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A Vision for a Nutritious, Empowering, and Environmentally Focused Food System for Mega Manila

An integrated food system which empowers communities to produce sustainable and nutritious food

Photo of Bianca Arco
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

PTF, Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://ptfi.net

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

  • 1-3 years

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

Makati City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Philippines

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

Mega Manila is roughly 52,000 km^2 and covers the National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon, and Calabarzon Region.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Philippines

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The team is composed of two Filipino nationals based in Mega Manila. Both team members have always been deeply passionate about health & wellness, and as a result began to further question the food system within the Philippines. Despite belonging to a country filled with rich natural resources, Filipinos have both a malnourished & undernourished problem. Clearly, the system is not operating to its full potential if Filipinos are getting sicker from the food they are eating, or in some cases not eating enough.

The team chose Mega Manila as its “place” as it currently represents the business & governmental hub of the country. If impact within the Philippines is what the team would like to achieve, then Mega Manila is a good place to start with. The Philippines is an archipelago made up of 7000+ islands. Mega Manila includes the nation’s National Capital Region (NCR) along with surrounding nearby provinces. The NCR is a highly urbanized region made of 17 cities, 3 major business districts, and hundreds of skyscrapers. The area is home to 40% of the Philippine population, and contributes 60% of the total GDP of the Philippines.

Both team members live & work in the NCR, and have roots to the province of Batangas. Over time, they have witnessed firsthand how the landscapes have changed. In rural areas, the scars of a failed Agrarian Reform program have led landowners to either give up on agriculture and sell their lots for development, or live a life of modern indebted servitude caring for monocrops which continue to deteriorate the quality of the soil while living off an insufficient diet of processed food. In urban areas, the fast growing population is increasingly separated from their food system and as a result are not conscious of the damage their food supply chain is having on the country’s ecosystem or on their own health.

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.

Its 6 am in the town of La Paz, Tarlac and like many of the 10 million farmers in the country, Mang Cardo has already been up for over an hour making all the preparations for the day. Today Cardo will finally be able to harvest his only rice crop of the year, and all his hard work for the last few months will finally come to fruition. Cardo and his fellow farmers currently represent a quarter of the workforce of the whole country and the rice crop that he has been tending to represents about half of the total agricultural output of the country.

Tarlac is a northern province of Mega Manila, and similar to large parts of the Philippines, has two distinct growing seasons; dry and wet. Cardo’s farm will get over 70in of rain from May to October, but will only receive around 7in for the rest of the year, with an average temperature of around 80°F. Like most of his neighbors, Cardo is completely dependent on the rainfall from the wet season as his land is not irrigated. Cardo fits the profile of most Filipino farmers: he is over 60 years old, but unfortunately, retirement is not an option for him.

Cardo continues to plant his rice even as unrestricted rice imports from Thailand and Vietnam are brought in at a fraction of the production cost, because it is the only way he knows how to be able to provide for his family and his rising medical bills due to the Type 2 Diabetes that he is nursing. He knows all too well that his maintenance medicine is the only thing keeping him from being reunited with his deceased wife who passed away 10 years ago due to a heart attack.

But Cardo is happy, because he knows his children will have a better life than him. 15 years ago, he and his wife decided to “mortgage” their 1.5-ha family farm to the local rice miller, who gave them enough money to send their 2 children, Jenny and Tomas, to school and college in Tarlac City. It was a big risk, but one that he and his wife had to take to ensure a “better” future for their children. Eventually, the kids ended up securing work in Manila and with the money that they were able to send back, Cardo was able to buy back his farm. They were fortunate as Cardo knew a lot of his neighbors who lost their family farms that way.

Meanwhile on a bus belting down the busy EDSA highway, Jenny has been on the commuter bus since 4:30 am and still has another 30 minutes until she gets to her office at a call center in Makati. Rent prices are so high in the city that Jenny has to live just outside the NCR with an aunt two hours from her place of work. Before starting her shift, Jenny stops by the convenience store on the corner of the street and buys a quick breakfast of two hot dogs and white rice. On these endless commutes and seemingly graveyard shifts, she often thinks about her childhood running around the rice fields of Tarlac and how she longs to be back in the fresh air, but is thankful that she has a good paying desk job in one of the city’s many BPO offices.

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

52000

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

40368979

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

Environment/Economics

According to Conservation International, the Philippines is a mega-biodiverse country. But in the past 50 years it has lost more than half of its forest cover - the 2nd fastest rate of deforestation in Asia. Despite this massive loss of biodiversity, half of all arable land is dedicated to only 3 crops - rice, coconut, and corn. Within these three crops, the country lags behind its SE Asian neighbors in terms of competitiveness due to high production costs as a result of inefficiencies. Low productivity at the farm level is aggravated by post-harvest losses; this reaches up to 37% for rice, 42% for vegetables, and 28% for fruits.

Culture/Tech

With an average age of 60, Filipino farmers are expected to dwindle in numbers in the coming decades. The labor force is moving away from agriculture and towards the service industry. In the past 10 years, the share of agricultural labor force decreased by 11%. The lack of interest from the youth to engage in agriculture also means that new knowledge and modern farming practices are not being accepted by ageing farmers. Essentially, Filipino farmers are discouraged from continuing their profession because of the challenges in sourcing capital for inputs, crop planning, and securing markets for their harvest. As if the actual farming and crop management wasn’t challenging enough, the pre-planting and post-harvest responsibilities are enough to overwhelm even the most seasoned of farmers.

Diet

40% of deaths recorded in the Philippines are attributed to nutrition. The Filipino’s average daily intake of vegetables is less than half of Vietnam’s, a fifth of China’s, and 30% below the WHO’s minimum recommendation of 250 grams. But not only is the Filipino population undernourished, it is also underfed – 7/10 Filipino households do not meet their caloric requirements. From 2003-2013, the daily food intake per capita decreased from 886 to 885 grams. Sticking to the status quo at this rate will mean a starving population in 2050 as the world will have more mouths to feed with less land to grow on.

Policy

The Philippines has had to endure one of the most comprehensive land reform programs in the world which although extremely successful in the physical redistribution of land to farmers (over 4.8 million hectares have been redistributed), it is generally classified as a catastrophic failure in terms of the improvement it has had on the lives of the very farmers it was designed to help. Unlike successful implementations of land reform programs in countries like South Korea and Japan, the Philippine government provided very little to no support to newly landed farmers once the redistribution took place. Little to no access to financing, education, and marketing strategies were implemented and adopted.  At the moment the Philippine government estimates it has around 2.8 million beneficiaries on 1.5 hectare farms, a huge opportunity to create productive, decentralized farming communities across the country.

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

In 2050, an interconnected network of sustainably managed Hub Farms across Mega Manila has become the largest vegetable producer and seller in the country and supports rural communities by providing meaningful employment and affordable, highly nutritious food.

Our vision requires a localized bottom up approach to affect a paradigm shift in the way food is produced and consumed in Mega Manila. Each hub farm, operating in a fertile rural community is equipped with modern agricultural technology which is localized on its own small half or whole hectare farm. This technology is then disseminated to farmers located around the area through contract growing arrangements which utilize a hub and spoke approach to pass information down and also expand the growing footprint of each hub. Each hub is located within a two-hour driving distance of the NCR which is by far the largest market for its products. A steady market provided by the hub farms gives the farmers within the network the ability to apply for credit or buy equipment that will improve their yields and effectiveness. This network will also provide the infrastructure to motivate them to continue developing their trade and encourage younger generations to take up the trade as supported entrepreneurs.

Each hub farm is operated on the principals of bio intensive agriculture, which creates a demand for high quality inputs like compost & organic fertilizers. This sub-market in itself creates additional earning opportunities for local entrepreneurs in different areas of the ag sector. This practice in turn educates partner farmers on the ways they can eliminate the use of all synthetic inputs, incorporate minimal or no tillage methods, conserve the amount of water used in irrigation, and encourage diversity with cover crops and integrated crop rotation programs. Finally, as the hub farms reach increases, it is very well positioned to take note of the need within its specific community to preserve & enhance natural growth forests.

By decentralizing production, moving it closer to the end consumer, and locating the hub farms closer to highly urban areas, there is less risk in transporting produce over large distances, reduced environmental footprint of the logistics network, and ultimately the wider accessibility of affordable product to the consumer. By making fresh produce more accessible & affordable to the end consumer, it is the team’s vision to see Filipinos incorporating more fresh vegetables into their daily diets, which would eventually result into lower incidences of diseases linked to poor diets & malnutrition.

2.8 million beneficiaries of agrarian reform need support if Mega Manila’s agricultural industry is ever going to rise up to the challenges in 2050. An interconnected food system through the hub farm network will provide these land owners with the support & structure they have been craving in order to become the empowered entrepreneurs Mega Manila needs to develop sustainably.

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.

The team’s vision is rooted in 3 main objectives:

  1. To create a better environment for future generations
  2. Empower rural entrepreneur-farmers
  3. Provide accessible, nutritious, & affordable food for all Filipinos.


Achieving these 3 objectives will:

  • decentralize vegetable production from a single source
  • provide more livelihood opportunities
  • impact the 40 million people concentrated in Mega Manila, effectively feeding almost half the country's population


In the year 2050, Papaya Tree Farms’ 20 Hub Farms around Mega Manila has created a network of partner farmers practicing regenerative agriculture through regular crop rotation, minimum tillage, and livestock grazing. The soil has a healthy balance of minerals, and produce grows abundantly where monocrops used to be king. Rivers are teeming with life once again because agricultural runoff is no longer contaminated with toxic pesticides. Farmers no longer have to make 6 hour trips into the city to peddle their produce, but instead, drive to the nearby hub knowing that their harvests already have assigned buyers. Vegetables and other crops now arrive in Metro Manila from the closest hub farm within an hour’s drive rather than a 6-8 hour drive down from the highlands of the Cordilleras.

On the other hand, lowland vegetables which were mostly sourced from the north are now grown within arm’s reach of Metro Manila. This is enabled by the extensive supply network that PTF has developed. With over 20 hubs established from Zambales to Quezon Province, smallholder farmers now have a consistent access to market and better prices for their produce. Because of their affiliation with PTF, partner farmers are also able to make use of the government’s Agri-Agra capital financing program to equip their farms with modern tools to manage their land more efficiently.

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

A TRIUMPHANT TALE OF HOT SAUCE SUCCESS


Its 6 am in the town of La Paz, Tarlac, the year is 2050. Jenny has just finished packing her van with the last of her hot sauces and pickles. Its market day today in Tarlac, and although she is currently exporting her hot sauces and pickles to Japan, Korea, and Singapore, she still always makes sure she attends the weekly market days in Tarlac to sell her fantastic line of products to the local market, which was so supportive of her when she was starting out.

As she gets in the van and drives out of her brand-new processing and packaging facility which employs 230 local residents, she can’t help but think about the moment thirty years ago when she was working long hours in a call center in Manila and she got the terrible news that her father, Mang Cardo, had passed away. While up in Tarlac taking care of all the arrangements for his wake and burial, Jenny noticed that a lot of her childhood friends were back in town working on their old family farms. Intrigued, she inquired further and found out that a company called Papaya Tree Farms had just built a new hub farm in La Paz and they were entering into contract growing agreements with farms in the area that wanted to transition away from rice and move towards sustainably raised high value vegetable production.

Jenny had always had dreams of finding a reason to go back to Tarlac, and so she decided to quit her job and sign up to become a partner farmer. She was given a full walk through on how she could prepare her land sustainably and how she could begin to grow simple crops like onions, garlic, and squash without the use of synthetic inputs. Since a lot of the farmland was being grown with a wide variety of products, an abundance of wildlife began to return to the area, and the farmers were encouraged to start planting more trees around their farms. Papaya Tree Farms assured her of a consistent and fair market for all her products and they even helped Jenny secure a loan to invest in a basic irrigation system in order to improve her yields. Jenny was able to get good prices for her vegetables and she noticed that her produce was not only sold in her local markets but also in Metro Manila.

Jenny was very proud of the produce she was growing and she noticed that her products were very popular in Metro Manila, so she began to consume more of the produce she was growing, cooking recipes that she found online. Eventually, she would eat some vegetables with almost every meal she had and after a few weeks began to feel more energetic. Jenny even noticed that she would not fall ill as often as when she was working in Manila, and her latest medical check-up revealed that her blood pressure and blood sugar were well within healthy levels, unlike that of her parents.

After several successful years, Jenny was asked by PTF if she would want to start growing peppers as they were of higher value, and she found she could intercrop them well on her land. In due course, Jenny decided to expand her operations and start growing more peppers in order to start making a small line of hot sauce products and pickles which she would try and sell locally.

With the continuous collaboration with the PTF hub, Jenny's small business began to grow enough that she was able to send her son to university from the proceeds and he eventually became an engineer. Several years later, Jenny and her son decided to apply to a bank for a loan to build a small processing facility on the outskirts of Tarlac in order to expand their line of hot sauces and pickles. With a confident leap of faith, they decided to create their own brand of hot sauce and fondly named it “Mang Cardo’s”.


EMPOWERING FILIPINO FARMERS & NOURISHING FUTURE GENERATIONS


Years ago, Jenny's father - Mang Cardo - would wait for the local trader doing rounds in their village to buy his harvest; sometimes the trader never came at all and he would end up with piles of unsold rice grain that he would barter or eventually sell well below cost. Other times, the trader would insist on buying his harvest at rock bottom prices because of artificial shortages, leaving farmers like Cardo with little to no profit for the crop they tirelessly grew and harvested. Now, in 2050, Jenny and other local farmers can fearlessly grow their produce without relying on the whims of food consolidators and traders.

Jenny is only one of the hundreds of partner farmers in the PTF network. With aggregated order data from partner clients, PTF knows exactly what their farmers need to grow. Partner farmers are invulnerable to supply shocks, and prices no longer get pulled too low. Because of the alliance built between the hub and its partner farmers, there is no more risk of over supply and food waste. Jenny is able to forecast her weekly harvest targets accurately, while the PTF hub matches her produce with existing clients’ orders.

PTF's fleet of wing vans are filled, and arrive just in time to partner establishments. Food waste due to post-harvest handling is now only less than 5%. With multiple expressways extending throughout different parts of Mega Manila, moving these goods directly from farms to end consumers has made logistics easier and more efficient, reducing the need for middle men, and thus delivering a cheaper, fresher, and more cost effective product to the end consumer.

As the vegetables travel to their final destinations, clients are at ease knowing that their weekly vegetable order will arrive freshly harvested in top condition. Working closely with the hub in their district and using previous years’ actual order data, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, and hospitals are able to source fresh vegetables from their local PTF hub and create an accurate annual demand forecast plan to ensure that they will have enough vegetables for their establishments.

Because more vegetables are readily available in local markets and hub outposts, traditional Filipino palates have also evolved to include a wider selection of fresh vegetables in their everyday diet. The average Filipino now eats double the daily recommended vegetable intake prescribed by the WHO, and incidences of cardiovascular disease and diabetes have shrank in the past 30 years since the hub farms were established. The double burden of obesity & malnourishment is now a thing of the past and all Filipinos are thriving on healthy diets, and living active, well-balanced and high quality lifestyles because of more job opportunities outside the National Capital Region.

Growers like Jenny are also using the data and tools from their local PTF Hub to plan out their annual crop rotation planting schedules at ease. Drone & sensor technology has also made field management run seamlessly, and farm managers are able to spend more time thinking of ways on how to continuously improve the biodiversity of their production areas. The Department of Agriculture has provided all PTF Partner Farmers with carbon sensors for their farms, and all farms tagged as carbon sinks are awarded with cash grants and a year's supply of mudpress from the nearby sugar mill. The demand for synthetic inputs has all but diminished by 2050 as serious sanctions were filed against growers that were polluting their waterways with chemical laden agricultural runoff. Farmers have also learned in the past 30 years that nobody conditions the soil quite as good as Mother Nature herself. 

The food system is a continuous cycle, with all stakeholders making conscious decisions to actively participate in their respective roles to make the system work for the benefit of the community. A collective effort is made knowing that each individual has a responsibility to ensure a regenerative and nourishing food future for many more generations to come.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (1)

PTF Rationale.pdf

The Team's rationale behind the Hub Farm solution provides a brief overview of the agri sector in Asia, along with challenges solution in the Philippine ag space.

4 comments

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Spam
Photo of Daniel Che
Team

Philippine is a beautiful country and the people are amazing! It is definitely worrisome that the agricultural labor force is aging. And I think your vision is very noble!

You can also check out the vision of our team Maati-Paani-Asha: Regeneration of Land, Health & Hope in the Face of Extreme Poverty & Climate Crisis .

Lots of work on food security still need to be done for the people who need help :) Keep it up!

Spam
Photo of Bianca Arco
Team

Hi Daniel Che ! Thank you for your kind words. It's very inspiring to read visions like your team's. It will help us get through the next 30 years knowing that people like you and your team care enough to do something about the challenges discussed. It's not so different from the challenges in the Philippines!

I've never been to India, but your vision's description made me feel like I was walking down the streets of Umarkhed!

I also think that there is so much potential in barter economics especially in the ag sector. Well done to you and your team on putting together a well thought out vision! All the best to all of our food systems!

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