A group of battle-tested soldiers could not just let go of the survival tactics they lived to die by showing the way to “aquaponics” even inside Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) located at the heart of Quezon City, where they were currently assigned after half of their life in service spent in countless battles from 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 7th Civil Relations Group (7th CRG), a small support unit of the AFP Civil Relations Service (CRS), led by their commander, Lt. Col. Samuel Sagun, how they were able to maximize every small available space to grow vegetables and raise ‘tilapia’, ‘dalag’, catfish and eel in small ponds just 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 experimental stage, we’re already benefiting from it for our food supplement. It’s a big help, really,” Sagun said.
Sagun said the lovely aquaponics site in front of their office they called it “peace pond and garden for peace”, to give emphasis the military’s anti-insurgency campaign line “Bayanihan”, or the Internal Peace and Security Program (IPSP).
How Sagun and his men discovered aquaponics? Thanks to Rev. Father Rocky Evangelista, the head of Don Bosco’s Tuloy Foundation located in Alabang, an institution that caters the needs of abandoned street children.
“Yes we can! These are the words of Fr. Evangelista that inspired us to start an endeavor that we believed is immediately doable even without writing a project proposal for fund. Last January 12, he invited us to visit their aquaponics and we’re surprised to see how easy to do it. 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 materials that are reusable and recyclable. Plant boxes were converted into fish ponds, which they would later call “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 ‘balikabayan’ boxes of assorted vegetable seeds.
“What would we do with a lot of vegetable seeds? We distributed these seeds to soldiers and non-government organizations practicing backyard gardening in to as far as Mindanao. In fact, Mr. Albert Santoli, president of AAI, has eve 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 support 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.
Foto1: Lt. Col. Sagun in a huddle with his men plant vegetable seedlings in plastic bags and wood and plastic pads.
Foto2: Tilapia “peace pond”.
Foto3 to 8: Lt. Col. Sagun supervises the harvesting of catfish and tilapia from the “peace pond and garden of peace” in front of the 7th CRG office.
Foto9: A view of the aquaponics on the left front side of 7th CRG office.
Foto10 and 13: Catfish harvest.
Foto11 and 12, 14, 15, 17: Imported fruit-bearing beans, bottled beans, alugbati and pechay in the “peace pond a garden of peace”.
Foto17: Lt. Col. Sagun and Capt. Gabrido receive pockets of seeds donation from Mr. Santoli, AAI president, and Bai Rohaniza Sumndad Usman, AAI country director.