Gawad Kalinga Village: on the road towards food security
“Give man vegetables, he eats for a day. Teach man to plant, they eat forever!”
Gawad Kalinga in Los Banos is a village within a village. It is part of Barangay Tuntungin-Putho in the Municipality of Los Baňos. While they are under the governance of the barangay, they are highly organized with their own set of officers which serve as their governing body. GK as it is commonly referred to, is a huge NGO established to provide low cost housing for poor families all over the Philippines. While its mission is nationwide, its benefactors come from all over the world. There are more than 230 families currently living in GK in Los Baňos. While GK tries to cater to more families in need of a home, it follows strict criteria for beneficiaries, namely that couples must be legally married, has an income of less than Php10K per month, and have no criminal record. Residents are mostly daily wage earners, or contract workers at the university or at the international institute near by. Needless to say, when the enhanced community quarantine started in March due to rising cases of Covid 19, several of the residents of GK village were unable to work and struggled to purchase food. While food packs were distributed by the local government and other generous donors, not everyone who needed them were able to benefit from these donations. At times, the timeliness of distribution of food packs were off, or targeting households that needed them most were missed because of lack of communication. Although donated food packs may help in bridging the hunger gap, it leads to a dole out system that is hardly sustainable.
To address the impact of quarantine on food security, the Department of Agriculture is encouraging everyone to “plant, plant, plant!” This may not be possible nor appeal to everyone when getting free food is so much more convenient. But during the quarantine when the simple task of going to the store to purchase food became too stressful and complicated, people realized the importance of being able to produce their own food. Aside from the long queues in the store (if you had to funds to buy food), inventory of fresh goods was also limited because of the disruption in the delivery service. Never before has access to food been so uncertain to all sectors of society because even if you had the money, there was no guarantee that fresh goods would be available in the store.
If the middle class felt the pinch during quarantine, what more the daily wage earners who had no cushion during such crises? This was particularly true for the residents of GK. During an interview with a couple of pregnant women living in the village, we learned that they had to rely on food packs to be able to put food on the table. Unfortunately, food packs mostly comprised of canned and dried goods, which were not necessarily the best source of nutrients. To augment the food packs provided to GK residents and to help achieve proper nutrition, GK villagers set up a community vegetable garden as a sustainable food supply for the village with the help from a couple of donors. Mobilized by the village chairwoman, Aling Jona, and the overall coordinator Aling Minda, volunteers identified the peripheral space around the basketball court, which needed clearing of rocks, metal scraps and other materials for disposal. The village had a rain water collection system that had not been used because of connection problem. Once it has been repaired, it would be a perfect set up for irrigation because of its proximity to the space where the vegetable garden would be located. They also thought about fixing the drainage system along the road to divert rain water towards the nearby creek during a big downpour which usually floods the space for the vegetable garden. Labor for building the fence, construction of the gutter for drainage, and the plumbing connection from the water containers were provided by the villagers as well.
Within a week, the space was cleared of debris and metal scraps, and soil was added to the ground to start forming plots. Soon after, the area was fenced, the water connection fixed for irrigation, and drainage system was built in time for the heavy rain. Just after a month, the area which was formerly a dumping site was transformed into a productive piece of land with pechay ready as first harvest. If ever the province goes on another strict lockdown, GK would have good source of fresh vegetables and good space to continue planting.
Although the GK vegetable garden is still in its infancy, the potential for success is high because:
· the villagers saw the need and the importance of having their own vegetable garden
· the villagers had the will power to establish the vegetable garden
· the villagers identified problems and solutions in setting up the vegetable garden
· the villagers tapped their own skilled workers especially in construction and plumbing
· the villagers had a sense of ownership of the vegetable garden
· financial support provided by generous donors
· in kind support from generous donors who provided seeds and seedlings for planting
Like any endeavor, funds play an important role in moving forward with plans and transforming a vision into an achievable mission. However, gaining support can only be made possible if desired outcome has high rate of success. It is an investment that can either turn into a gain or a loss. In the case of the community vegetable garden, the combination of financial and in kind support and the willingness of the recipients to make the project a success is definitely a “win-win” situation. More important, it is a low investment of about Php 50,000 and a more cost effective form of assistance than providing food packs. In the midst of the quarantine, and in the attempt to transform food packs into healthy food packs, we purchased about 2 tons of assorted vegetables from local farmers in the province for about Php50K per distribution for about 1000 families. This does not include transportation (truck to haul the vegetables from the farm, packing the bags, distribution to recipients and labor). This amount was farm gate price of the vegetables and was paid directly to the farmer. With the extended community quarantine in place, donors would have had to continue donating atleast Php50K worth of food packs to recipients who continue to struggle with food. It is also important to note, that the cost of the food packs of fresh vegetables was less than Php50 per bag while a food pack of canned goods could cost double that amount. And yet, the vegetable food pack would end up being more costly in the long run if we had to continue purchasing and distribution, compared to helping a village establish their own vegetable garden.
There are several lessons to be learned from the Gawad Kalinga community vegetable garden. First, it is achievable with proper coordination with the recipient community and strong leadership, especially if there is a political will to invest in nutrition, which is not the usual winning ticket for elected office. However, there is a potentially high political gain if we invest in nutrition, especially when constituents are food secure during times of crises. Second, financial and in kind support can motivate recipients and vise versa. With the success from the Gawad Kalinga community vegetable garden, we expect to gain further support for other areas through the help of the city Counselor. Third, the community vegetable garden cultivates not only the soil for planting but also the “bayanihan” system which also brings out a sense of ownership among the residents of the village. GK also has a strong sense of volunteerism. To further motivate the volunteers, incentives were provided to them in the form of grocery packs, which comprised of cooking oil, rice, mungo, eggs, and spices. Each volunteer was provided a grocery stub that they presented to their local store. While this system replaces the food pack distribution, it is a temporary measure while the vegetable garden is being set up and will only be provided until the villagers are able to fully rely on the vegetable garden. Part of the financial support from the donors was used to purchase the items for the grocery pack. It is also a means of helping the village grocery sustain its business.
More important, a community vegetable garden encourages residents to take better care of their environment by transforming unused land that may end up accumulating trash, into productive land. Villagers are now exploring possibilities of container gardening and making use of small areas in each home to plant vegetables.
As a final note, the harvest from the vegetable garden will help augment the food supply for the feeding program of the GK.
Video credits: Municipal Counselor Miko Pelegrina
Thank you to the following donors and individuals for the support provided to the Gawad Kalinga community vegetable garden and for helping the residents of this village achieve some sense of food security:
HAND Philippines, Maine USA
Dr. Glenn Gregorio and Ms. Myla Gregorio
Dr. Howarth Bouis
Municipal Counselor Miko Pelegrina
LATCH, Los Baňos Chapter
Ms. Jona Baguioan, Chairwoman Gawad Kalinga Village in Los Baňos
Ms. Minda Jose, Over all coordinator Gawad Kalinga Village in Los Baňos
Gawad Kalinga volunteers