The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that more than 800 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 and more than half of the world’s undernourished –around 418 million people– are in Asia. 

In the Philippines, hunger and malnutrition have always been serious problems. Reports show that 3.1 million families experienced hunger in the first quarter of 2022 and every day, 95 children in the Philippines die from malnutrition.

For a decade now, East-West Seed Foundation (EWSF) has been working with government and non-government organizations in helping address food security and malnutrition issues. It celebrated its 10th Founding Anniversary on July 4, 2022, in conjunction with this year’s Nutrition Month celebration with the theme “New normal na nutrisyon, sama-samang gawan ng solusyon!”

EWSF celebrating their 10th Founding Anniversary at the BGC Urban Farm with guests (L-R) EWPH General Manager Jay Lopez, EWSF Managing Director Ma. Elena van Tooren, EWSF Board President Juan Santos, Senator Cynthia Villar, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ Charge de Affaires Hon. Monique van Daalen, EWS Group’s Public Affairs Lead Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, and Urban Farmers’ Founder Louie Guttierez. 

“Our mission is to help make Filipinos healthier by teaching them how to grow their own vegetables and encouraging them to make it part of their every meal,”  shared Ma. Elena van Tooren, Managing Director of East-West Seed Foundation. 

“One of the lessons that we learned during the pandemic, when food access became limited, is that growing our own food is an essential life skill. We hope that vegetable gardening will still be part of many people’s ‘new normal’ habits as we transition to this new reality where we learn to live with the COVID-19 virus,” added van Tooren. 

With its VeggieEskwela program (fomerly called ‘Oh My Gulay- Tanim sa Kinabukasan’) launched in 2012, East-West Seed Foundation has been creating awareness among Filipino families on the importance of eating nutritious food, and learning how to grow their own food. The program offers various learning sessions and training programs that equip more Filipinos, from community members, teachers and students to plant vegetables the right way. 

“By teaching people how to grow their own food, they will have easy access to healthy and nutritious food. We are assured of food security,” shared Senator Cynthia Villar who is the Chairman and Founder of Villar SIPAG Foundation, one of EWSF’s long-time partners. 

To date, VeggiEskwela program has reached more than 27,000 school children and 2,000 teachers in more than one thousand schools and 200 barangays nationwide.

VeggiEskwela trainees harvesting their fresh vegetables

When the pandemic hit in 2020, VeggiEskwela shifted to become an online learning initiative to reach more people while ensuring the safety of its participants. This led to the introduction of the VeggiEskwela Home Gardening Webinar series that offers 15 webinar topics on vegetable production, designed to provide participants with knowledge and skills to successfully grow their own vegetables at home, school or community.

EWSF, in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd), is also supporting the Gulayan sa Paaralan initiative with the introduction of VeggiEskwela: Training of Trainers (TOT) program. Through the Veggieskwela TOT, teachers get the opportunity to expand their skills and knowledge in vegetable gardening and become certified VeggiEskwela trainers not only to their students but in their respective communities as well. 

EWSF also worked with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to help families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) establish and sustain their household vegetable gardens,  with the aim to increase household food security and contribute to the improvement of the overall health of the 4Ps beneficiaries.

“We have been partners [with EWSF] since 2018. As a result of this partnership, a number of our parent leaders have increased their knowledge in gardening, farming technologies and establishment of communal gardens…We really encourage all the 4.4 million beneficiaries to have backyard gardens,” said  Director Gemma Gabuya, National Program Manager of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).

VeggiEskwela trainees sowing leafy vegetables on their communal garden

“In the next years, we will continue with our commitment to reach and train more Filipinos by partnering with other stakeholders to have more vegetable gardens in different areas across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. If more Filipinos will learn how to grow their own food, we will be able to help address the food security and malnutrition problems in the country, one seed, one vegetable garden at a time,” says van Tooren. 

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