DAVAO, 20 July 2009. "Only well-nourished children can grow to their full physical and mental potential, benefit from education opportunities, and contribute to the growth of the Philippine economy,” Paul Sommers, a former official of the United Nations Children’s Fund, once observed.
In 2003, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated the number of malnourished people in the Philippines as 15.2 million, or 18% of the country’s total population at that time. The number has since grown, with the recent Gallup poll placing the poverty and hunger rate at 40%.
Fortunately, there is a better way Filipinos can fight back against malnutrition – right in their backyards.
It may sound like a cliché, but not to the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc., a non-government organization based in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur which advocates non-conventional gardening scheme, Food Always In The Home (FAITH). “With minimum capital and lots of native enterprise, a family can be assured of a steady supply of nutritious food – and even extra income,” says Roy C. Alimoane, the current MBRLC director.
FAITH, a type of vegetable gardening, yields the necessary protein, vitamins and mineral requirements needed by a family of six,” Alimoane points out. “We designed it in such a way that it requires minimum labor. He sees it way to reduce a farmer’s heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides which pose health hazards and wreak havoc on the environment.
FAITH gardening was one of the center’s first efforts. In 1971, it started a small seed production plot which later became the demonstration model for FAITH. Today, the model has been transferred to a moderately sloping area near one of its training houses. The MBRLC offers 5-day training on FAITH gardening at its center in Davao.
Based on a study, the garden provides 300 grams (or one bowl) or fresh vegetables daily. A report from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños stated that a home gardening can reduce by about 20% a family’s total daily food expenditures. “Considering the high cost of vegetables and the rate of malnutrition in the country today, home gardening should be taken seriously by families with low income and whose members are nutritionally at risk,” the report urged.
The recommended FAITH garden size is six by 16 meters. Why this size? “Because these are the dimensions closest to 100 square meters and easiest to remember,” Alimoane says.
To start with, the most fertile area in the backyard should be selected for this type of garden. The area should contain humus, a form of plant food. The types of soils needed for vegetable gardening are loam, silt-loam, or clay loam.
“Establish the garden on a light slope to provide drainage, especially during rainy season,” Alimoane says. “If the area is flat, dig drainage channels or ditches around the planting site. The garden must also receive sunshine throughout the day as growing plants need sunshine to manufacture food.”
In addition, the garden should be located near water sources. “Water is very important particularly during the dry season,” the MBRLC director explains.
The garden is divided equally in three, with one-half of each section held in reserve for later replanting. One section is planted with short-term vegetables that will be ready for use in two to four months. Examples: soybeans, tomatoes, pechay, cowpeas, bush sitao, radish, and sweet corn.
The second section is given over to crops which can produce vegetables for six to nine months, among them: ampalaya, okra, onions, garlic, eggplant, winged beans, golden squash, alugbati, and ginger. Vegetables that will produce for 11 to 12 months are grown on the third section like patani, kulitis, sayote, kangkong, camote, gabi, cassava, and kadios.
Along the boundary of the garden and in the year, permanent and semi-permanent crops are grown. Among these are malunggay, papaya, pineapple, calamansi, and guava. For fencing purposes, nitrogen-fixing species like Flemingia macrophylla, Desmodium rensonii, Gliricidia sepium (locally called “kakawate”), and Indigofera anil are planted; these can also be used as sources of green manures.
The central feature in FAITH gardening is its basket composts, a series of raised garden beds with bamboo baskets set, one foot in diameter and depth. These are filled with animal manure (particularly goat) and some decomposed organic garbages and packed with leaves of leguminous trees and shrubs. If basket composts are too laborious to do, you can also make trench composts.
If manure is not available, the leaves of leguminous trees and shrubs (flemingia, rensonii, kakawate and/or indigofera) will do. These are stuffed into the basket or trench composts to provide nitrogen and other nutrients needed by growing crops.
“You can immediately use the composts without waiting for the usual three to four months period as is necessary in the old method of composting,” Alimoane differentiates.
However, the time to plant seeds or seedlings around the basket or trench composts depends on the state of decomposition of materials inside the composts. “If the materials at the bottom part are nearly decomposed, seeds and/or seedlings can be planted immediately,” says Alimoane. “But if most of the materials are still fresh, planting may be done two to three weeks later.”
Like most gardening, good management is necessary. The reserved areas should be planted in time so that there would be continuous supply of vegetables throughout the year.
Since camote, alugbati, and kangkong are crawling plants, these should be planted in separate beds one meter wide and six meters long with a distance of 50 centimeters between beds. The plants should be set 20 centimeters apart. “Leafy vegetables are high in iron, calcium, vitamin A, and other minerals,” Alimoane says.
For patani and winged beans, two to three seeds per hill are planted around the composts. These two legumes are the main providers of proteins. Other plants which are good sources of protein are soybeans, string beans, and bush sitao.
Some crawling vegetables like cucumber, bitter gourd and patola should be provided with trellis; otherwise the vines will become a problem later on.
For more details, request for a fully-illustrated manual on FAITH by sending an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (064) 553-2378.