Security Challenges,” December 3, 2020.

Dr. Madonna C. Casimero introduced the “farm to plate concept” she integrated in Carbonn Farms and its sister establishment, Solita’s Farm Diner. The pandemic, among other challenges, made it difficult to sustain the business, but Dr. Casimero stressed, “We really have to have that grit, perseverance, and patience to survive.” The key strategies Carbonn Farms (and Solita’s Farm Diner) implemented to cope with the pandemic are to scale down operations, and to innovate products and schemes. Because of the challenges, Dr. Casimero discovered opportunities for her business to grow, such as marketing and selling through online platforms, and partnering with food delivery services.

Another produce seller, Sierreza, represented by Mr. Cris Pullan, Mr. Graham Tapia, and Mr. Jobert Peñaranda, shared their experiences on how the pandemic changed the business landscape for them. Sierreza markets and sells produce of indigenous farmers in Sierra Madre. Along with the pandemic is an opportunity for them to establish mobile markets, aside from online selling, to continue their operations, taking inspiration from Pasig City’s “Mobile Palengke.” This proved to be successful, generating more income for the farmers. Sierreza is unique as it advocates for “community-supported agriculture,” which builds, not just a consistent and loyal customer base, but a community of producers and consumers.

After the talks, the Open Forum offered an opportunity to expand on the topic of food security. One question asked was, “If I wish to become a prosumer, living in a small apartment in the city, where do I start?” Dr. Rasco answered that so long as there is sunlight in the space, or artificial light may be installed, taking on the prosumer lifestyle is not an issue. Hon. Cinco added, “Hindi kawalan ang maliit na espasyo o lupa, maging innovative lang po tayo,” speaking from experience as an urban gardener.

Hon. Caesar Perez, the Municipal Mayor of Los Baños, closed the event, thanking the LBSCFI for organizing a forum on food security. The municipality shares the same diligence in tackling food security issues. Some of its efforts, according to Hon. Perez, are the provision of a tractor, which use and operation are free, and the rent and land preparation of agricultural lots for farmers. He promised the continuing dedication of the Municipal Government of Los Baños to be vigilant and responsive to food security issues. “Huwag tayong magsasawa na tumuklas para sa ikagagaling at hindi ikagugutom ng ating mga mamamayan,” he ended.

The TechnoForum received positive reviews from its participants. One participant wrote, “The showcase of the efforts of private sector and small enterprise is very good as it provided an avenue for groups such as cooperatives and small enterprise owners and the concerned local government agencies and NGAs for opportunities of collaboration and assistance.” Another said, “Ang ganitong mga uri ng talakayan ay mainam at kapakipakinabang sa mga mamamayan lalu't higit sa panahong kasalukuyan upang magkaroon ng mga kapaparaanan ang marami at muling makabangon sa kabuhayan pampamilya man o pangkomunidad sa kabila ng kinakaharap ng pandemya. Isang pagbati sa mahusay na webinar. Mabuhay kayo at nawa’y ipagpatuloy ang inyong mahusay na adhikain.”

Watch the replay of “Si Plantito, Plantita sa Pandemya: Food Security Challenges and Opportunities Under the New Normal” here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=837670503698309

Visit the LBSCFI Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/lbscfi) to rewatch its 2020 Los Baños SyenSaya Science Festival virtual activities.