(12 Oct 2015) LEAD IN:
Urban farmers in the Philippines are discovering the art of aquaponics to bring life to city spaces.
The project in Manila lets city dwellers produce fresh fruit and vegetables and also fish.
Metropolitan Manila – with its population of around 12 million people – may seem an unlikely place to grow fresh produce, but it’s the centre of an agricultural revolution turning urban spaces green.
A young social enterprise is equipping people in congested Philippine cities with urban farming technology, enabling Filipinos to grow their own fresh produce.
Bahay Kubo Organics (Nipa Hut Organics) was created in 2012 by a trio of university graduates – Ryan Aguas, Maximillian Pascual, and Enzo Pinga.
The three friends noticed that despite living in an agricultural country, many in the cities are still left with little nutritious food to eat.
In search of an answer to this problem of inaccessible healthy food options, the young social entrepreneurs found that aquaponic technology could be a suitable solution to share with communities in the Philippines.
“So we wanted to bring aquaponics to a place where it could motivate people to go back to farming and could teach them to farm again in a different way,” says Ryan Aguas, co-founder of Bahay Kubo Organics.
The concept of aquaponics is nothing new. What Bahay Kubo Organics has done is to adapt it locally using ordinary, inexpensive materials that are readily available in any city.
Drums, tanks, and even recycled household items like fishbowls and large plastic containers can be utilized.
Instead of soil, low-cost gravel is used to make a sturdy grow bed for the plants.
Using such materials also makes the aquaponic systems more climate-resilient, a clear advantage in a county that experiences 20 tropical storms on average per year.
Breeding plants and fish in one set-up makes a self-sustaining ecosystem.
The fish’s waste is used as organic fertiliser for plants.
A 40-watt pump is used to deliver the wastewater to the plants, which then comes out as filtered water to be pumped again into the same or a separate tank of fish.
Other than a steady source of electricity to power the pumps, the only maintenance needed is remembering to feed the fish everyday.
A single aquaponic farm produces not only herbs and vegetables, but fish as well.
Bahay Kubo Organics uses easy-to-breed Tilapia fish for their urban farms.
“It’s also a more sustainable form of farming because it allows you to conserve water; compared to traditional farming, you use 90 percent less water and that’s because the system is cyclical,” said Aguas.
“Another thing that makes aquaponics better than traditional farming is that it converts the waste of one, I guess, one produce into something that’s useful to another.”
Aguas says the aquaponic systems can be customised into whatever size a customer would prefer the urban farm to be.
For individual urban residents, a one square metre (three square foot) system is a great fit for a typical size garden.
However, larger urban farms measuring 20-50 square metres are normally requested by foundations, charities, and non-government organisations.
The first organisation Bahay Kubo Organics reached out to is the Fairplay For All Foundation located in Barangay Payatas, Quezon City.
Payatas, is known to most Filipinos as home to one of the largest open dump sites in the Philippines, but it also has communities living around its landfills.
Families in this area often resort to scavenging as a main source of income, which is a labour-intensive job that pays very little (an average of $1-2 USD for 12 hours of work per day).
The Fairplay For All Foundation feeds vegetarian meals to 50 to 80 children in Payatas every day.
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