By VINA MEDENILLA
Everyone has been living in survival mode over the past few years. Even so, there have been folks who have served as beacons of hope in these dark times. Today, we honor some of them and the work they have done to better the lives of others.
In the field of agriculture, the Manila Bulletin presents the UPLIFT Award for Agriculture 2022 to Moncini “, a father-daughter duo behind the non-profit organization Kids Who Farm (KWF), for their efforts centered on educating the youth on how food is produced.
“The aging farmer population and the perceived disinterest [of youth] in farming imperil the future of food security. Kids Who Farm believes that [as] young as we are, we can be a part of the solution,” says KWF on their Facebook page.
KWF equips the Filipino youth with knowledge and skills in food production, and makes green jobs available to them. It hopes to inspire children as young as Raaina, who is 12, by making farming enjoyable and easy to learn.
Raaina’s ninth birthday in 2019 marked the beginning of KWF’s story. Her appeal to save her school garden from being turned into a new building prompted this cause.
Muneer, who has a background in social work, met with the school principal, who agreed to a joint project to build a micro-farm in the school. Together, they brought Raaina’s idea to life.
The Hinays’ little project continued to grow, now involving a “group of students and young professionals with diverse expertise and religious backgrounds.”
The basic purpose of KWF is self-sufficiency. Zamboanga City, its homebase, only has 40 percent self-sufficiency in vegetables since its supply mainly comes from other provinces.
KWF says, “Localizing food systems is key in [providing] access to food and sustainable livelihood, especially for marginalized communities.”
With KWF now in its third year, its co-founder, president, and CEO Muneer underlines the value of intensifying food production through “localized and highly replicable solutions.”
KWF came up with two key programs as a response to food insecurity, aging farmers, and insufficient resources in the country. The first one is Hyperlocal Food Network, which aims to establish youth-led community gardens and school micro-farms in Mindanao using urban agriculture methods while also making sure they are sustainably managed. It also focuses on raising the next-generation of farmers through capacity-building interventions and community involvement.
By 2025, its target is to tap 98 barangays and 130 public schools, meet 60 percent of Zamboanga’s local vegetable demand, and successfully engage 25 percent of youth in the city in urban agriculture programs.
So far, KWF has trained 6,000 individuals on urban agriculture (covering topics like hydroponics, container gardening, and aquaponics), and has built 38 community gardens and school micro-farms in 25 barangays in Zamboanga City and two in Cagayan de Oro.
Some 180 youth volunteers were also involved in the establishment of these gardens and small farms. This program brings food closer to communities, optimizes idle areas, and fosters social participation, which is especially important at a time when access to food is a difficulty for many.
As an organization that favors a local approach in addressing local issues, KWF initiated its second project, Hyperlokal Kapital – Community Savings Club (CSC), to combat financial illiteracy among Filipino youth and marginalized sectors.
A CSC, as KWF describes it, “is a community-based, self-managed, and independent group that mobilizes and manages its own savings through purchasing of shares and taking small loans from those savings.”
CSC gives Filipinos, particularly youth and groups in remote areas, “access to small amounts of savings and loans to help improve income, make timely investments, and cope with emergencies.”
This program strives to build a network of 100 CSCs in the country by 2025 that represent groups of farmers, fisherfolk, women, and Persons with Disabilities (PWD).
As of writing, 10 CSCs in Zamboanga City, Bulacan, Manila, and Cavite have already been launched, “mobilizing a total of P1,000,000 worth of savings for hyperlocal access to capital for livelihood activities and personal planned expenses.”
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, KWF transitioned to virtual learning and intensified its advocacy for education and food production.
“The pandemic gave an impetus for us to do more for the community, especially since access to food became a challenge,” the group says. “We realized that a lot of young people are eager to be a part of the solution and are willing to volunteer their time (virtual and actual) and resources to create an impact.”
The unexpected turn of events also spurred the KWF team to strengthen their organization. “We were able to draft our organizational board and finally formalize Kids Who Farm into a registered non-profit.”
Moving forward, KWF is progressively expanding in cities such as Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, with plans to reach Mindanao’s urban centers, particularly the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
KWF has also inked a partnership with a Malaysian-based organization for information sharing on urban agriculture technologies. They exchange urban farming methods that they can introduce and use in their respective countries.
It goes to show that the KWF model can be practiced and replicated in other cities and provinces, even beyond the Philippine borders.
What started as a nine-year-old’s mission to save her school garden has grown into a movement that is now ushering communities toward self-sufficiency.
Indeed, KWF is proof that the power of today’s youth can feed communities and develop new strategies. As these father-daughter urban agriculture advocates believe, “It is never too young to make a difference.”