Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The 'Aquaponics Soldiers' of Camp Aguinaldo

A GROUP of battle-tested soldiers could not just let go of the survival tactics they learned by practicing the benefits of “aquaponics” inside Camp Aguinaldo, the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Quezon City, where they are currently assigned.
They have spent half of their lives in service in countless battles in the field.

Aquaponics is a sustainable backyard food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture in tanks with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. It consists of two main parts, with the aquaculture part for raising aquatic animals and the hydroponics part for growing plants. Aquatic effluents resulting from uneaten feed or raising animals like fish, accumulates in water due to the closed system recirculation of most aquaculture systems. The effluent-rich water becomes toxic to the aquatic animal in high concentrations but these effluents are nutrients essential for plant growth.

It’s amazing to see the creativity of soldiers from the Seventh Civil Relations Group (7th CRG), a small support unit of the AFP Civil Relations Service (CRS), led by their commander Lt. Col. Samuel Sagun.  The soldiers are able to maximize every small available space to grow vegetables and raise fish including tilapia, dalag, hito and eel in small ponds in front of their small office.

“We call it aquaponics, a combination of backyard gardening and raising cultured freshwater fish species. Although we’re still at an experimental stage, we’re already benefiting from it for our food supplement. It’s a big help, really,” Sagun said.

Sagun said the soldiers called the lovely aquaponics site in front of their office as “peace pond and garden for peace” to give emphasis to the military’s anti-insurgency campaign line “Bayanihan” or the Internal Peace and Security Program (IPSP).

How did Sagun and his men discover aquaponics? It was through Rev. Father Rocky Evangelista, the head of Don Bosco’s “Tuloy Foundation” located in Alabang, an institution that caters to the needs of abandoned street children.

“Yes, we can! These were the words of Fr. Evangelista that inspired us to start an endeavor we believed is immediately doable even without writing a project proposal for funding. Last Jan. 12, Fr. Evangelista invited us to visit their aquaponics site and we were surprised how easy it was to do. If he can do it, why not us?” Sagun said.

The Tuloy Foundation has an aquaponics system and complemented with an area for vermiculture using African Night Crawlers.

Right after that “Lakbay Aral” visit, Sagun and his men started gathering reusable and recyclable materials. Plant boxes were converted into fish ponds, which they later called “peace ponds.” Excess plastic softdrink bottles, which they used in their 2011 project “Isang Litrong Liwanag” (Solar bottle bulbs), were used as containers for plants.
While preparing to build their own aquaponics, Sagun has started to contact people for vegetable seeds.

“We don’t have a problem getting tilapia fingerlings or other freshwater fingerlings because we’ve a lot of sources,” he said.

The Asia America Initiative (AAI), an international organization helping stabilize conflict areas with their peace and development efforts, gave Sagun’s group two balikbayan boxes full of assorted vegetable seeds.

“What would we do with a lot of vegetable seeds? We distributed these seeds to soldiers and nongovernmental organizations practicing backyard gardening to as far away as Mindanao. In fact, Albert Santoli, president of AAI, has even promised during his visit here to bring one million seeds to be distributed in conflict areas,” Sagun said.

Using social media as a medium, the 7th CRG began to receive support, financial, material, moral or technology from friends and acquaintances.

Jojo Rom, a Davao-based agriculturist who believes in the democratization of agriculture, gave his insights to further improve the prototype that the 7th CRG was developing.

He also gave tips on Urban Container Gardening (UCG).

“If all households can convert their backyard or kitchen area into vegetable gardens, then the Philippines will have a surplus in food. When advocates for ecology and clean air could just help in this simple endeavor, it is a giant step for humanity,” Sagun said.
His deputy, Capt. Genesis Gabrido, is currently designing the prototypes.

“The 7th CRG hopes to develop mobile prototypes for depressed areas and relocation sites to help the people cope with the harsh realities and alleviate their economic plight,” Gabrido said.

Sagun is a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1992 while Gabrido belongs to PMA Class 2004. The tandem and their men are now slowly earning the moniker “AFP GHQ Aquaponics Soldiers” by anyone who visited and saw their resourcefulness and creativity.

In fact, CRS chief Brig. Gen. Rolando Tenefrancia has given Sagun and Gabrido the go signal to start a camp-wide advocacy on aquaponics and UCG.

“Let us start within our backyards and offices,” Tenefrancia told the soldiers.

Zaff Solmerin | BusinessMirror.Com.Ph | April 3, 2012 | Article Link