Bernardo M. Villegas
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Replicating the U.S. Victory Gardens

             Millions all over the world, especially in Africa, are expected to go hungry this year as a result of the scarcity of food supplies resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war.  The Philippines may not be spared this food crisis if we cannot implement emergency solutions to increase the food supply in the short run.    Without panicking, we should have the mentality of the U.S. citizens during World War II when they supplied close to a third of the supply of vegetables and other short gestating food crops through what were then called “victory gardens.”  As we can read in Wikipedia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged the planting of “victory gardens” during the course of World War II.  Around one third of the vegetables produced by the U.S. during those war years came from these victory gardens.  It was emphasized to American home front urbanites and suburbanites that the produce from their gardens would help to lower the price of vegetables needed by the US War Department to feed the troops, thus saving money that could be spent elsewhere on the military.  “Our food is fighting”, one US poster read.  By May 1943, there were 18 million victory gardens in the U.S.—12 million in cities and 6 million on farms.

            Basic information about gardening appeared in public services booklets distributed by the Department of Agriculture, as well as agribusiness corporations such as International Harvester and Beech-Nut.  Fruit and vegetables harvested in these home and community points were estimated to be 9 to 10 million short tons in 1944, an amount equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables.  In New York City, the lawns around vacant “Riverside” were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco Golden Gate Park.  The slogan “grow your own, can your own”, was started at the time of the war and referred to families growing and canning their own food in victory gardens.

            To jump start such a movement in the Philippines, the Government may want to mobilize the thousands of individuals and families who, during the pandemic, were transformed into “plantitos” and “plantitas”, spending part of their time during the long lockdowns in home gardening.  Although not all the products grown were vegetables and other edible crops, it can be emphasized that during this crisis period, as many of them as possible should focus on vegetables and other food crops.  The Department of Agriculture, now under the leadership of President Marcos Jr. himself, may want to ask Tessie Sy Coson to be his adviser in this movement in the same way that Joey Concepcion has been helping the Government in helping microentrepreneurs improve their business operations through the GoNegosyo movement.

            I mention Tessie Sy Coson of the SM group because they have been very successful in helping farmers all over the Philippines in successfully growing large volumes of vegetables through the Kabalikat Sa Kabuhayan Farmers’ Training Program.  Partnering with an agribusiness enterprise steeped in Taiwanese modern farming technology, SM Foundation has been helping to update the agricultural knowledge of Filipino farmers through a non-formal skills training program.  For 12 weeks, farmers are taught effective backyard planting and small-scale farming techniques for fruits and vegetables.  This helps improve the quality and quantity of their crops as well as provide organic food for their respective families. Beyond production, the farmers are also helped to form cooperatives and to link them to local markets and SM suppliers for a more stable source of income.

            It was the late founder of the SM group, Mr. Henry Sy Sr. who asked Mr. Arsenio Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness Corporation to help in the implementation of the KSK program way back in 1996.  With his proverbial keen entrepreneurial sense,  Tatang Henry saw he could hit  two birds with one stone:  help the small farmers improve their incomes and at the same time make reasonably priced and high-quality vegetable and fruit products available in the SM stores.  Used to working with government agencies in implementing training programs for farmers, Mr. Barcelona was able to link up with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and selected LGU units in implementing the training programs under KSK.  It was a great advantage for Mr. Barcelona to have lived and worked in Taiwan for a number of years.  There he saw one of the most successful agrarian reform programs in the developing world during the last century.  When he returned to the Philippines, he partnered with one of the leading agribusiness enterprises in Taiwan, Known You Seed.  Through the Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, this joint venture was successful in transferring the most modern but appropriate technology in the growing of high-value crops from Taiwan to the Philippines.

            With Ms. Tessie Coson Sy and Mr. Arsenio Barcelona working closely with the Department of Agriculture, millions of small farmers as well as “plantitos” and “plantitas” can be quickly trained to adopt the most advanced Taiwanese technologies in increasing the supply of high-value products through the equivalent of the “victory gardens” that helped the US survive their food security crisis during the World War II.  The LGUs that can take the lead are those with whom the SM Foundation has already implemented the KSK program.  Among them are Brgy. Sampiruan, Calamba, Laguna; Brgy 201, Pasay City, Brgy. Eden Mexico, Pampanga; Brgy. Carmay East, Rosales, Pangasinan; Veterans Memorial Medical City; Brgy. Daang Sarile, Cabanatuan City; SM Cherry Antipolo; Brgy. Cutud, Angeles City; Brgy San Pablo, Cauayan City; and the cities of Tarlac, Balanga, Olangapo, Muntinlupa, Batangas, Trece Martires, Cavite, San Pablo City, Laguna, Tayabas City, Quezon, Makati, and many others.  Those who are interested in joining this movement may get in touch with either  the website livelihoodoutreach@sm-foundation.org or harbest@harbest.com.ph  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.