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Food Systems Innovations for Regenerative and Sustainable Transformation (FIRST)

Through FIRST, CALABARZON is transformed into a community with resilience and inclusive growth for food secure and healthy people

Photo of Kirstein Itliong

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

World Wildlife Fund- Non-Government Organization; Department of Education- Government Institution

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Silang, Cavite

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

CALABARZON Region, composed of five provinces, has a total land area of 16,560 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

IIRR has been working in CALABARZON since 1960s, empowering communities to overcome poverty via building rural development models linking regenerative & climate-smart agriculture (CSA), natural resource management and food security. We have Learning Communities (LCs) where we develop and test our models in Cavite Province and Municipality of Guinayangan, Quezon Province.

In partnership with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Department of Education (DepEd) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), we developed the Integrated School Nutrition Program (ISNP) linking gardening, nutrition education and supplementary feeding. Adoption of the model improved the nutrition status of students and promoted agro-biodiversity conservation in schools. To date, ISNP is scaled out in public elementary schools nationwide and in pre-schools within the region via DepEd and DSWD efforts, respectively.

We also co-developed Climate-Smart Villages (CSVs) with the Department of Agriculture (DA), Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Guinayangan. In CSVs, small-holder farmers had been empowered to develop & share climate adaptation strategies, and diversify their livelihoods to improve resilience from climate change. Thru DA support, the model is now being scaled out nationwide as AMIA (Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative in Agriculture) Villages.

We also modeled a community-based watershed management system in Guinayangan. It improved the people’s access to water and raised funds for protection and reforestation activities.

From our experiences, we’ve seen gaps where we could further improve synergy of interventions for the sustainability of our food system. We are continuously inspired to work on it as CALABARZON is not just our LC but also our hometown.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

CALABARZON Region is composed of five provinces: Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon. It is on the South-Western part of Luzon island, adjacent to the country's capital-Metro Manila. It is surrounded by seas and at its mid is the country’s largest inland water and second largest freshwater in the Southeast Asia-the Laguna Lake. The lake provides us with fish, irrigation and water for our domestic needs. Nonetheless, rice fields in Quezon and Cavite which are farther from the lake rely more on rainfall.

Our climate varies widely across the region: some have two pronounced seasons—dry from November to April and wet during the rest of the months while others have rainfall more or less evenly distributed throughout the year. This allows us to grow seasonal crops like palay/rice, sugarcane, corn, and some fruit-bearing vegetables. We also have sloping uplands and hills with dense orchards of coconut, pineapple, banana, coffee and mandarin orange. Our produce greatly contributes (40%) to the country’s total food supply and our region serves as top food supplier to Manila.

Rice and coconut are the two common features in our cuisine across the region. We have buko (coconut) pie, lambanog (liquor made of coconut sap), and vegetable or meat dishes cooked in coconut milk. Rice, aside from being our staple, is also prepared into native cakes like suman and puto. In Quezon, the municipality of Lucban is known for their Pahiyas festival when families decorate their houses with their harvest and edible, colorful leaf-shaped wafers made of glutinuous rice, called kiping.

Our rich culture and natural resources attract tourists and in-migrants alike. In recent years, more people have moved in here given affordable housing prices, proximity to Manila and availability of work opportunities in industrial zones. In 2019, we reached a total population of 14.4 million, more than half of whom live in the urbanizing cities of Cavite and Laguna. We have become the second most densely populated region in the country.

Majority of our population belong to the productive age group (15-64 years old) but most of them work in the trade, manufacturing and construction industries. The older generation though remains in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry (AFF) sector.

 Industrialization and urbanization are changing the landscape and lifestyle in the region. We seem to grow closer to our government’s vision of vibrant economic diversity and vitality for CALABARZON. Yet, much work is to be done to ensure development ensures ecological sustainability, respects the region’s role in national food security, and is inclusive of the poor (mostly small holder farmers).  I remember our farmers (most of whom are small-scale) usually tell us, their dreams are simple: gain ownership of the land they have been tilling for years, earn enough to eat three times a day and give their children quality education for a good future.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Taal Volcano eruption

This January 12, the Taal volcano erupted and covered several towns of Batangas and Cavite in thick ash. People living on the volcano island lost their homes and livelihood. Our community partners in Batangas lost their livestock and breeding facilities. Farmers in Cavite who were supposed to harvest their crops soon lost months-worth of capital and hard-labor. It will take several years before farmers could recover from the damage and prices of commodities will surely be affected.

Pollution of Laguna Lake

The Laguna Lake used to be clean but now, it is full of silt due to pollution and deforestation of its watershed. It has become a hazard, especially during the rainy season when the lake overflows and floods Laguna, Rizal, and Manila. Various water treatment technologies are needed to convert its water into potable, drinking water. Also, water supply has been intermittent every summer due to below normal levels in Laguna Lake.

Extreme weather

Farmers in Cavite and Quezon have difficulty accessing water every summer. Cracks on dry farm lands in Quezon are as wide as a hand spread out. In December last year, Typhoon Kammuri also destroyed their rice and vegetable crops. This affects farmers’ income and increases price of local crops due to insufficient supply.

Rampant Land Conversion in Cavite and Laguna

Industrialization and urbanization, with lack of clear sanctions for excessive land conversion, enabled the rich to hoard lands from poor farmers, especially in Cavite and Laguna. Farmers are forced to sell their land because they are not earning enough.

Unhealthy eating habits fostered by lack of awareness and technology

Meat consumption and fast-food from multi-national chains became a status symbol of financial security. This drives the livestock sector, one of main contributor of greenhouse gas emission. Sugary drinks like milk tea became a craze, and with sedentary lifestyle, prevalence of overnutrition rises. All these are popularized quickly in various social media platforms.

Fragmented Policy

Government procurement policies does not enable small-holder farmers from tying up with institutional clients. There is no incentive for farmers adopting climate-smart agriculture nor for food service businesses promoting ecological dining. Much of policy and programs promote high value crops and livestock which are input intensive and does not encourage conservation of local agro-biodiversity.

 If we do not address or adopt to these challenges, our food system will be more dysfunctional by 2050. Children of farmers will not be interested to continue their parent’s agricultural livelihood because it’s not financially rewarding. Our local agro-biodiversity will be forgotten and we will be dependent on exports.  With uncontrollable prices, people will patronize cheaper highly-processed foods. More will suffer from diet-related diseases. Lower man-power productivity will trap us in the vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision is to transform how people produce, sell and consume food so that they achieve food security, inclusive growth and climate resilience.

We envision each CALABARZON Province creates a circular food economy where they produce the diverse nutritious food they need. They consume majority of what they produce, allowing for some level of exportation, thus supporting small-holder farmers and strengthening the local economy. 

As farmers adopt climate-smart agriculture practices and increase their resilience to natural disasters and extreme climate conditions, they earn better from agriculture. They would not be forced to sell their lands and their children will be encouraged to continue their farming livelihoods. They will also be champions of agro-biodiversity conservation.

As ecological ways of food production and consumption become a norm, we are better able to reduce pollution and food waste, and conserve our natural resources like the Laguna Lake. These ecological norms become ubiquitous in all forms of media thereby promoting common understanding of the benefits of a sustainable diet to our health and planet. Our heirloom crops and livestock will also be re-popularized with every Instagram post featuring dishes with these ingredients.

As every stakeholder participates in this radical movement, they create a collective voice better heard by the government. Government leaders are also influenced through their interactions with the people who sell and prepare their food. As these leaders become champions of ecological food production and consumption themselves, policy and programs are amended to create an enabling environment for healthy, inclusive and sustainable food system.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

CALABARZON became an agriculturally-advanced and sustainable region where others come to learn ecological food production and consumption practices.

The Laguna Lake regains its life and abundance serving as the main source of water, and center for agricultural and aqua-cultural activities. The community-managed natural resource management model implemented in revitalizing the Laguna Lake is adapted to other watershed and natural resources like Makiling and Banahaw Forest reserves.

Growth and development are inclusive of poor and small-holder farmers. Farmers have achieved economic stability as agriculture became financially rewarding. They are technologically savvy and capacitated to make informed decisions on their agricultural livelihoods. They are able to reduce their environmental impact and cope with climate change. Their children are encouraged to continue agriculture.

No one is food insecure and we are able to overcome malnutrition. Diverse, nutrient-dense and safe food are available, affordable and accessible. We choose these kinds of food because there is now common understanding that we need to practice ecological diets. Furthermore, we patronize our local agro-biodiversity as we have developed deeper appreciation of our culinary identity. We celebrate it by conserving the traditional dishes featuring our local produce while also reinventing them using contemporary cooking methods. Chefs and home cooks alike play a vital role on this. Hence, we are able to reduce diet-related diseases and enrich our culinary heritage. Social media and technology are continuously being leveraged in mainstreaming this way of life.

 Food system champions among government leaders emerge facilitating community co-created programs and policies that promote sustainable food systems.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

As ecological food production and consumption become the common way of life within CALABARZON, we envision a progressive food system where its development is inclusive of the poor and small-holder farmers; it is able to cope with climate change and increasingly gains resilience; it is able to provide adequate and nutritious food in a sustainable way; it conserves and further grows our culinary heritage; it leverages on information and technology to level-up and mainstream sustainable food production and consumption practices; and, it fosters information exchange between community stakeholders and policy makers to make policies more realistic, inclusive and community co-created.

1.Farmers (general term used for farmers, fisherfolks and agro-forestry workers), especially the small-holders, have recovered from the Taal eruption. They are economically stable because they have diversified livelihoods and are capacitated as entrepreneurs to directly join the market. Being organized into groups, they are able to use technology to consolidate their produce and directly supply to institutional clients, or process it in a shared facility and sell it with added value. They have become more resilient to climate change as they practice climate-smart agriculture (CSA), integrated farming and agro-forestry. They are able to make informed decisions using climate-information systems. Their integrated farms using CSA strategies also minimize the impact of agriculture to the environment. Agri-fisherfolks also act as agro-biodiversity conservation stewards as they continue to grow and conserve local crops and livestock. Their community seed banks, nurseries and breeding centers improve their access to agricultural capital. Furthermore, there arise agri-fishery leaders who, by doing agri-tourism and eco-tourism, become social influencers and trainers for the younger generation. With improved economic stability, and a land-use zoning policy in place, farmers are no longer forced to sell their agricultural land for easy but shot-lived cash.

2.Environmental and economic sustainability of local small to medium food enterprises (selling processed food and cooked meals) improve as they source their materials locally, minimize use of single-use utensils and improve their food waste and solid waste management systems. Restaurants and food service institutions become food culture champions as they continue to preserve our culinary heritage while also developing new dishes using our local agro-biodiversity and trademark cooking techniques. Their ecological foot print is also minimized as they use bio-gas digesters to make fuel out of their organic wastes. Food processing businesses help improve our resilience to disasters as they scale up post-harvest technologies, co-developed in schools or research institutions, which lengthen shelf life of nutrient dense foods necessary during crisis. Various forms of media, especially social media, become avenues for celebrating and mainstreaming these sustainably produced and healthy foods.

3.No one goes to bed hungry. Food consumers have better access to diverse and nutritious food as locally-produced foods become more affordable and are sold fresh in weekend markets. We overcome malnutrition (including micronutrient deficiency) as we patronage nutrient-dense indigenous foods and more foods are mandatorily fortified with essential nutrients like vitamin A, zinc and iron. People choose locally produced, whole and more plant-based foods because it has become our common knowledge, gained from schools, social media and advertisements, that a diet composed of such is good for our health and planet. The poorest families are able to claim diverse and nutritious food aid of social safety net programs from groceries/stores linked to local food producers. With improved nutrition and health, we become more productive in whatever kind of livelihood we engage in. Our urban poor and jobless get more chances for work with the boom in agri- or eco-tourism sites. They get an opportunity to level up their work into long-term careers as more alternative/adult learning courses that develop their skills in sustainable food production and tourism become accessible via scholarships and online education systems.

4.Research institutions, like International Rice Research Institute and DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research, in partnership with private companies (those without conflict of interest) are able to further develop agricultural technology for climate adaptation and mitigation, and post-harvest processing techniques which improve (or at least) preserve the nutrient content of indigenous foods. They are also able to conduct various types of researches to describe different facets of the current food system such as food environment, market and economy, dietary patterns and others. Guided by a more or less unified food systems framework, it will be easier to collaborate with each other to better capture the relationship of different food system components.

5. Children are taught, as early as pre-school, about the relationship of food with our self-image, health, culture and planet. Through-out their school years, they are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills for ecological food production, safe and efficient meal preparation. Through food innovation laboratories, students’ passion and potential for agricultural research and development are fostered early in their youth. The younger generation are encouraged to take agri-fishery courses with increased government and private stakeholder investment in the enhancement and scholarship offers of these courses. Upon graduation, they are able to practice their profession as CALABARZON becomes known for agricultural development, agri- and eco-tourism.

6.Policy makers and program planners who champion food security and nutrition, climate adaptation and mitigation, rural development, and women empowerment emerge and amplify the voice of food system stakeholders. They float the insights from stakeholders, gathered more easily as community members are organized into groups with common learning and development agenda (like farmer learning groups). Champions within the government actively engage these various stakeholders in consultation meetings for program or policy development. Guided by a food systems framework and vision, our legislators and program planners create a policy environment which enables creation of a circular food economy. For example, government procurement policies for school and Day care feeding programs will allow partnership with local food producers; local tax incentives and/or certificate of recognition will be given to restaurants and food establishments adopting sustainable practices and contributing to the development of our local food culture, as well as to private companies (without conflict of interest) who provide food and agri-fishery related scholarships.

7.Our natural resources are conserved and maximized to sustainable limits. Community-managed payment for ecosystem services and site conservation models provide livelihood to community members while also ensuring proper management of our land and water resources. The regional spatial strategy is also upgraded into a land-use zoning policy with clear guidance and sanctions for excessive land conversions. It also protects the people from inhabiting disaster-prone areas like the Taal volcano island. Well-planned and strictly implemented solid waste management systems in each municipality or city also minimizes pollution. With a better conserved ecosystem, wildlife is restored and their symbiotic relationship with our food production areas increases our harvest.

8.The proposed transport and infrastructure developments in 2020, such as revival of train service and opening of ferry services across the Laguna lake have been realized. These are used to preserve the quality, minimize losses and costs incurred during distribution of our food products across the region. Research to compare the environmental impact of these alternative transport systems to land-based transport will also be done and used to inform further decisions and plans.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Team (6)

Kirstein's profile
Camille A.'s profile
Camille A. Valdemoro

Role added on team:

"provided nutrition lenses in identifying the challenges, gave health and nutrition technical input in the vision, collected data and visuals"

Michelle Jeanne's profile
Michelle Jeanne L. Calica

Role added on team:

"Conceptualized and prepared visuals, provided lessons learned from scaling out the integrated nutrition model in pre-schools (aka Child Development Centers) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development"

Ma. Shiela's profile
Ma. Shiela Anunciado

Role added on team:

"Mainstreamed inputs via food systems thinking, provided lessons learned from implementing integrated nutrition model in primary schools of Department of Education"

Apple's profile
Apple Espino

Role added on team:

"provided mentoring on systems thinking and food systems visioning"

Joanna's profile
Joanna Dalusag

Role added on team:

"provide lessons learned from implementation of climate-smart agriculture projects among family farmers, and facilitate collection of insight and feedback from local farmers' group"

View more

Attachments (7)

Bio-Intensive Garden (BIG) Primer.pdf

This primer summarizes the technology of BIG (Bio-Intensive Garden), which uses a climate and nutrition-smart approach for gardening, and defined its concepts and techniques for use of the school, farmers, and general community. Its development is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Department of Education (DepEd) Region 4A.

Food Systems Expert Consultation_Info Note_IIRR_Philippines.pdf

This info note summarizes the highlights and emerging Food systems research and innovation ideas in the Philippines based on discussion with invited experts from various sectors. IIRR, in partnership with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, co-organized this event to mainstream the food systems approach to the key stakeholders in the country and gather insights on potential entry points for starting food systems research and innovation in the country.

Food Systems Primer_IIRR_Philippines_low res.pdf

IIRR, in partnership with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, crafted this primer to provide an easy reference to various stakeholders on what is the Food Systems approach. It includes a brief description of the Philippine Food environment, and how and why it is necessary to use the food systems lens in finding solutions to current challenges on food, environment and other relevant aspects that the country faces.

School Nutrition Brief_IIRR_Philippines.pdf

IIRR, in partnership with the Department of Education and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, developed and tested an integrated approach to implementing gardening, supplementary feeding and nutrition education in schools to address malnutrition and promote agro-biodiversity conservation while also enhancing sustainability of school gardens amidst the changing climate. This project brief contains results and lessons learned from the implementation and scaling up of the model nationwide

Crop Museum primer_IIRR_Philippines.pdf

IIRR leveraged on school gardens to promote agro-biodiversity conservation. As the movement expanded, IIRR developed this primer to guide schools on their vital role on collecting and conserving locally-adapted, climate-resilient and nutrient-dense vegetables. To date, there are 521 school crop museums in the Philippines nationwide.

Leveraging the nutritional Contributions of Agriculture_IIRR_Philippines.pdf

IIRR crafted this primer to serve as quick guide for various stakeholders on how the nutritional contributions of agriculture may be maximized in the midst of climate change and environmental degradation.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Leonardo Duque

Dear friends, As part of the team "Empowering rural youth by learning the methods of science in the context of the immense potential of biodiversity to generate employment," I will like to invite you to examine the concept of Storehouse in our project to address hunger within the population but also look into the viability to benefit local farmers. Farmers have greater risks, work harder and manage a greater complexity than the other actors in the food value chain. Please read about it in our vision proposal. Please contact me for any support Leonardo

Photo of michael akande

Hello Kirstein,
Your submission is very descriptive and shows the amount of work being done. I enjoyed reading it. Good luck.

Photo of Kirstein Itliong

Thank you Michael! We're looking forward to make this vision come true, whether through this challenge, or phase by phase project collaboration with partners. God bless to our entries!

Photo of Thu Nguyen

Hi Kirstein Itliong 
Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Thank you for sharing your Vision about food system that helps address malnutrition and poverty in CaLaBaRZon. Here are some tips and questions you can think about to make your Vision stronger:

- How might you evolve your Vision to make it more inclusive and systemic for your local food system and its numerous stakeholders?

- As your Vision will be designed specifically for CaLaBaRZon, we encourage you to learn more about the needs, aspirations, motivations, and challenges of the place and its people and bring the top insights together to your Vision. You can find some inspiration and tools to help you with your research in the Vision Prize Toolkit in Chapter 2 under Tools of Transformation.

- Also, have you had a chance to share your Vision with your key stakeholders and listen to how they feel about it? It would be great to synthesize their feedback and incorporate into your Vision.

- One of the most promising resources that can help you make a disruptive yet feasible Vision is data. We’ve put together a wide range of resources and websites that can help you pull out data relevant to your context and Vision. You can find them here:

You can also check criteria of evaluation the Vision on the Food System Vision Prize website in the section "How Your Vision will be Evaluated"

Please note that the last day to submit your final Vision is on Jan 31, 2020 5 PM Eastern Standard Time. Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks. :)

Photo of Thu Nguyen

Hi Kirstein Itliong 

Oh we've heard the news too about the eruption of Taal volcano. We hope you stay safe and stay strong. We all pray for you <3

Photo of Kirstein Itliong

Thank you Thu Nguyen 

Photo of Kirstein Itliong

Hello Ms Thu Nguyen ! We've shared our vision to some farmers, our partner from the Department of Education and World Wildlife fund and included their feedback here. While we're waiting for them to set up their accounts in ideo so we can tag them as collaborator, we would also like to ask for your comments on our work :) thank you!

Photo of Thu Nguyen

Hi Kirstein Itliong 
It is so great to see your Vision evolving. You have done a good job at adding more supporting data and writing down the Vision that addresses all six interconnected Prize Themes. In the last two days before the submission deadline, I would like to invite you to push your imagination about the food system in CaLaBaRZon in 2050 a little bit further. For example, how CaLaBaRZon and the lives of its People will be different than they are now? What is the next agroecological/organic/sustainable trend? How do you see the model climate-smart agriculture evolving in 2050? How could you make your vision even more inspirational, community-centered and relatable? How might your work today look like in 2050 if you were to upset the current trends and build a new trajectory for the future that inspires others around you to collaborate? 3 to 5 robust sentences will be ideal.
You can also review the Evaluation Criteria (page 14): There are questions that could lead you to new perspectives.

All the best :)

Photo of Thu Nguyen

Hi Kirstein Itliong 

Also, thank you so much for the invitation to join your team. As Vision Prize Guides we are here to support all Visioners to refine Vision Applications. So, unfortunately, I will not be able to formally join you as a team member.

I wish you all the best in the journey of building a better future for CaLaBaRZon :)

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Kirstein Itliong  Great to see you joining the Prize!
We noticed your submission is currently unpublished.
The Early Submission Deadline is almost there. Publish your Vision by 5:00pm EST on December 5, 2019 and have the opportunity to attend an invitation-only webinar with members of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Food team, the Sponsors of this Prize.
You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your facepost. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top.
We're looking forward to seeing your submission in this Prize.