Youth enticed to farm through hydroponics

NONGOVERNMENT organization Kids Who Farm (KWH) is using hydroponics to lure the youth into agriculture.

During the recent Pista ng Pagkain at Kabataang Pinoy festival held by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca), KWH founder Muneer Hinay discussed the advantages of hydroponics in helping address food security at the local level.

"In hydroponics, the plant roots absorb balanced nutrients dissolved in water that meet all the plant development requirements. The basic setup is you have a container or grow box, water inside with nutrient solution and an air space so the container is not filled with water," said Hinay.

Among the plants that can be grown via hydroponics are lettuce, pechay (snow cabbage), kangkong (swamp cabbage or river spinach), bell pepper, tomato and herbs like basil.

While the sizable portion of food production is still soil-based or about 95 percent, producing food from hydroponics offers advantages. Among these are its modular setup (vertical or horizontal), ability for monocropping season after season and nearly pest-free nature.


Engaging the youth

Hinay and his daughter Raaina are also at the forefront of getting more of the youth involved in agriculture.

"I realized that even a small child can actually propose solutions to the pressing problems of food security," Hinay said.

The father and daughter were instrumental in jointly establishing KWH's micro urban garden in her school, the Catalina Vda de Jalon Memorial School in Barangay Tumbaga, Zamboanga City. Raaina was only 9 years old then — three years ago.

Now, KWH not only has a joint urban farming project with Raaina's school, its partnership also involves other institutions that also share the advocacy to show the youth that agriculture is a profitable venture. As an incentive to kids, they are able to bring home and eat what they produce, and get compensation for their efforts.

Aside from its partnership with the Department of Education's "Gulayan sa Paaralan," KWH has a micro farming project with the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula).

Urban farming lectures were also conducted for Haven for the Children and Haven for Women facilities, Rotary Interact Clubs from different universities in Zamboanga, Isabela City, youth organizations and the Special Forces Battalion in Basilan.

With its advocacy, it has so far trained more than 400 youths in urban farming.

Hinay, project manager for sustainable food systems at the World Wide Fund for Nature, also believes his home province should be food self-sufficient.

"There's a big opportunity to really make Zamboanga city food secure. At present, it is 40 percent self-sufficient in vegetables. As a city which is the third largest in the Philippines in land area, it's very ironic that we import 60 percent of our food as far as from Baguio," Hinay disclosed in the Searca seminar.

"When we talk about urban agriculture, a big challenge is space. But the truth is when you have a small space, then what you need is a big mindset," he said.