Go home and plant camote

In grade school in Tacloban, Leyte, what we pupils dreaded most was to be told by the teachers, “Bobo…better go home and plant camote!”

I guess that served to create the impression in our young provinciano minds that planting camote or laboring on the soil for that matter was a lowly undertaking, and was only for simpletons and those with no upward strivings. No wonder that, as we grew older, most of us wanted to leave the province – away from the farm – to seek our fortune in Manila.

I must confess that in my own family, no one chose to remain in the farm to take care of what our parents had scrimped so hard to own – land that they could pass on their children.

The other day, Ringo, my eldest son and the only one among my children residing in the Philippines, posted a red flag message on viber, “Siling labuyo is now over P1,000 per kilo (sticker price says P1,295 per kilo). Grabe na inflation sa Pilipinas.”

In this connection, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, at least, had a useful suggestion Instead of complaining, plant your own siling labuyo.

Here is what one news item reported:

 In a Facebook post, Piñol said that it would be “wise to be innovative” on the heels of soaring prices of commodities powered by the increase in fuel prices and electricity rates.

When you buy red sili, make sure to get a few seeds, sun-dry these and plant them in flower pots. When you gurgle in the morning when you wake up, just throw the water in the pot,” the secretary said.

“Before you know it, you would just wake up one morning to see your plants adorned with red fruits. Kailangan lang kaunting sipag para hindi reklamo nang reklamo,” he added.

Piñol also said that red sili was being sold for only about P50 per kilo in Kidapawan, Cotabato, as “almost every farmer in the province plants “sili” in his backyard.”

It was Piñol’s advice that brought back to mind the admonition of my grade school teachers. That “lowly” undertaking of planting camote and other crops may be the best thing that our people can do to survive rising prices and the very real threat of starvation, not to mention the daily reality of malnutrition.

I suggest that Piñol – in fact, the entire administration of President Rodrigo Duterte – should expand and pursue the concept of self-sufficiency beyond growing siling labuyo.  One reason why we are falling behind neighboring countries in Asia is that we are a nation of consumers rather than manufacrurers, a nation of buyers rather than sellers.

My late father-in-law, Jose Nobleza of Jovellar, Albay was a farmer. Papa was scandalized at the sight of people discarding the seeds of fruits that they had just eaten.

“Why didn’t you plant those seeds instead of throwing them away?” he would admonish.

The folks at our home in Parañaque have been taking Papa’s advice. In our front yard, we now have a fully grown avocado tree that has begun to bear fruits, a couple of fruit-yielding papaya trees, a guava tree, a malunggay tree and, oh yes, siling labuyo – all because the house help decided to stick seeds in the ground instead of throwing them away.

If I only had a green thumb (I have a brown thumb and everything I plant shrivels and dies), I would like to start a vegetable garden in  our yard. Thank heavens for house help with green thumbs, I have been allowed to contribute to the family  budget by planting ideas instead of camote and vegetables.

But I do recall that, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, every household was required to maintain a vegetable garden, If there was no yard for a vegetable plot, people had to grow their plants in flower pots mounted on window sills. Households also raised poultry and had chicken, goats and pigs freely roaming in the yard.

Starvation was never a threat in those days. Just death by bayoneting or losing one’s head to a samurai.

While in the grades in Tacloban, we were all required to maintain vegetable plots as part of our vocational education (home economics for the girls).

What about city dwellers and those who have no land for planting? They can resort to hydrophonics.  According to available data, indoor gardening (in warehouses, containers and especially-made growing chambers ) is fully developed in Asia. Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan have major agricultural industries using the hydrophonic system.

These days, people complain about the high cost of food without striving to learn how to grow them, and about the high cost of everything else, without bothering to learn how to make them.

One can argue that if one can afford to pay for food, why bother to grow them. And if one can afford to buy clothes, toys and gadgets, why bother to make them yourself?

But it is not simply affordability. I think it is a problem of values. On one visit to a farmhouse in a barrio in Albay, our hosts apologized to us for preparing “only chicken” for lunch. They said that if they had known we were coming, they would have bought sardines.

The impression was obviously that, for folks from Manila, a meal of sardines was more “high class.”

The other problem is the harsh reality that more and more people cannot afford to pay for food (or sardines) or buy other necessities. Because people have to eat, the food has to be grown somehow and because certain necessities cannot be done without, they have to be made somehow.

It is said that the late President Ramon Magsaysay once demanded to know why the Law of Supply and Demand could not be repealed. His aides didn’t quite know how to respond. In fact, that law can be countered and neutralized – by increasing supply and decreasing demand.

Take rice. Filipinos have a higher average individual consumption of rice than other Asians, the rationale being that rice “makes you feel full” and it compensates for having little or no ulam (viand).

The truth is, we can reduce our invidual intake of rice by over half and turn out healthier for it. I think a serious educational campaign should be undertaken on the nutritional benefits of reducing rice consumption in the Filipinos’t diet and increasing the consumption of vegetables and fruits.

I grew up making my own toys because my parents didn’t think it was necessary to buy them for me. I’m sure my own kids would have learned how to make their own playthings if we didn’t feel that it was a parental duty to spoil them.

Indeed, a good life tends to spoil us and allow us to spoil our children. Perhaps the silver lining behind the soaring cost of commodities is that our people will be forced to plant them, grow them, develop them and make them for themselves.

I think we should start telling our people to go back to raising poultry and maintaining a small piggery and to go home and plant siling labuyo and other fruits and vegetables – and, oh yes, plant camote. n

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