Innovative Agriculture Brings in Sustainable Food Source, Rekindles Community Relations in Masantol, Pampanga

Barangay Alauli, Barangay Sagrada, Barangay Balibago, Barangay Sapang Kawayan, & Barangay Nigui in Masantol, Pampanga

Wheng Gubalane, Ruth Pambid, Bajun Lacap, Filemon Viray, Mercy Licup, & Jose Guinto

The floating agriculture will help communities to have alternate food sources during times of calamities.

Upscale the design into a more economical design, so every household can handle a floating garden

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Technical support in developing the floater designs and possible crops

Training for those who will manage the gardens

Funding for upscaling the design

concern.inc@gmail.com

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The real champions behind realizing the innovation's potential were the Project Management Committee, community members, and local groups we partnered with - including PCER, Tarik Suliman High School, the local government unit, and the barangay leaders from all 6 barangays – who personally watered and monitored their gardens. They gave their trust to the pilots and worked tirelessly towards realizing our collective objectives.

We faced intense rains while we were developing our pilots. Our patience and perseverance were tested, but we could not give up just yet.

Unlike the water flowing through the Pampanga River, many of Masantol’s residents feel the stagnation of their dreams right there on the Left Bank. Year after year, disasters and calamities continue to bring devastation to their backyard farms and threaten the safety of fishermen who struggle to earn their day’s catch. Undeniably, the impact of climate change and lack of disaster risk management know-how further aggravates the effects of poverty in Masantol households.

One of those hardest hit was Jose Guinto (37 years old, Pampanga Coastal Emergency Response member). He lives in Barangay Sapang Kawayan, a rather isolated part of Masantol, Pampanga. With their houses on stilts, surrounded by floods all year long, Jose’s household struggled to survive on his daily income of 300 pesos (~5.71 USD). Without outside work, his family is unable to achieve a better quality of life, barely covering day-to-day living expenses and education fees for the children.

 

IRREVERSIBLE ADVERSITIES FOR LEFT BANK

In 2012, the habagat (monsoon) rains resulted in literal ground-breaking events that changed not only the physical landscape, but also the communities’ individual and collective attitude towards climate resilience and survival. Flooding overwhelmed the roads, and without it to link them to external relief support, the community suffered severe food shortage and isolation from the outside world. On good days, they were able to rely on airdropped goods, albeit insufficient for the entire community.

The answer was not to solely rely on external relief operations, which can never sustainable. The solution was within the confines and the resources of Masantol itself – the creation of floating gardens and simple nutrient addition program (SNAP) hydroponics. Center for Emergency Aid and Rehabilitation, Inc. (CONCERN) with support from TUKLAS Innovation Lab (TUKLAS), introduced a new and innovative trend in agriculture to residents in the flood-prone barangays of Masantol.

The community designed a floating platform made of empty barrels (drums) and bamboo poles. On top this customized raft is a planting medium composed of composted water lilies and soil – where seedlings can be planted, grown, and harvested. To create the planting medium, nearly 1000 kilograms of water lilies floating in the Pampanga River were collected and processed, eventually clearing up clogged waterways and removing navigation barriers for boats.

In contrast to the floating garden model, SNAP does not require a planting medium and instead utilizes a crop nutrition solution (5ml for every 10L water) where the seedlings are directly grown. This solution is poured into Styrofoam cups and housed in PVC pipes, covered from end-to-end.

TRIAL AND ERROR

The innovation team faced many difficulties when they initially started. One of the main impediments was the community acceptance and initial adoption of the innovation. Thus, community members were invited to project briefings and skills development trainings to ensure that their personal and collective interests are accounted for as early as the project design phase.

While the newly introduced concepts sparked curiosity among community members, they also expressed doubts and hesitated to participate. “At first, they would wish us all the luck – in the most sarcastic way, when we expressed our innovation’s design for piloting. You can sense the lack of confidence,” Jose recalled. With the residents’ lack of confidence, onlookers would observe the ongoing activities and often express their sympathy for the innovator team’s failed test runs.

“Stop wasting your time and energy for this. Why are you even trying hard? They would laugh at us,” Jose remembered. His first batch of crops started small, barely enough for one person, but as he tested different with SNAP models – using paper cups, adding nutrition solution, exposing the crops to sunlight – he eventually found the right mixture of solution and materials fit for his crops.

The strong presence of the innovation team and their perseverance to involve community members proved enough to finally win the community’s support. Even while facing failure after failure, the residents grew more participative in improving the pilot’s design and construction. They suggested the use of empty PET bottles to keep the garden afloat which, however, did not work out. Despite it failing,  bottles they gathered from the Left Bank were not put to into waste; it was turned into pots where they planted camote tops and placed on top of the platform.

Climate change was also a big challenge to the innovation’s success, specifically the SNAP model. May brings unforgiving summer heat, followed by June’s torrential rains – which lasts for next few months. “SNAP is more sensitive to the weather conditions—we cannot place it under intense sunlight; it also needs to be protected from intense rains,” Mercy Licup, also a PCER member, relayed.

KEEPING AFLOAT

Ruelyn “Wheng” Gubalane, Center for Emergency Aid and Rehabilitation, Inc. (CONCERN) Project Manager, believed that luck and good timing was in their favor. “We faced intense rains while we were developing our pilots. Our patience and perseverance were tested, but we could not give up just yet,” shared by Wheng.

From April to May, the team tested multiple floater designs, paving the way for seeding and actual planting in June. “The first cropping cycle ended around September, yielding to approximately 16 kilograms of sitaw, 16 kilograms of okra, and other everyday vegetables such as tomatoes,” Mercy, recalled.

“The yield came at the right time in September. Vegetables were already too expensive, and the harvest allowed four to six households save money for day-to-day subsistence. Another batch of harvest will come in after November,” Wheng proudly exclaimed.

HOPE SPROUTING

When it started producing yield and residents were sharing produce with their neighbors, other households started to adopt similar innovations within their homes. As the community became more engaged in improving the pilots, camaraderie during the weekly meetings followed.

“The real champions behind realizing the innovation’s potential were the Project Management Committee, community members, and local groups we partnered with – including PCER, Tarik Suliman High School, the local government unit, and the barangay leaders from all 6 barangays – who personally watered and monitored their gardens. They gave their trust to the pilots and worked tirelessly towards realizing our collective objectives,” Wheng praised.

MOVING FORWARD

Masantol’s experience in implementing the innovation models have proven that one’s vulnerability need not lead them towards grimmer adversities. The floods that once hindered their progress will now serve as an avenue for community collaboration and more innovations. The floating garden and SNAP agriculture concept inspired the more recent community innovations for climate resilience and disaster preparedness.

Models for floating evacuation shelters by CONCERN are now under study, with a floating garden attached to it, of course. Urban containerized gardening in backyards are now starting to become more widespread across the Left Bank.

The true success of this initiative was brought about by strengthened cooperation of the community members in Masantol. Without strong community ownership, even the best programs will not yield positive results, let alone lasting change.