When this writer took a course in soil-less farming, three key points were raised: food purity, food security, and food sovereignty. And as this writer visited the strawberry farms in La Trinidad, Benguet, the importance of those three points were reinforced.
The strawberry farms are famous for, well, strawberries, even though an equally big — or perhaps even bigger — portion of the area is devoted to other vegetables. For example, different kinds of lettuce are abundantly grown there along with broccoli, swiss chard, onions leeks, and others.
The area is big, as far as your eyes can see, and it is cut into smaller rectangular landholding which, according to a farmer, they lease from the State University at a rate of P15 per square meter per month. They also pay for the services of a machine that helps them till the land in preparation for the next cropping cycle.
The irrigation comes from canals that crisscross the area. The farmers use a pump to collect the water from the canals and spray it, with the use of a hose, over the crops. Others implement what appears to be a make-do drip irrigation system. The water didn’t look clean and, at this point, food purity (or cleanliness) becomes an issue. To make matters worse, as the harvest travels from farm to gate to the first bagsakan and — finally — to the markets, it is not uncommon to see the vegetables being washed near city gutters.
It is always important to wash your fruits and vegetables well even if it’s claimed to be “organic” before consumption. Don’t risk eating pathogens like E. Coli.
The distance of the farms, from the markets here in Metro Manila, within the range of at least 250 kilometers, is also a matter of concern. Logistics create labor and transportation costs along with loss due to spoilage. It doesn’t stop there.
During one of the workshops conducted by this writer, two pictures were shown to the audience: the first was a body of water (these were actually farms underneath floods during the rainy season), the second was a road that was hit by a landslide (blocking the travel of vegetables from Benguet to the cities). Distance, bad weather, uncertainties along the road, harm our food security.
And then there’s food sovereignty. Basically, this means that we have the power to decide what to do with the food grown in our country. To stress the point, this writer noticed that there were giant strawberries being sold at the fruit stalls of the strawberry farm. When asked where those came from, the reply of the tindera was, “sa Sagada po, dun sa mga farms ng mga —— .”
This writer does not know the background regarding some of the farms in Sagada. However, assuming the worst, if a substantial portion of our food supply is not controlled by us (same with imports of products), then we lack sovereignty over our food supply. A conflict can quickly escalate and run the risk of starvation for our people.
It is not enough for us to have clean food and a secure supply of the same. We must also have sovereignty over it.