After college, Ryan with partners, Enzo Pinga and Illian Pascual, wanted to do something “game changing” in Philippine agriculture. The three friends turned to vertical farming, which is growing plants in urban areas instead of traditional farming. All energy used is renewable and there is no wasted output.
“We discovered aquaponics, the technology for vertical farming,” explained Ryan.
Aquaponics is an urban farming method that grows plants without using soil. “This concept can bring food closer to those who need it. It will make food accessible to more Filipinos. It can solve hunger and malnutrition -- problems that ail our country,” explained Ryan.
From the start, Ryan and partners encountered difficulties. There were no aquaponics resource persons in the Philippines, so Ryan went to Australia to learn about this method.
“There are many problems in Philippine agriculture. We lack the proper inputs to make the soil fertile, the knowledge to build upon old farming techniques and we lack the younger people who want to go into agriculture,” Ryan said.
Agriculture is interconnected with other problems the country has, Ryan believes. “If we are able to change Filipinos’ mindsets then we can solve most agricultural issues,” he said.
Their low moments were discouraging. “We didn’t win the funding competition. Our prototypes were not working. We knew if we lost funding we had to survive as a social enterprise. We felt no one supported us.”
Ryan knew the only way to survive was to get over disappointments and start again. Today, Bahay Kubo Organics has proudly built four aquaponic farms and about 10 smaller prototypes. Ryan, as chief farmer, does regular workshops to show how to set up urban farming. Recently, BKO launched “BK Eats” serving healthy menus and beverages made from their farm’s produce. With crowd-sourcing funds, Bahay Kubo Organics’ future plans in its Las Piñas location include building a larger urban farm, a full-size restaurant and building more vertical farms to encourage self-sustainable communities in city living.
“Urban farming matters. It gives us a sense of security about food.” Ryan Aguas is giving back even before the world has given him anything. He is paying the world forward. Ryan and Bahay Kubo Organics are turning challenges into opportunities.
"I am proud to be Filipino in spite of the realities about our country. I value most the desire for change. I want to live in a better country, a better world. I want to do my part to see that change.”
Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey, is a journalist, food writer and member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). She blogs about Filipino home cooking and culinary travels to the Philippines on her site AsianInAmericamag.com.
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