SEARCA to aid Busuanga in food security

School-Plus-Home Gardens Project (S+HGP) model piloted in six schools in Laguna will soon be replicated on Busuanga Island in Palawan to help the island secure its food needs in light of its poor soil quality.

This was the consensus reached at a recent consultation convened in Coron, Palawan by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) and the University of the Philippines Los Baños with the local government, schools and tourism industry.

The S+HGP models in Laguna saw harvests from the school gardens provide fresh vegetables for the school-based feeding program and whose gardening-feeding linkage was extended to the establishment of food gardens in the school children’s homes. The model was more than just establishing home gardens where the parents developed a greater sense of responsibility to ensure good nutrition for their children; it was also about saving on food expenses.

The consultation was attended by the Coron Municipal Agriculture Office, Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, local grade schools from the inland and coastal districts, and the tourism sector representatives.

Pedcris Orencio, head of Searca Program for Research and Development, said Busuanga Island could significantly benefit from school-plus-home gardens, thus the holding of consultation workshop to gauge the interest and willingness of potential partners and the community to participate in the S+HGP.

The locals consulted said the two municipalities in the island do not have food security because agriculture is not a strong sector given poor soil quality.

They added that although Coron and Busuanga are rich in seafoods, they import most of their fruits and vegetables from neighboring areas and pay high prices for the produce, which adversely affect the nutrition of poor families.

They also pointed out that importation also increases prices of food in restaurants, which is an integral part of the booming tourism industry on the island. For every peso earned from tourism in Coron, only P0.80 goes to the municipality because food is sourced elsewhere.

Orencio said the consultation also indicated the support that could be extended to the S+HGP by various stakeholders.

“Government agencies, through their local offices, could provide technical assistance on organic vegetable production and provide inputs such as garden tools, seeds, other planting materials and organic fertilizers,” he said.

Orencio added schools were also supportive of the initiative as this would complement the Gulayan sa Paaralan Project of the Department of Education.

“It would also be an avenue to involve, encourage and educate parents and families on vegetable growing and nutrition,” he said.

The consultation also indicated the vital role the tourism sector could play in the project.

“Under particular conditions, members of the tourism sector could also allow parcels of land adjacent to schools and owned by members of the sector to be used as S+HGP demonstration areas,” Orencio said, adding that the sector could also be a consumer and market for products in excess of the needs of the schools.

Also, the locals also said the tourism sector could support the upscaling of S+HGP by encouraging industry players to adopt a school for S+HGP and showcase these to guests and tourists while engaging them in local initiatives.