AgriBoost: A Celebration of Butuan’s Food Ways and Sustainable Agriculture

Ronnie Vicente C Lagnada

City Mayor, Butuan City

Mindanao, Philiippines

Our food was as abundant as our gold.

There was gold. But there was also an abundance of food in ancient Butuan!

The early Butuanon community flourished. With every home, a food to share. With every balangay, a food to celebrate. 

Our food was a celebration. Our foodways and culture centered on our intimate relationship with nature, our community, and with the deities and spirits that we worshipped. From planting to gathering and eating to offering, Butuan’s food was at the center of every celebration. 

Agricultural practices were sustainable then. Our food was local, nutritious, and fresh. There was no hungry or malnourished Butuanon. And no one was so poor to go hungry. 

Because there was a bountiful food surplus, early Butuanons traded with the neighboring communities. From being hunters and gatherers, we became traders and food travelers. Our Balangays traversed the mighty Agusan River and the seas and transported our local treasures such as rice, dumaunaw, starch, and sago to the neighboring communities.

The river was our highway. The forest was our marketplace. And what connected them all, was our balangay; carrying our food that we celebrated together at the table.

We traded food sustainability for urban growth

We were food self-sufficient. We were nutrition-secure. We said our grace before meals as we valued the gift of communal meal sharing. 

But this was before our rapid urbanization. This was before we traded our food sustainability for urban-centric concept of growth. And we paid a high price for such trade-off.

Farmlands were converted to housing sites. Biodiverse forests were cleared to give way to monoculture crops. Sustainable agriculture suffered the sidelines of development priorities. Logging became our lifeline. With little incentives and vulnerabilities brought by climate change, farmers were alienated from the land they till. Then, unscrupulous individuals cut through our food value chain and exploited the system.

The perverse impact changed the way we lived. Our food has ceased to become a celebration.

Our Current Scenario 

Vegetable production is measly 18.72% of the demand. There is much dependence on importation, forcing consumers to buy vegetables at high price. This is disadvantageous to poor households as they resort to foods with inferior nutritional value.

Further, the huge disparity between farm-gate and retail prices puts farmers and consumers at a disadvantage, while benefiting mainly the wholesalers and middlemen. Low-income residents are “food insecure” and they struggle to buy affordable and quality vegetables.

The current scenario results to an annual opportunity loss of PhP234 million. This loss is equivalent to the annual vegetable demand gap of 7,500MT at an average selling price of PhP32.05/kg of vegetable. 

Unabated, this will consequently lead to continued high dependency on imported and costly vegetables and eventually result to food and nutrition crisis.

Our food, just like our gold, has become a scarce commodity for every family’s celebration.

Disruption and realization

Few things that the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified are the economic and agricultural sustainability fault lines our city has been facing. The pandemic was a timely disruption to surface an impending food crises.

Though farming activities are unhampered, our agriculture value chain is disrupted because of the Covid-19 safety and security restrictions. Prices of agricultural inputs increased and cost of bringing farm products to market escalated. Moreover, movement restrictions resulted to loss of employment opportunities and income.

As the purchasing power of households weakened, consumers opted to buy canned goods, instant noodles, and other processed foods with longer shelf life but with inferior nutritional value just to meet the household’s food requirement.

Deeply aware of the primacy of food security in a city’s survival, I reiterated my policy direction when I first assumed office in 2016: “Way to go is sustainable agriculture!” 

Such call came in with an opportune timing, as the city prepares its entry submission to Bloomberg’s 2021 Global Mayors Challenge. Bloomberg Philanthropies honors the 50 leading urban innovations of cities around the world that were conceived or launched in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 600 cities from 99 countries submitted ideas addressing urban challenges that emerged in the wake of COVID-19.

As a precursor to the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge, we organized a city-wide Hacktivist Summit, a modified hackathon, last February 8 to March 5, 2021. The competition is a governance mechanism to generate inclusive participation among local stakeholders and constituents in response to the unique challenges of the pandemic. 

In the Hacktivist Summit, a simple agribusiness innovation concept was generated from one of the entries: From Farm to Table. From that simple concept evolved a bigger concept that covered the whole agri-ecosystem; this was further developed through extensive collaboration with various development partners of the city. 

A livable city built on sustainable food systems

As early as 2016, the city government of Butuan has declared its strategic vision: Butuan City will be a great hub city of opportunities that supports Caraga Region’s sustainable growth and development. We want to become a livable  and vibrant city, a lagsik nga dakbayan!  We envisioned a city that is built on sustainable food systems. 

To mitigate the socio-economic impact to the vulnerable sectors and address food and nutrition security, and as a proposition to the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge, Butuan City will implement an agribusiness model innovation dubbed as I-ADAPT, later on renamed and rebranded as AgriBoost.

This agribusiness model innovation secured Butuan’s spot in the Top 50 Champion Cities of the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge. As one of the 50 Champion Cities around the world, Butuan was provided an innovation design coach  in helping the Butuan Bloomberg  Core Team in redefining, refining, testing, prototyping, and validating  the said agribusiness model innovation.

AgriBoost will enable a more secure livelihood for the disadvantaged farmers and other value-chain players by improving the system of backward and forward linkages of resource and market accessibility of the agricultural sector. This will result to a stronger food security and self-sufficiency for the people of Butuan.

Butuan City will launch an agribusiness model innovation, AgriBoost , that boosts farmer capacities and catalyzes market forces for a sustainable, food secure, and vibrant community.

It has four (4) components that:

1.) Bolster farmer capacities and competitiveness (AgriBloom)

2.) Catalyze market forces,  orchestrate key stakeholder activities, and facilitates data-based planning and decision making  (AgriHub)

3.) Revitalize trade & market practices (AgriMart), and

4.) Energize consumers and communities for a vibrant and food-sufficient culture (AgriComm)

Furthermore, it provides demand forecasts and creates price prediction models linked to farmers’ planning of production. This agribusiness model innovation will improve farmers’ competitiveness, create economic opportunities to displaced workers and affected micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), improve profitability of existing enterprises, and empower households to access high nutrition food

AgriBoost is aligned with the city’s vision of becoming a great hub city of opportunities.. AgriBoost will propel the realization of building a competitive and resilient economy driven by sustainable agriculture and industry development.

Food is our gold

AgriBoost is recapturing the Butuanon’s food ways and systems. It is the renaissance of Butuan’s culture of food self-sufficiency and communal meal sharing. AgriBoost is the modern-day representation of our iconic Balangay; where every food is a celebration. Every food is precious and revered as our gold.

We envision a livable city. A city that fosters diverse, walkable, healthy, and green neighborhoods.

We aim of designing an urban center that is inter-phased with the rural communities; each supporting the other in area-specific and competitive economic productions.

We imagine a city where healthy and affordable food is abundant for everyone; where every child is nurtured and educated as the best and the brightest. Where every worker honors the dignity of his labor. And every farmer tills his land with confidence and pride.

We dream of a community, inspired by mutual respect, sharing, and caring for one another.

There was gold in the olden times. And there is food in the new Butuan.

Sa lagsik nga dakbayan, our food is our gold!