Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

Community Gardens Promote Healthy Lifestyle In Urban Setting

Business World (Philippines ) Cagayan de Oro City

[June 06, 2007]

- A decade-old effort to introduce urban agriculture through European-style "allotment" gardens is going mainstream with a plan to institutionalize the project through a city ordinance.

The Peri-urban Vegetable Project started in October 1997 as a research and outreach unit of the Xavier University College of Agriculture, said Dr. Robert J. Holmer, project director. "We started four allotment gardens in Bugo, Gusa, Lapasan, and Carmen by converting idle lots to facilitate the legal access of 32 poor urban families to the idle land for vegetable production," he said.

In a community garden, people share the basic resources of land, water and sunlight. An allotment garden is a special type of community garden which consists of several small parcels of contiguous open land used exclusively to grow vegetables, fruits, and cutflowers. In contrast to common gardens where a common area is tended collectively by a group of people, the parcels of land in an allotment garden are cultivated individually by families.

Known as "gardens of the poor," they originated in Europe about 150 years ago at the height of the industrial revolution when cities, municipalities, and monasteries provided plots for the urban poor to grow food for their families. These gardens proliferated by the thousands in Germany and other European cities during the second half of the 19th century.

The pilot areas were selected based on the community's practice and experience in waste segregation, implemented by an earlier city government project. Allotment gardens use compost from organic waste collected through segregation.

Additional allotment gardens have since been established in other locations in the city in cooperation with city hall, barangays, and the communities. Seven allotment gardens have been put up. Two are inside public elementary schools, equipped with ecological sanitation toilets for more than 70 urban poor families. An eighth allotment garden has been established in barangay Macasandig for 20 more families.

Over half of the world population has been living in cities since 2000, with the other half increasingly reliant on urban areas for their economic survival, Mr. Holmer said. The rapid urbanization of formerly sleepy rural centers has caused urban poverty, alienation, and other problems, bringing about natural, manmade, and technological risks which threaten the livelihood, health and lives of people.

Among the major challenges facing fast-growing urban areas are the lack of shelter and health services, high rates of inward migration, poverty, inadequate financial resources and lack of employment opportunities, growing insecurity and rising crime rates, traffic congestion and pollution, inadequate water supply and waste treatment facilities, and food security, or the availability, accessibility and affordability of safe and nutritious food.

Imma Ray D. Gatuslao, acting city tourism officer, cites how three communities implemented the so-called "GIS (geographic information system)- based Urban Environmental Resources Management and Food Security Project" with funding from the European Union under a scheme to address garbage and food security confronting the people in peri-urban and urban areas of the city:

"As pilot communities, residents demonstrated how two issues could be addressed with the interplay of integrated solid waste management, urban agriculture and environmental planning," Ms. Gatuslao said. "The allotment gardens are flourishing, providing the communities with an accessible, safe source of fresh vegetables and income, plus more time together for family and neighbors," Ms. Gatuslao added. "GIS-based community mapping integrated the views and opinions of the community into the database of the city government, which enabled increased participation in city planning by residents."

Aside from their improved income, allotment gardeners enjoy more quality time with their families in a clean and healthy environment. They formed an association to sustain their activities when funding ended three years ago.

Surveys show that 20% of the allotment gardens' produce is consumed by the gardeners themselves, 5% given away to relatives and friends, while 75% is sold to walk-in clients from the neighborhood.

While designed as "Gardens for the Poor," the income of the gardeners, for whom allotment gardening is a secondary occupation, has increased by 20%, even as their vegetable consumption nearly doubled. This is noteworthy since over 30% of Philippine children suffer from malnutrition, particularly from vitamin, mineral and protein deficiencies.

Allotment gardens also contribute to the reduction of solid waste in the community. Neighboring households in the pilot areas are segregating their waste and bringing organic matter to the allotment garden for composting, reducing the volume of waste to the landfill by more than half.

"The volume of waste from these communities going to the city's landfill has been reduced since recyclables are now reused, and biodegradable wastes turned into compost," Ms. Gatuslao noted.

Dr. Holmer said the project receives financial support from the European Commission, the German Embassy Manila, and several private donors. It is also supported by CIM of Germany, which had sent an expert in urban agriculture.

It is also cooperating with other units of Xavier University and institutions in Northern Mindanao through the Water and Sanitation Program of the GTZ (German Agency for Technical Cooperation). It also maintains links with local governments and universities in Belgium and Germany.

Support from the local government has come from the city Agricultural Productivity Office through a series of seminars and training on protocol for urban vegetable production and container gardening in various barangays of the city. "Our seminars aim at addressing inadequate food of households which is typical of highly urbanized cities," said Godofredo Bajas, city agriculturist.

The seminar also assists indigent families in backyard and communal gardening through the use of vacant lots and space for backyard and container gardening to promote a healthy lifestyle for the families and community in an urban setting.

Copyright 2007 Business World Publishing Corporation, Source: The Financial Times Limited

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June 8, 2007

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture