SOCIAL enterprise Uproot Urban Farms said it hopes to establish 10 grow hubs in Metro Manila next year to serve the growing population which it believes may not be adequately served by the agriculture industry in its current state.

“Next year, we are hoping to have at least 10 across Metro Manila,” Uproot Founder and Chief Executive Officer Robi F. Del Rosario told BusinessWorld in an interview.

“I really believe our present agriculture system is not enough to feed our population, and they say that by 2030, majority of the people will be living in cities, so it us makes sense that we grow the food where it is consumed,” he said.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the National Capital Region (NCR) has a total population of 12.877 million in 2015, up 8% from the last census.

According to the Social Weather Stations (SWS) polling organization, the national hunger rate in the third quarter was 9.1%, or about 2.3 million families experiencing involuntary hunger at least once during the period. Of this total, 7.4% or about 1.8 million families experienced “moderate hunger”, down from 8.7% in the second quarter, and 1.7% or 426,000 families experienced “severe hunger,” up from 1.3%.

People are classified under the “moderate hunger” category if they experienced involuntary hunger once or a few times in the past three months. Those under “severe hunger” experienced hunger often or always.

“For a country still struggling to attain food security, this is unacceptable. Our goal is to have every barangay to have a grow hub to lessen food waste and to provide our consumers, not just high-quality, but also high-nutrient produce,’ Mr. Del Rosario said.

He noted that target areas include the cities of Pasig, Taguig, Makati, and Pasay. Currently, the company has three hubs in Rizal province, while another hub will soon be built within Intramuros, which will be built through the prize money the company received from the country’s first-ever Total Philippines’ Startupper of the Year challenge in February.

“The plan is really to grow food within the cities, and (there is really) limited space, and the only way to grow a significant amount of food is by using… aquaponics,” he said.

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, or growing fish and other aquatic animals, and hydroponics, or growing plants without soil.

Prior to building 30-square meter (sq.m.) hubs, the company establishes facilities which could contain 100 tilapia and grow 36 varieties of plants. Capital needed to build such a facility is P30,000; for a 30-sq.m. grow hub, the required investment is P200,000-P250,000.

Mr. Del Rosario said that one of the main reasons why people choose to eat unhealthy food is the need to travel to the market or grocery, which adds cost and time. These hubs serve as growing centers for a variety of vegetables, which are then delivered to subscribers. The company also shares recipes with subscribers.

“The most common feedback that we have received is convenience… they do not have to go to the grocery to buy more tomatoes than the one or two that they need,” with the rest going to waste,” Mr. Del Rosario said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang