Multiple urban container garden sites, plant risers, tetrapots and compost soil in the Philippines

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From calamity to community enterprise

Hill, A and Rom, J, ‘Opportunities from Ondoy: from calamity to community enterprise’, Resource Management in Asia Pacific Seminar, Australian National University, 24 February 2011.

A community enterprise program is helping Metro Manila recover from the devastation of typhoon Ondoy. ANN HILL and JOJO ROM report.

or more than a decade community or social enterprise has been used as a strategy for local economic development in the Philippines and elsewhere, particularly in communities where people are poor and economically marginalised.

May-an Villalba, Director of Unlad Kabayan, a non-government organisation pioneering social enterprise development in the Philippines explains:

A social entrepreneur recognises a social problem and employs entrepreneurial skills to develop and manage a venture that creates social change. Whereas a business entrepreneur measures performance in terms of profits and returns, a social entrepreneur measures her [or his] success in terms of the impact her venture has on society.1

Yet social enterprise development projects have been criticised as too utopian and idealistic and as isolated attempts to rethink economic development.2 Taking these concerns on board, our interest is twofold: how to cluster social enterprise development so that widespread community benefit is realised; and how to build sustainable enterprises better placed to deal with ‘calamities’.

To examine these aims we draw on a large-scale enterprise development project—the Banaba Livelihood Rebuilding Project (BLRP)—involving more than 1500 households in the barangay (ward) of Banaba in the municipality of San Mateo Metro Manila; this took place as part of livelihood rebuilding after typhoon Ondoy in 2009.


Approved projects include urban container gardening (350 member households), organic compost production (150 households), tetrapot production (432 households) and fiberglass fabrication (100 households). The ‘scale-up’ implications of pooling human and financial resources are significant. For example the start-up capital allocated to tetrapot production of PPh 1.4 million ($A 31 300) enabled the group to buy sewing machines and to set up a small factory in Banaba.

The start-up capital of PPh 847,000.00 (A$18 300) allocated to urban container gardening enabled the group to develop multiple urban container garden sites, with purpose-built plant risers, and to purchase the tetrapots and compost soil needed for large-scale production.

Enterprises in the GBCA scheme are designed to be interdependent and to create a market for each other’s finished products. For example, the compost enterprise makes a growing medium for container gardening and sells it to the urban container gardening enterprise. The tetrapot enterprise turns discarded waste Tetra Paks into tetrapots to grow vegetables and sells them to the urban container gardening enterprise. The fiberglass fabrication enterprise makes waste collection bins and compost barrels and sells them to the compost enterprise. We are calling this deliberate strategy—integrating enterprises based on the products and services they can offer each other—‘social enterprise clustering’.6

The BLRP, and tetrapots in particular, has met with early success. The people’s organisation Buklod Tao, a key actor in the project, is rapidly developing as a hub of ideas and has demonstrated best practice in urban container gardening. It is attracting many visitors and becoming a tourist landmark. SECAP is coordinated from the Bulod Tao From calamity to community enterprise


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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.