#2030Now: Green initiatives go a long way for urban communities

Michelle Abad
#2030Now: Green initiatives go a long way for urban communities

LeAnne Jazul

Organizations share how they work with communities to save a forest within a city, connect farmers to consumers, and turn plastic waste into furniture and other useful items


MANILA, Philippines – Even small initiatives can create an impact on communities in need of fresh air, healthier alternatives, and sustainable practices.

This was the common experience that Winner Foundation’s Chiqui Mabanta, UPROOT’s Robi del Rosario, and Junk Not’s Wilhelmina Garcia – all working with communities – shared during the Social Good Summit on Saturday, September 21.

Protecting Manila’s last lung

Mabanta, a Manileña, was amazed that a green space such as the Arroceros Forest Park was in the middle of the city. She visited it for the first time on Earth Day in 2003. Artists went there to paint, there was a view of the Pasig River, and it was quiet. 

She came across the women of the Winner Foundation picnicking in the forest. “These were not your normal titas of Manila,” she said. They built the forest from scratch after being tasked by former mayor Alfredo Lim in 1993. They were the forest’s keepers – a deal made official by a memorandum with the mayor.

It was not long before she joined them, as she learned that part of the forest was to be uprooted for the construction of a government building during the term of Lim’s successor, Lito Atienza. The fight to protect the forest began. (READ: The protectors of Manila’s last lung)

Five years later, the advocates lost and the local government gave the go signal for the construction of the Department of Education’s Division of City Schools inside the park. Over 200 trees were killed to give way to the concrete structure.

It became difficult to enter the park on some days. That didn’t stop the advocates from coming as often as they could, even if it meant climbing the boundary wall, or taking the long way around it. Earth Day was still held every year. 

But in 2017 they were told by the local government, this time under then-mayor Joseph Estrada, to vacate the park to make way for a new gym.

Luckily, the foundation and its allies in the Save Arroceros Movement made enough noise to call attention to saving the forest. To date, over 100,000 people have signed a Change.org petition online. 

“We will plant more trees,” Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said on July 30, vowing to protect the forest. Mabanta feels that with the new local chief executive, the forest is safer than it has been in a long time.

“Despite all the challenges, I’m proud of what we achieved. Beyond the park, the real impact is showing people that it can be done, and that perseverance pays off. We may have lost a battle or two, but 25 years later, the park is still around, and it seems we’ve won the war,” she said.

Connecting farmers and consumers

UPROOT Urban Farms Founder Robi del Rosario said 80% of food in Metro Manila are imported from over 300 kilometers away, with 72 hours between harvest and delivery. As much as 70% of nutritional content is lost in this process. An additional 40% of the food are wasted due to spoilage.

Farmers have to throw away tons of their harvest because they are unable to find a market for their produce.

“For a country that is struggling to attain food security, that’s just not acceptable,” Del Rosario said.

The processed foods that make it to our tables, he said, are responsible for affecting 70% of the population with diabetes. “We’re actually killing ourselves. We don’t just have a food security issue, but a health crisis. And our problem is made even worse with climate change.”

This is where UPROOT comes in. The organization grows high-nutrient food efficiently through the use of climate-smart agriculture that allows them to grow year-round. This also makes prices stable.

Through its vegetable subscription called ANI – short for All-Natural Ingredients – UPROOT also connects farmers directly to consumers. It has helped 200 farmers this way. 

“We are asking for your help to support our local farmers and create more awareness about where our food comes from…. Our future really needs real food,” said del Rosario.

Recycling trash creatively

Junk Not Eco Creatives lives by its name, refusing to call plastics junk and working to repurpose them as functional furniture pieces. Simultaneously, they promote livelihood among the communities that produce the pieces.

Junk Not was behind the trophies and medals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines’ current season, crafting them with plastic waste, scrap metal, and even bullet casings from Marawi.

The organization accepts plastic waste from corporations and individuals, and they are returned to the owners as furniture pieces.

Nalulunod na tayo sa plastic pollution (We are drowning in plastic pollution). This is the reality,” said Junk Not founder Wilhelmina Garcia.

Garcia shared how their partner community in Taal, Batangas, dealt with plastic waste by burning it or throwing it in the lake. After teaching the community proper waste management, Garcia said they are more responsible now with their own environment.

Starting with 4 women, Junk Not now works with 80 and counting. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.