GIVEN Baguio's favorable climate and good political leadership, the country's summer capital may well be on its path to becoming a model for organic backyard gardening. Not only because its citizens are mainly composed of hard-working, diligent, and resourceful Ilocanos, Pangasinenses, and people from the Cordillera, but mainly because organic backyard gardening is part and parcel of its agricultural policy that was approved by the city council.

In a recent report to the Sangguniang Panlungsod by the Agricultural Services Division of the City Veterinary and Agriculture Office (CVAO), though the City Veterinarian Dr. Brigit P. Piok, more than a thousand individuals from over 60 barangays benefitted from the trainings conducted by CVAO on urban gardening and organic agriculture; Trichoderma harzianum propagation, which a microorganism necessary for good growth; integrated pest and disease management; good agricultural practices on strawberry growing; and hands-on mushroom cultivation technology.

Before the lockdowns in March this year, CVAO was able to conduct two seminars that focused on organic agriculture using probiotics technology with at least 100 individuals from seven barangays. During the pandemic, nearly 4,000 individuals established survival gardens in 121 barangays using the various vegetable seeds given by CVAO.

And while Arch. Donna Rillera-Tabangin, chief of the City Planning and Development Office, urges citizens to go back to gardening as everyone is rooted from it and proposes to the government the establishment of food forests throughout the city, officials led by Mayor Benjamin Magalong feted with honors and prizes the winners of "The Best Survival Gardens," a contest recently held to encourage more participation.

For 2021, Dr. Piok said agricultural programs include food safety regulations, promotion of home gardens, organic agriculture, and youth programs for urban agriculture. All these are supported and funded by the city government and the Department of Agriculture's line bureaus, namely the Agricultural Training Institute, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and Bureau of Plant Industry.

This column begs for your forgiveness if it failed to notice the inclusion of the waste composting component from available information and published reports. But to further render Baguio's people-empowering program on urban organic gardening, this piece wishes to reiterate the crucial importance of sustainability that is solely hinged on the availability of organically fertile soil that can only be generated from waste composting and begs for your indulgence on the following:

1. Baguio's population of more than 370,000 generates about 185,000 kilograms of waste daily. With an average of 50% being biodegradable, 92,500 kilograms of the waste, therefore, is compostable. When composted, it is expected that an average of 46,250 kilograms, or 46.25 tons, of compost, can be generated daily.

2. One-half kilogram, or 500 grams, of compost, when mixed with other substrates like carbonized rice hull, sawdust, or coconut coir and placed in a receptacle like recycled soft drink PET bottle, can be planted with all sorts of leafy vegetables -- even strawberries. Each bottle can yield a minimum of one-kilogram leafy vegetables in four planting cycles, each cycle being 21 days.

3. The total daily compost of 46,500 kilograms, therefore, can be placed in 92,500 recycled receptacles and will yield an average of 23,125 kilograms, or 23.125 tons of leafy vegetables every day. This is assuming that citizens continue to generate waste and consequently do composting every day.

4. Assigning a market value of P10 per kilogram, the total worth of the leafy vegetables will be P231,250 every day, or more than P84 million per year.

5. There's not only virtue in the adage "there's money in waste," but there's scientific proof that there are vital health-sustaining micronutrients in vegetables through the composted waste. And if we let compost go to waste unutilized, we not only misuse public funds spent to haul them and dump them to react negatively on the environment, but we also forgo our direct access to our own free organic food and the monetary value that can be generated from it.

6. All of these are provided for by the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act or RA 9003. It is provided, hence mandatory, that barangays are supposed to be responsible for composting and form cooperatives among its constituencies to benefit from the compost and the recyclable components of the waste. The city government, on the other hand, will be responsible for the management of residual waste, which is estimated to be around 20% of the total. It is also provided that local governments should reduce the amount of residual waste that is called by the law as a waste diversion. This is being done through the enactment of ordinances that prohibits the addition of non-biodegradable and non-recyclable waste such as banning the use of single-use plastic bags, among others.

7. Therefore, all premises considered, should all the barangays in Baguio start the simplest, cost-neutral way of composting and give away the compost to all people as mandated for sustainability, not only of Baguio's policy on organic backyard gardening but mainly of the city's ecological stability? (Rene Pineda Jr.)


Rene D. Pineda Jr., a long-time member of the EcoWaste Coalition, is president of the Partnership for Clean Air (PCA) and the Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF).