To ensure supply amid the pandemic, Navotas grows its own food from the bottom up

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Ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Navotas City vertical/aeroponics farm on Oct. 24.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 24) — As lockdowns threaten the food supply chain and turn urban life upside down, Navotas City decides to grow its own food source from the bottom up.

They call it vertical farming, or aeroponics, which has been making waves in Europe as governments shift spending priorities to health and food security, made more urgent by the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 exposes how loose and shaky the food supply chain is – from rural farms to dining tables in the city – vertical farming offers a fresh take in finding a new model to address hunger.

In densely-populated Navotas, which ranks among the top 15 Philippine cities infected with the coronavirus, four vertical farms now sit in the backyard of a resettlement area.

The 300-square meter farm area can yield eight metric tons of vegetables a year, the same harvest that a one-hectare agricultural land can produce.

To maximize space, the method uses green technology -- where vegetable pods are not planted on the ground but grow suspended in a controlled environment. Most elements of a plant’s habitat are monitored -- from humidity and temperature, to sunlight and bacteria growth.

“We want to mechanize and do this entire process fully-automated as much as possible so there is no human error,” Erez Lugassi, Director for Research and Development of project proponent Good Greens & Co., said in an interview on Saturday.

“This entire farm that you’re seeing is all managed by a computer. The more that we learn, the more information that we’re getting, we feed it back to the computer and then we can do better decisions,” he added.

It’s not rocket science but Mr. Lugassi says R&D efforts on vertical farming continue, as they search for the most ideal method to grow vegetables, amid the current challenges.

Funding for the first four towers in Navotas -- about P2 million plus investments in technology -- came from Good Greens & Co. and the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.

Eight more towers will rise, with another ₱4 million in investments from the Bayanihan 2 law.

Good Greens wants to replicate the vertical farming design elsewhere in Metro Manila. It took just four months for Navotas to build its own because it was open to the farming breakthrough.

“It made sense that this kind of high-volume farm is ready to produce for a high-volume location like Navotas,” said Simon Villalon, President of Good Greens & Co.

“The prospects are excellent, particularly when we get to the point when farms like this are cheaper to build, they become more sustainable. You get a good ROI for this,” Mr. Villalon added.

But for it to be rolled out on a wider scale, vertical farming would need to win over naysayers in Congress who hold the power of the purse.

“The members of Congress have been pushing to have more funding for farming and food supply…And I think that’s the directive of the Secretary (of Agriculture) especially when it comes to farming using new technology,” Navotas City Rep. John Reynald Tiangco said in an interview.