Ending hunger in the Philippines


Lahat Kasali. Lahat Kasalo.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles

On November 10, I joined members of the private sector to launch a movement called Pilipinas Kontra Gutom, a multi-sectoral movement involving the government, the academe, non-profit organizations, and some of the biggest private corporations in the country — such as Coca-Cola, Dole Philippines, J&J Philippines, McDonald’s, Metrobank, and San Miguel Corporation.

The name of this initiative explicitly states the movement’s objective: To combat hunger. Hunger, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is defined as “an uncomfortable or painful physical sensation caused by insufficient consumption of dietary energy.” Everyone, at one point or are other, has experienced this, either by choice or by force of circumstance. There are, for example, some popular diets today that require you to skip meals and fast for extended periods of time in order to lose weight.

Unfortunately, for many of our countrymen, hunger is not a choice, but a reality they must face on a regular basis because they simply cannot afford to eat the adequate quantity and the right quality of food. This is called “involuntary hunger,” and, per the FAO, it becomes chronic “when the person does not consume a sufficient amount of calories (dietary energy) on a regular basis to lead a normal, active and healthy life.”

A persistent concern in the Philippines, data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic saw the government making steady progress into reducing the incidence of involuntary hunger. In 2019, the average hunger rate was at its lowest since 2003; a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey revealed that the average annual hunger rate in 2019 was 9.3% — four full percentage points lower than in 2016, when it was at 13.3%.

Notwithstanding this positive development, President Rodrigo Duterte created the Zero Hunger Task Force (ZHTF) earlier this year because he believes that one hungry Filipino is one Filipino too many. Ultimately, the goal of this Task Force is to eradicate hunger by 2030, and one of its first milestones was the launching of the National Food Policy (NFP) last month. The NFP aims to consolidate and harmonize all government efforts of government to address hunger — an issue that has become even more pressing given the rising incidence of involuntary hunger as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the strategies of the ZHTF to beat hunger is to mobilize various sectors in our efforts to address its various facets. Pilipinas Kontra Gutom is a productive step in the right direction, and a positive sign for those of us who recognize that a whole of country, multi-sectoral campaign will better enable us to successfully address issues related to involuntary hunger, such as food production, food distribution and accessibility, and hidden hunger and malnutrition.