THE announced two weeks lockdown in the provinces set many Negrenses in a near panic mode. In Bacolod, a dear friend who has faithfully fed Banago-Ramos street kids has been daily badgering city officials on FB for their slow action in providing food packages to the thousands of households affected by the lockdown. Trike drivers, sidewalk street vendors, itinerant "manugbaligyas," jeepney drivers and other peso traders stand to face real food shortage in the lockdown. If Covid-19 continues to rage beyond the lockdown period set, how will the Negrense address the problem of food security?

Having gone through the hunger problem in the 1980s in Negros, largely arising out of its heavy dependence on the sugar industry, I set it as a goal for our small family corporation to go into organic rice production. My dream became realized when Yaweh Jireh -- God Our Provider, gave us access to an upland property with five springs. In such blessed land, we have been able to grow heirloom rice varieties -- aromatic red, white and black rice, Though production cost is high, and net profit is low, we persisted with the natural rice production -- one that comes in handy now as we face the problem of securing food in times like these. From our rice harvest, we have been able to provide for the two weeks rice needs of our Dumaan, and other workers.

Truth to tell, long before Covid-19 and the lockdown, I have warned our workers about the need to address food security in our sugarcane farm in Victorias. I have encouraged them to plant "karuruton," root crops that they can fall back on for supplementary food. On top of that, I have also urged them to plant easily growing green leafy vegetables that thrive well on the canals of the canefields and even recycled containers. Medicinal plants were also introduced to address problems with diarrhea, colds, and cough. Though the land space is available for the Dumaan to do this, not many were keen on the idea of having their own "side garden," until this year.

I am glad Mayor Francis Palanca prioritized addressing in his words, the “gutom” problem in Victorias over aggressive infrastructure development of the city. In his first two years in office, he allocated a substantive amount from the city fund to agriculture, funding many agrarian reform beneficiaries, for training and development of organic farming. Victorias is home to the pioneering Organic Farmer in Negros, Ramon Peñalosa, and his model farm that has served as a training center of both non-government groups and the agri-extension officers all over the country of the Department of Agriculture. For our workers to be convinced to go into their own organic food production, Peñalosa Farm served as a fitting, close to the community model.

I started with the key "gatekeeper" in our hacienda -- our young farm administrator who Mon Peñalosa graciously allowed to observe the practice of raising "Baboy na walang baho," and organic vegetable farming. It was slow starting, but I am glad that today he has a natural backyard farm that individual Dumaan households can copy, and source some of their planting materials.

Our Dumaan have picked up "on the side farming" and some have shared their harvest of cassava and sweet potatoes. I believe this is the way we should go in Negros, if only to avoid the hunger problem our poor faced in the 1980s. The onslaught of Covid-19 is just the beginning of the last days scenario. It is best that our government officials, sugarcane planters and employers take a proactive measure to address food security issues now.

For individual middle-class households who have surplus funds, it is best to go into their own subsistence farming -- on lots if they have money to buy spare land, or to go into container farming of vegetables and herbs for their own use. If you have backyard, buy a hen and a rooster to start your own mini-poultry, and mini orchard of valuable fruit trees (guava, both for the fruit and the leaves that are medicinal), tamarind, lagundi (for cough, fever and asthma), lemon and calamansi. Now is the time to address, even in part, your food security issue.