Home Economy Is scale the only solution to sustainability?

Is scale the only solution to sustainability?


A non-economist, like myself, always wants to see out-of-the-box solutions. Why is our solution so traditional that “economies of scale” is the answer to every agriculture issue?

Let us look at various suggestions that are out-of-the-box:

ON RICE AND VEGETABLESDid you know that if we ate less rice per person, we could stop importations of the staple grain we all love? I was told that our per capita consumption is 120 kilos per year while Vietnam’s is only 80 kilos/year. That is because Vietnamese eat more vegetables, instead of rice. But Filipinos will say vegetables are expensive. We can choose local varieties, instead of imported lettuce that go into expensive salads. Lettuce also can wilt faster than kangkong, talbos ng kamote, and pechay (swamp cabbage, sweet potato leaves, and Chinese cabbage).

Second, let us not encourage “eat all you can” or “unli rice” in restaurants. It not only causes a propensity to develop diabetes early in life, it also causes obesity. Moderate your rice intake and you will not only be healthier, our country’s dollar reserves will also get a boost from lower imports.

DIRECT TRADEPundits will argue that this is just a romantic idea. Letting farmers meet chefs, they claim, is just scratching the surface of “access to markets” but it indeed is a start. When we started talking about Slow Food and traceability, many detractors said the idea would not work. But 10 years later, chefs are going to farms to get their produce, they talk to producers to give their specifications, and both sides are happier after the conversations. Add to that the mandate of corporations now about ESG (environmental, social, and governance) scorecards — every big corporation now wants traceability of their procured ingredients. They now must do direct trade to have traceability and sustainability points. Or pay expensive certifications to ascertain the sources of their ingredients.

BUY LOCALWith the peso devaluation, it has become more expensive to import anything, from vegetables to rice to coffee. This is why we need to buy closer to point of use —, or simply practice Locavorism. We have been saying this since 2012 when we spoke at a seminar in Coron, Palawan on Sustainable Tourism. Being locavores, we use what is literally in our backyard rather than importing monggo (mung) beans, for example, from China. But I still see imports, even of stones and rocks for gardens — yes we import these bagged landscaping supplies. How crazy is that? Unless these “fillers” are brought into the country to mask other expensive merchandise in the same shipment. Why would we import rocks? Sustainability means buying more local produce and pushing the use of local ingredients.

KNOW YOUR FARMERIf you do not have a chef, you probably cook at home. Have you checked where your produce comes from? Going around farms near your home may be the first thing to do. You may even try backyard gardening to know the source of your pechay or upland kangkong. We egged a writer, Paula Aberasturi, to publish a book, Backyard Gardening, in 2017. It is an easy read and hopefully will be reprinted by Anvil Publishing.

We got hooked on backyard farming during the pandemic because we had the time and we could not visit other suppliers. Up to today, we can harvest various vegetables from our own little patch of land for home use. We got chickens to roam around the farm to give us a week’s supply of organic and free-range eggs. Seasonal fruits are surprises — we have duhat (Java plum), avocado, guavas, and lots of mangoes even if they are the Indian (a.k.a. non-commercial) variety. Bananas and coconuts are available year-round.

BE THE FARMERI am sure our readers have some funds to spare to start a small 500 sq.m. to 1,000 sq.m. farm. You can start a small garden behind the house or even in your corporate premises where even your security guards know how to grow moringa or malunggay, pechay, and eggplants. There is no reason not to have funds, and resources, to grow your own food.

We are looking to write a guide on sustainability through backyard farming soon. Along with experienced farmers who are also scientists, but not economists, we are writing down the basics of a sustainable farm, a sustainable community, and eventually help a country be self-sufficient at least for basic food and staples (rice is already suggested above).

Entrepreneurs are usually not economists, and economists have a difficult time being entrepreneurs. So the guide to a “non-economist” view must be written by creative people who do not follow the book but make their own playbook, as today’s popular term suggests. It is a playbook created by creatives, not math wizards. Accountants also have a hard time thinking of business plans because of “analysis paralysis,” to borrow a term from another accountant I spoke with from AIM. Entrepreneurs do accounting in a different way. A friend who is an entrepreneur says it another way — “Boundary na ako” (I have reached my “boundary”) referring to a jeepney or taxi driver who has to raise a certain amount after which everything earned is his free to take home. “Boundary” is that hurdle. Entrepreneurs do their own math and after making the “boundary” can even give away stuff for free. Accountants will never allow such vague or blurred computations.

Chit U. Juan is co-vice-chair of the Management Association of the Philippines’ Environment Committee. She is also the president of the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. and Slow Food Manila (www.slowfood.com).



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