Putting food on the table through SAPAT

home vegetable garden
Established home vegetable gardens in Conner, Apayao. Native vegetables and root crops are possible alternative/complement to rice. (Photo: UNDP Philippines)

Like many housewives in the poor province of Apayao in the Philippines, Betty Nadnaden had difficulty putting food on the table for her growing family. Times become more difficult during the drought that comes in the wake of El Niño. When the dry fields had cracked in places, rice was not just the staple food for Betty's family – it was the only food. Ulam (meat or vegetable dishes) was considered a luxury, and when available, served only in very small portions.

To help Betty's family and other families in similar straits, the United Nations Development Programme financed and launched a project called SAPAT: Sapat at Masustansyang Pagkain sa Bawat Tahanan (Sufficient and Nutritious Food in Every Household). Its aim was to expand the food base of Filipinos beyond rice and set up nutritious sources of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and protein by raising alternative and complementary crops to rice such as high-yielding root and tuber crops, native vegetables and native chicken. The project began in six of the poorest barangays (villages) in the provinces of Apayao and Abra.

Highlights

  • Poor Filipino households are unable to meet the nutritional requirements of their family members.
  • UNDP financed and launched a project called SAPAT aimed at expanding the food base of Filipinos beyond rice and set up nutritious sources of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and protein by raising alternative and complementary crops to rice such as high-yielding root and tuber crops, native vegetables and native chicken.
  • With SAPAT, not only is there food for the tables of the poor people in Abra and Apayao. With their children in school, their horizon of hope has widened as well.

The project had a funding of US$ 98, 081. It was successfully implemented with the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) and the Farmers Community Development Foundation International (FCDF). The Abra State Institute of Science and Technology (ASIST), the Apayao State College (ASC), and the local government units also pitched in, showing how all hands on deck can turn things around. The project ended last September 2010 and benefitted 1,200 farmers. It was also replicated by Governor Joey Sarte Salceda in the province of Albay, a project that was funded by the local government.

Malnourished Populations

From the start of the SAPAT project, the UNDP and its partners identified which nutritious food were lacking, and which crops could be planted as alternative to rice. After this was known, seeds and grass shredders for organic fertilizer production were distributed. Low-cost irrigation pumps were installed to water the fields when the drought struck. Egg incubators were also used to raise more chicks for the beneficiaries. Moreover, the people worked hand-in-hand with agricultural experts to learn production techniques and how to sustain systems and outputs in the future.

Access to credit and markets, which had been tightly shut, was also opened via a practical, in-kind microcredit system. The beneficiary could borrow supplies such as seeds and fertilizer. After a while, he would repay twice the amount of what he had originally borrowed, and the supplies would then be re-loaned to two more beneficiaries. Thus, the system grew exponentially to serve entire communities. The creation of the Barangay Food Associations helped institutionalize this programme at the local level. Not only did this programme ensure sustainability, but it also turned the people from subsistence farmers to agricultural entrepreneurs.

Before SAPAT, was underway, around 40% of Filipinos living in these two provinces had been suffering from malnutrition. The most vulnerable group was the youth. Suffering from poor health and too small for their age, they went to school hungry and with no school supplies. That is, if they went to school at all.

Voices from the field

But now, things are better for the people of Abra and Apayao. Today, Betty stands in the midst of the greenery that has become her backyard garden. "My family now eats plenty of vegetables that we raise ourselves. We even sell some of the vegetables to give us additional income. The money we save goes for the education of our children."

Santos Tandi also noted how SAPAT has made his children not only healthy and well-nourished, but also in school. "I only have sloping land, so my wife and I terraced it and we planted vegetables. Now we do not buy vegetables anymore, my children who are studying in college in another town take the vegetables back with them as viands. We also bring our harvest to market and give the money as allowance to our children in school."

And William Zingapan says his garden's success has encouraged his neighbors to participate in SAPAT as well. "In the past, we wanted to plant vegetables but commercial seeds were too expensive for us. With SAPAT, we could now borrow seeds to raise the vegetables that we eat. When my neighbors saw how robust my plants were, they also followed me and began planting vegetables."

With SAPAT, not only is there food for the tables of the people in Abra and Apayao. With their children in school, their horizon of hope has widened as well.