Vertical Farming in the Philippines: A Promising Solution to Food Security in 2022

Image showing vertical farming in the Philippines for rice.
A digital concept of vertical rice paddies in the Philippines.

While the Philippines was one of the world’s leading exporters of fresh produce a few years ago, climate change, coupled with the pandemic, has wreaked havoc on their agricultural sector, which has led to ramped hunger in urban settings.

Vertical farming in the Philippines has grown to prominence, as previously imported produce can now be cultivated in built-up urban settings by employing innovative technology suited to the country’s extreme climate and providing high yields of fresh organic produce for Filipinos. 

So, if you were wondering why vertical farming in the Philippines could be the answer to its woes, this article might surprise you! 

What Are The Types Of Farming In The Philippines?

The Philippines, with 30 million hectares of arable land, is highly dependent on agriculture, especially crops like coconuts, rice, corn, mangoes, pineapples, coffee, and sugar that are mainly exported to the USA and Japan which employs roughly 23% of their workforce.

The agricultural sector has contributed approximately 20% of its GDP, including 24% of its export revenue during the last 15 years. 

While the Philippines was one of the most prolific exporters of sugar and coconut oil in the past, this is no longer the case due to increased global competition.

Image showing an urban farm in the Philippines.
Small-scale urban farming is already a notable phenomenon in the Philippines.

However, the Philippines has also endured several destructive typhoons and monsoons, including other adverse weather conditions, which have been exasperated by climate change, and subsequently destroyed crops and eroded their soil.

Continuous droughts have increased plant diseases and increased the demand for irrigation, depleting water resources.

These detrimental climate factors have resulted in high food prices and an overreliance on imports, devastatingly impacting the Philippines’ economy.

To make matters worse, several rural families who relied on the agricultural sector have been displaced by religious conflict in rural areas, resulting in mass poverty and starvation.

Vertical Farming In the Philippines: A Solution to Hunger

The Pilipino Department of Agriculture has taken steps to address the ramped hunger by establishing an Urban Agri Hydro Hub Learning Center situated at The Pop Up Katipuna, Quezon City. 

Image showing the country's tallest vertical farm in Navotos City.
The country’s tallest vertical farm is in Navotos City.

The department aims to create a hydroponic training and research facility to provide food security for the most vulnerable members of the Pilipino society in collaboration with the Philippine Association of Agriculture, The Freshest, including the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Institute of Biology.

The innovative center comprises a Hydro Farm that can produce a yield of 576 lettuces, including a Hydro Hub training facility that equips Pilipino youth with urban farming techniques.

Moreover, the Pilipino government has taken further steps to ramped food shortages by permitting communities to use unused urban spaces to create community gardens and has made a concerted effort to promote urban farming.

The Department of Agriculture has also devised strategies to combat food shortages, like developing crop cultivation techniques like vertical farming in the Philippines, hydroponics, and greenhouse farming, including bio-intensive cultivation, suited to urban environments.

The Private Sector’s Solution To Address Hunger

According to the Delgado Brothers, which is one of the country’s leading agricultural and logistics ventures, their government needs to support modern agricultural methods to address food shortages amongst the poor. Vertical farming in the Philippines could be one such solution.

The pioneering company established Good Greens and Co in 2018 to employ controlled environmental vertical farming techniques in small urban spaces to sustainably cultivate organic basil, chilly, arugula, pechay, lettuce, and numerous other nutritious crops.

The Delgado Brothers firmly believe that the Department of Agriculture’s willingness to explore the possibility of transforming unused government land into vertical farms will go a long way toward providing food security across the country.

Introducing Low-Cost Farming Models To The Philippines

According to Ralph Becker, founder, and CEO of Urban Greens, the Philippines has to import large quantities of vegetables from neighboring countries, especially poor quality leafy greens and herbs, which are incredibly expensive.

The hot Pilipino climate and extreme weather conditions are not suited to growing several vegetable species, and there is a growing demand for quality produce from health-conscious consumers.

This gap in the market-led Ralph Becker to establish Urban Greens, coupled with the fact that he was looking for a sustainable venture with a small carbon footprint that could produce organic, nutrient-dense local produce.

Establishing Urban Greens was not an easy feat as most of the hydroponic equipment and materials were not readily available. 

So, they had to create their low-cost hydroponic system, which is ideally suited to their climate, and skillset, uses very little energy yet produces a high yield of nutritious produce. Unlike other vertical farmers who import their equipment from abroad, they can fix any broken components with hardware store items.

Urban Greens have been able to install a vertical warehouse farm in the city center that can produce a staggering 1.5 tons of quality produce distributed to various other major cities throughout the Philippines and combat their over-reliance on poor quality imported produce.

Ralph’s interest in cultivating plants grew when he was introduced to hydroponic agriculture in the US and Japan, which led to experimentation with growing herbs when we arrived in the Philippines. 

By sharing these experiments on social media, Ralph inspired his followers to grow their own produce, which led to much interest from hotels and restaurants that wanted to use quality products. 

The Vertical Farm Pilot Project

Urban Greens is in the process of building a warehouse-based farm in the heart of Makati, which can be used to showcase cost-effective vertical farming in the Philippines to inspire budding young farmers to start their ventures.

Ralph ardently believes that Pilipino youth who equate framing with cheap hard labor can be persuaded to consider vertical farming as an exciting, potentially lucrative, technology-driven sector.

Urban Greens had built a sterling reputation based on their cost-effective, reliable produce, which stood them in great stead during the pandemic when food supply chains were disrupted. So, they managed to turn hardship into a lucrative opportunity.

The company’s long-term vision is to take Urban Greens’ vertical farming in the Philippines to each of the country’s 7000 islands, radically addressing Malaysia’s current food insecurity.

Final Thoughts on Vertical Farming in the Philippines

While the Philippines is highly dependent on traditional agriculture, climate change has irrevocably taken its toll on its ability to meet the demands of a rapidly growing urban population. 

Therefore, climate-proof vertical farming in the Philippines plays a pivotal role in combatting hunger by employing innovative farming methodologies suited to their extreme climate and able to produce high yields of desperate need fresh produce. 

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