Today is Mother’s Day and as a Filipino mother of two girls and Deputy Executive Director of Arugaan, a Filipino NGO which protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding, it is a great opportunity to share our recipe to ensure our children’s healthy development: breastmilk and fresh, indigenous, seasonal food that doesn’t contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.

Breast milk is a primary nutritional source essential for the children’s overall health and wellbeing. Infants at the Arugaan’s crèche are breast fed for as long as possible by their mothers or wet nurses.In the past few months, there’s been news about the impending commercialization of GE ‘Golden’ rice; a GE rice aimed at producing beta carotene and enhancing Vitamin A levels amongst deficient children and mothers. GE ‘Golden’ rice is touted by its proponents and supporters to be the solution to vitamin A deficiency (VAD), especially in developing countries.

However, VAD should not be an issue in a food-rich and biologically diverse country like the Philippines. To start with, during the first six months of a baby’s life, the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) state that breastfeeding can provide for 100% of a child’s nutritional needs. Between six and twelve months, a child gets a half or more their nutritional needs from breast milk. In the second year of life, the child gets up to one-third of their nutritional needs from breast milk.

For example, I breastfed my daughter until she was four years old. Breast milk is food, nutrition, medicine, economics, ecology and love.

In our experience at Arugaan, children breastfed by biological or surrogate mothers visibly benefit in terms of health and well-being, both in the short- and long-term. Sometimes, the difference between infant formula and breast milk can mean life or death for a child prone to diseases and living in poor conditions.

Pumpkins, squash flowers, water spinach and other vegetables are rich in vitamins (including pro-vitamin A) and minerals. These vegetables are widely available in local markets of the Philippines or can be grown in backyards and communal gardens.It is also important to complement breastfeeding with healthy foods. Breastmilk can be supplemented as the child develops with nutritious fruits rich in beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A) like mangoes, papaya, sweet camote, or moringa leaves, indigenous to the Philippines, which are four times richer in beta-carotene than carrots.

Ironically, all these crops are part of the rich and biologically diverse agriculture landscape in the Philippines.

We at Arugaan actively promote this combination of breastfeeding and healthy foods everyday at our crèche in Manila. At our crèche, we enrol children from 2 months to 3 years of age and we feed them with breast milk for as long as possible. Working mothers leave their expressed breastmilk at the crèche and most of our caregivers are also wetnurses.

We also prepare dishes blending the most vitamin-rich ingredients such as squash, sweet potatoes, moringa leaves, gourd etc. All made with love.

Women farmers at work at Sarilaya’s center, Palayan City, Philippines Women meet regularly for training and skill sharing at the Ilaw demonstration trial farm, a training center run by NGO Sarilaya. Sarilaya (gender freedom) was set up in 1994 and is committed to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality.We buy food in season because we believe that Mother Nature provides us with fruits and vegetables when our bodies most need them: mangoes in April, avocadoes in June, and lemons/calamondin in September.

We also are sure to follow the teachings of our forefathers and ancestors who, throughout the centuries, developed natural and balanced diets to fulfill our nutritional needs. GE foods like Golden rice are simply unnecessary in the Philippines’ context of natural food diversity.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel, but only pass on our ancestors’ knowledge to future generations.

In our opinion, the real and long-term solution to the nutrition deficiency problem the Philippines suffers from is to promote breastfeeding across the country. We consider it a human right. We also believe that breastmilk combined with the natural foods our country has to offer can provide for the nutrition of mothers, infants and young children.

Finally, we believe in empowering mothers and women by teaching them how to prepare cheap indigenous food to nourish their families. If you give mothers a plate, no child will go hungry.

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Velvet RoxasVelvet Escario Roxas is the Deputy Executive Director at Arugaan Toddler Centre, a crèche in Quezon City, Metro Manila. She is the mother of J.Hye and Vo’Gel and husband to Adam. She lives in Quezon City.

Arugaan which means ‘to fully nurture with lifetime commitment’ in Filipino, is a NGO based in the Philippines, which protects, promotes and support breastfeeding and maternal nutrition. The NGO upholds the WHO/UNICEF GSIYCF (Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding).

Arugaan is also involved in maternal, infant and young child feeding in emergencies and nationwide programs. Arugaan strongly believes that the combination of breastfeeding and indigenous foods is the best way to ensure a healthy and balanced diet for babies and children.