CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Your Input Needed: Gardening in the Philippines, Can It Help Relieve Poverty?

Posted by David Whiting, Department of Horticulture & LA, Colorado State University

Our sympathy and prayers go out to the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.  It is hard to comprehend the destruction and loss of life this past week.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been in conversation about gardening in the Philippines and the concept has really captured by imagination.  Let me share the focus of the discussion.  Your input on the topic would be greatly appreciated.

I was contacted by a financial advisor who represents a foundation trying to deal with the extreme poverty in the Philippines.  He was seeking input on the potential for gardening to help build the lives of the poor and reduce the extreme poverty.  In the Philippines, there is a significant population who basically has nothing.  They live off the land and scrounge through the trash to survive.  Home may be nothing more than a couple of sheets of plywood and sheet metal, under a tree, to provide some shelter from the tropical rains.  (Not much protection from a typhoon.)  Jobs simply do not exist for some of the population. 

So, the concept is for the foundation to purchase farmland, allowing families to settle there growing crops and living off the land.  I was called for a reality check on the concept.  If land was provided, could squatters living off the land make a decent life for their family? 

Not being gardener themselves, the financial advisors thinking about this idea really did not know what questions to ask when they visit the area at the end of this month.  So I helped them framed a list of questions to ask about the soil, the climate, and crops that could be grown.  The area is rich in agriculture production.  Local gardening includes warm season crops, like corn and tomatoes, and many tropical vegetables, like Calabasa (squash), Gabi (Taro), and Kamtoe (Sweet Potatoes).

A second part of this discussion centers on human development.  The growth in self-esteem being able to grow the produce to feed your family.

So I ask you the question,  if land was provided, could squatters living off the land make a decent life for their family?  What would you advise the foundation considering this question?




  1. This is a really interesting question to contemplate, especially in the wake of such a tragedy. I would think that providing homestead land to the landless poor is an essential part of improving their standard of living, as you bring up in your blog, yet this is not a clear cut task. To me, one of the most important aspects leading to the success of this task would be involving the beneficiaries. From my experience doing development work in the Peace Corps in Madagascar, the most effective projects are the ones that include the people they were meant to serve throughout the planning process, so they have an attachment to it from the start. Find motivated people and ask them what they want to grow. They probably will not have the necessary gardening experience so providing additional training and education will be crucial. Important questions that come to mind are: how much land would the families/individuals get and will they be allowed ownership? In order to make a decent life they should have enough land for a house, a garden, and maybe some animals. Not to mention they will need timber for fuel and construction materials. Ownership of the land (especially if given to the women in my opinion) would further help increase productivity on the land. Other questions I have are: where is this land and is there a road that goes there? The beneficiaries might not take too kindly to having to relocate long distances and they will need access to markets to continue to improve their futures. Also, having a reliable water source is another big factor. They will need access to clean drinking and irrigation water if rain is not sufficient. Okay I’m going off so before I write a short novel here, I’ll conclude by saying I definitely think this task is possible with the right amount of planning. Trained horticulturists can provide advice on proper plant selection for the soil and climate, but again the beneficiaries should be involved in every step of the process and if they believe in it and make it their own I think the potential benefits are endless.

    1. What about talking to Heifer International for adding a small scale protein component to the land?

  2. There is a group in Central America called Sustainable Harvest International -- I wonder if their model might be of help for this foundation?