Can gardening be a solution to the food crisis due to COVID-19?

Fava beans planted at Hayes Valley Farm, San Francisco (Zoey Kroll)

The COVID-19 pandemic not only ransacked the health and economic order but also triggered a world food crisis. We must prepare for two economic problems: the imbalance of the food by import activities and restrictions on supply from exporting countries.

It has been four months since the world worked hard against SARS-CoV-2 that infected more than two million people in 210 countries. To break the chain of the spread of the virus, some countries carry out a national lockdown while the United States, with more than 700 thousand cases, has chosen to place self-quarantine.

The policy then raises another problem that is no less complicated: the food crisis. As a result of quarantine or restriction, a number of food distribution lines have been cut off; stockpiling has occurred, and its prices have jumped.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned of the threat of the world food crisis as a result of the endless COVID-19 outbreak. Countries whose food depends on imports are vulnerable to being affected by slowing trade volumes, especially if their currencies are weakening.

This situation has some similarities with the 2014 Ebola outbreak. When Ebola broke out, the agricultural supply chain was interrupted. Many farmers could not grow or sell their crops. In Liberia alone, 47 percent of farmers stopped farming. The food deficit then pushed up the prices of key commodities and raised nutritional problems and reduced household purchasing power.

In the present situation, exporting countries are facing the same pandemic. They certainly prioritize their people's stomach rather than the livelihoods of other countries. Now is the right time for the government to organize the food system and encourage people to use community gardens and food diversification.

It's American gardening time

Urban communities can use raised-bed gardening in the balcony. This method forms a planting medium in three- to four-foot wide. If you do not have a balcony or courtyard, plants can be placed in potting media with a verticulture system.

Choose the type of plant according to geographical conditions. Urban residents can try lowland vegetables that are quite "stubborn" like kale or spinach. The care of both is not too difficult and relatively can be harvested quickly. Simply fertilize them, water them twice a day, and get the sunlight for at least six hours per day. Kale and spinach have a short harvest period, which is 21 days.

In addition to the two vegetables, there are still other food commodities that can be planted independently, such as tomatoes with a harvest period of 60 days, chilis 70 days, tubers 80 days, cucumbers 75 days, eggplants 90 days, or mustard greens and caisim that are harvested for at least 40 days after planting.

Gardening for personal consumption can save on vegetable shopping and transportation costs by 50 to 60 percent.

The advanced level of gardening is using the aquaponics system. This system offers two benefits at once: the availability of vegetables and protein from freshwater fish farming. However, if it is too difficult, growing vegetables in a pot is enough to meet the daily needs of the family.

Win the war with gardening

World War I has changed the consumption patterns of the people of the United States and several other countries such as Britain, Canada, Australia, and Germany. Those who initially depended on the state for their daily consumption must produce their own vegetables, fruit, and protein sources.

At that time, the number of farmers was drastically reduced due to the recruitment of military services. The remaining agricultural land was also destroyed by the war while the country's products must be used to meet army food supplies.

People were then asked to do the gardening to help reduce the price of vegetables and save on state expenditure. By gardening, they helped the country suppress food funds to strengthen the military. They also saved themselves, the potential soldiers, and health workers from starvation.

The book titled Eating for Victory, Jill Norman wrote that the American folk gardening program was called the victory garden program. At that time, Americans were gardening everywhere: rooftops, emergency stairs, backyards, in every vacant lot.

Around 20 small estates owned by residents in 1944 were able to produce eight million tons of food. That amount was equivalent to more than 40 percent of the total consumption of fresh American fruits and vegetables.

Usually, residents grew potatoes, beets, cabbage, and vegetables. In addition, they were also asked to raise chickens to use their eggs. The victory garden campaign began in 1918 and continued through World War II.

Although not involved in a literal war, in the fight against COVID-19, we can implement food self-sufficiency similar to World War I and II, rather than having to scramble and expect food prices to return to normal as before.