LOOK: These UP, PUP students propose solution to food insecurity

An impressive proposal that would help promote sustainable food production through community gardens and vermiculture hubs impressed the panel of judges at this year’s ASEAN Data Science Explorers (ASEAN DSE) Philippines National Finals, in collaboration with SAP SE (NYSE: SAP) held last month.

The proponents of this pitch are a duo who hailed from two different state universities. This dynamic team called Team Paradocs is composed of Prince Jewel Federe, a senior BS in Computer Science student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines – Manila (PUP), and Kim Carlo Monloy, a senior BS in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology student from the University of the Philippines – Diliman (UP).

Team Paradocs was among the chosen finalists from applicants across the country for the ASEAN DSE. Now in its sixth year, this competition continues to empower youth from across the region through virtual enablement sessions and competitions held at the national and regional levels. Participants were tasked to develop data analytics storyboards or proposals to address socio-economic issues, promoting ASEAN community awareness and the UN-SDGs within the region.

“At first, I was hesitant to join the ASEAN Data Science Explorers because even though I already had this initial idea, I did not know who I could partner with except for Kim, my close friend from senior high school. He is from UP, so we did not know if we were allowed to form a team because we were from different schools. We were also swamped with schoolwork. But, despite all this, we decided to give it a go and, luckily, we were allowed to participate in the competition—that was when Team Paradocs and the project started,” Prince said.

Helping solve a pressing social issue

In their pitch presentation, Prince and Kim touched on promoting sustainable ways of consuming and upcycling food, which is relevant nowadays since food security remains an issue in the SEA region.

In 2020, the state of food security and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific had gotten worse. According to a joint report recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), more than 375 million people in the region are experiencing hunger, an increase of 54 million compared to the previous year.

Inadequate access to nourishing foods has also increased along with hunger. In this region alone, more than one billion people lacked access to adequate food in 2020, an increase of about 150 million people in just one year, according to the 2021 Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition report.

“We first looked at the SDGs and the pressing social problems we want to address through our project. We found out that while many experience food insecurity, so much food is also being wasted. So, we ensured that our project, though simple, was attainable, feasible, and could easily be understood. It does not have to be a super fancy suggestion or pitch; it must be doable to anyone and sustainable, as well,” Kim shared.

With his innate fascination with animals, Prince thought of focusing more on solving food security issues by promoting community gardens and vermiculture hubs.

“I take care of a lot of animals at home. And I was always enamored by the concept of balance in ecosystems. More than that, I liked recycling so much that my goal with the animals I care for was a net-zero waste system. So, I had a system of basic composting and vermiculture. From that, I expanded to what my team presented as Earthleigh,” Prince said.

With the Earthleigh project, people can grow their crops through the garden for food consumption and then use the leftover food from these crops to feed worms in a process called vermicomposting. This practice is an environmentally friendly way of reducing food scrap waste with the added boon of creating nutritious, rich compost for the garden where people can grow their crops again. Additionally, Team Paradocs included developing a mobile app, serving as a platform where people can get information on how to start and sustain their community gardens and vermiculture hubs.

With the help of SAP Analytics Cloud, a new generation of software as a service (SaaS) that redefines analytics in the cloud by bringing together analytics and planning in a single solution, Team Paradocs was able to collect all the data they needed for their proposal. All participants were granted full access to this software for storyboarding, planning, and data discovery.  

“For the most part, our game plan was for Prince to focus on the plan’s recommendation aspect. I mostly helped with the narrative of our storyboard and gathering the data leading up to our final recommendation. I used SAP Analytics Cloud to make sense of the data we gathered, and I feel like I could have explored more of its features. I enjoyed using it, and we learned a lot from this experience,” Kim noted.

A worthwhile experience

For Team Paradocs, being chosen as a contender and the eventual winner for the ASEAN DSE Philippine National Finals was a worthwhile experience. “Joining the ASEAN DSE was a life-changing decision. Through this competition, I didn’t know I’d find myself more grounded in the world’s problems. The UN-SDGs exist for a reason; because world problems exist,” Prince said.

Kim could not agree more. “Before joining the competition, I had no idea about data science. But I believe it’s not wrong to try something new. For those people who want to try it out, I say, go for it. You will learn how beautiful data is by joining competitions that advocate data science. Data on its own is nothing, but when you have a purpose and make sense of all available information, you’ll never know you’re already helping solve, if not alleviate, a pressing social problem,” he said.

Empowering effective leaders of tomorrow

This year’s ASEAN DSE competition saw 778 students from ten ASEAN countries competing to represent their country in the National Finals. Organized by the ASEAN Foundation and SAP, the program also collaborated with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and program alumni in ten ASEAN countries to deliver in-person enablement sessions to youth with limited access to technology and youth with disabilities. The continuous support and collaboration with NGOs and program alumni made it possible for the program to deliver SAP Analytics Cloud training to 3,619 underserved youths in 2022.

“The ASEAN DSE program seeks to support the Philippines’ current programs geared towards upskilling young Filipinos, as well as to empower ASEAN youths with essential digital skills, develop collaboration skills, ability to communicate ideas and to think critically. We believe these skills are vital for them to become effective leaders of tomorrow. We hope this program will inspire them to continue their data science journey,” said Rudy Abrahams, Managing Director of SAP Philippines.

Team Paradocs is set to represent the Philippines for the Regional Finals of the ASEAN DSE 2022, which will take place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 10-12 October 2022. They will compete with all the national qualifiers from among the nine other ASEAN countries.

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