A TYPICAL Filipino breakfast takes a complex process of harvest, refinement, and labor that is masked in its seemingly simple product or produce. Local coffee or kapeng barako comes from Batangas or highland Benguet, sugar from Negros Occidental, rice from Nueva Ecija, and corn from Ilagan. If one prefers imported products, coffee is harvested as far as Indonesia and Guatemala; powdered milk from New Zealand; and tea leaves from China, Japan, or South Korea.
How far do you think the food has to travel before it is served for our consumption? Where does the food that nourishes more than 50 million urban dwellers in the Philippines come from? Will the city ever run out of food? It takes a typhoon to remind the citizens of Metro Manila that the many kinds of produce are not grown from within the city, hence the eye-popping and heart-wrenching price surges.
Essentially, the agropolitan (from the words “agriculture” or farm, and “polis” or city) approach balances development between urban and rural or agricultural areas. This means there is a better integration, a more balanced relationship between the cities and the farms so that communities and town cities are still close to the farm. The approach is not exactly novel since this type of development dates back to the Middle Ages. Its practice, though, continues in southern France and in many parts of Europe.
Agropolis, urban farming, and leisure farms
With the agropolis, a city produces enough agricultural surpluses to be self-sustaining in terms of food security. At the same time, it can even feed nearby cities. One of the concepts of agropolitan development is urban farming. A good example would be New York City, where building rooftops are converted to become urban gardens and their produce is directly sold to the people living in the building or in the restaurant downstairs. It also eases vegetable demand by generating extra supply. In effect, urban farming actually decreases the prices of produce because it would have traveled less, bringing down operational expenses. Less “food miles,” or the length of travel between farm to plate, also means less carbon footprint.
The urban farming concept should be embraced by Metro Manila if it intends to improve its food resiliency efforts, especially if drought in the agricultural areas occurs. Homes and buildings can very much adopt this. Certain vegetables and fruits such as kangkong, a variety of tomato, eggplant, cabbage, and maybe even garlic, among others, can be grown locally in the community. In working with the urban poor, the indigenous people, and survivors of natural calamities, among others, Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group have incorporated the concept of growing your own food in the design of affordable housing. Green walls may be used to grow edible plants as well as citronella grass to ward off mosquitoes. With technology, strides in hydroponics, specie variety, and soil nutrition have vastly improved. The government can start making this as part of their agenda in giving ample incentives.
On the other hand, areas specifically Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Cavite, and Laguna should look at how to integrate agropolis concepts to their development. One of the crucial issues that the government should address is to update and properly implement the general land use plan of the city in order to achieve balance between nature and development. The opening of the countryside for agropolitan development can employ barren lands for productive use. This will open more opportunities for jobs, businesses, and tourism potentials.
Another approach to agropolitan development is the leisure farm concept. It integrates farming with residential development. Twenty five percent of the total lot area is buildable, while the remaining 75% is primarily for farming. Farming may include vegetable cultivation and production and raising of fruit-bearing trees, among others. In the Philippines, Palafox Associates has been involved in the master plan of leisure farms like The Leisure Farms in Lemery, Batangas; Ponderosa Leisure Farms in Silang, Cavite; and Tierra Maria in Lipa, Batangas, among others.
Ultimately, the agropolitan approach will discourage rural-urban migration through the dispersal of development in regions outside Metro Manila. Creating and opening urban growth centers outside the metropolis will help largely in decongesting it. It will also prevent people from leaving their hometowns to look for that very elusive “greener pasture.”
The Philippines has great potentials for this type of development primarily because of its wide expanse of agricultural lands and natural resource endowment. It is a matter of imagination, technological feat, and sound economic investment. It would be important to implement proper urban planning first. Second, infrastructure for irrigation; mobility, such as farm to market roads and trucking; and renewable energy should be developed.
Each city or region should be well thought out. It should be sustainable, livable, resilient, and independent in itself. While its surplus produce or economic strength is being leveraged for better business and sustainable outsourcing, cities in general can be self-sustaining.