JCI Manila and Mercado Verde launched a webinar entitled “DIY Aquaponics at Home” to share the significance of an aquaponics system as a sustainable solution to food scarcity in underserved urban communities.

According to Robi Del Rosario, founder of Uproot Urban Farms—a start-up social enterprise that aims to provide aid to local communities through an aquaponics system—no Filipino should be hungry.

“Access to fresh, safe, and healthy food is a right for every citizen of the Philippines,” he emphasized.

But as everyone is enduring the consequences of the pandemic and the inefficiency of the government’s pandemic response, ballooning unemployment and lack of livelihood opportunities amongst the urban poor are contributing factors as to why Filipinos are struggling to put food on the table.

Aquaponics System

Del Rosario started an initiative to support food security in impoverished urban communities through an on-site food system called the aquaponics system.

Aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture (rearing of consumable fish) and Hydroponics (cultivating soilless plants). Through this system, people can independently cultivate vegetables and fish at the same time.

“It’s a system where you make use of the waste of the fish and then convert this waste into the nutrients that plants can use to grow,” he explained.

The joint report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Smartfish said the promotion of the aquaponics system can be an alternative income generation for rural communities like in Ethiopia.

Employing this system, Uproot Urban Farms trained families within the communities of Intramuros to construct their own functional aquaponic unit. These household units can be utilized for either their own consumption or a source of income.

It is made up of one and a half 200-liter blue water drums stacked on top of each other—the drum below serves as a fish tank that can hold up to 30 tilapias, while the other half above performs as a grow bed for up to 20 plants.

 “From there, our communities are able to source their own food,” Del Rosario said.

He also added that through the aquaponic system, families can save 50 percent of their average PHP300 salary.

Communal Food Production

Uproot Urban Farms ventured out and widened their food security initiative from families to communities through “grow hub.”

In partnership with Intramuros Administration, they converted a 40 square meter lot into a greenhouse that grows a thousand heads of high-value crops per month.

The enterprise provided job opportunities to the communities of Intramuros while also teaching them how to practice sustainable food production and sell produce.

“We work mostly with mothers in our communities because we found out that most of them belong to single income earn[er]s,” Del Rosario said.

In 2020, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) the Philippines in cooperation with Pilmico Foods Corporation and Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development (MUAD) Negros employed an aquaponics system into their 2016 foodshed program to tackle hunger in both rural and urban communities.

This program would allow communities to cultivate their own produce and strengthen their local livelihood, resolving food scarcity and market forces dependence.

“This foodshed, together with the aquaponics system, integrates sustainable crops, poultry, livestock and aquaculture production… It’s perfect for communities,” WWF-Philippines Project Manager Monci Hinay claimed.

While the majority of Filipinos have yet to experience social security (in terms of food, job, income, education, housing, and health care among others, before, during and after the pandemic) promoting community-shared aquaponics to low-income communities and boosting employment and livelihood may be able to help address food security issues in the country.


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