‘Food insecurity’

Published May 12, 2021, 12:49 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

With the national elections scheduled a year from now, it is quite understandable if some sectors of society – mostly commentators, political observers, and supporters and campaigners of known political personalities – are occasionally preoccupied with the results of pre-election surveys.

But it has been said often enough, to the point that it may as well be considered a truism, that the only survey that matters is how the people feel about their current situation, or to be precise, their perception of the daily realities of survival, especially during this pandemic.  Not only will this shape the campaigns of national candidates, but it will also define the public’s choice of their next leaders and the kind of government they want.

The result of a nationwide survey made public last week offers a glimpse of these daily realities. And these results should be studied intently by those who aspire for higher office.

A government survey on the extent of hunger during the pandemic conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) showed that moderate to severe “food insecurity” rose to 62.1 percent during the pandemic, from 40.2 percent the previous year.

A household is categorized by the FNRI as “food insecure” based on several indicators, among them if family members worry about food, are not  able to eat the food they prefer or like, or eat just a few kinds of foods. Falling into this category are those who eat smaller meals or fewer meals a day, do not have food of any kind in the household, and those who go to sleep hungry or spend an entire day and night without eating.

Results of the poll, which was conducted from Nov. 3 to Dec. 3 2020, also showed that food insecurity peaked between April and May last year during the enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Malacañang, reacting to the survey, said it was “saddened” by the high incidence of food insecurity. Unlike surveys conducted by private polling firms, the FNRI survey cannot be openly discredited or disputed since it is a government-run survey.

What a Palace official emphasized is that government has programs to address widespread hunger, and to provide aid to those who cannot find work or are unable to work.

One solution, according to this official, is to encourage Filipinos to grow their own food, referring to community or backyard gardening and urban agriculture, and require students to plant vegetables in schools.

Note, however, that these so-called interventions are prospective in nature. None of them appear to address the urgent need to put food on the tables of millions of Filipinos. And government is apparently skirting the broader implications of the survey results, the key takeaway that is evident: that whatever government has been doling out is simply not enough to mitigate hunger.

As we enter the second year of the pandemic and endure yet another cycle of restrictions on our movements and the operations of businesses, the void in government’s presence is more pronounced, and the demand for it more felt among the poor and even the middle class.

These are uncertain times. Even our leaders have declared that things will get worse before they get better. But it would have been better if such sporadic moments of candidness from our leaders are followed not by empty assurances but the announcement of measures that are concrete and can be felt directly by the people.

The community pantries continue to thrive as an example of people taking over where government fails. They thrive because they fill a void, and because tragedy and uncertainty are among the greatest motivators for acts of sharing and kindness. Government can learn a lot from the community pantries, particularly the speed and efficiency in the operations of some pantries. Yet it chooses not to. Instead, some government officials had branded them as communist-inspired.

Perhaps the outpouring of compassion through the community pantries may not be a sustainable undertaking. But they do give hope for people who stare at the stark reality of hunger daily. They address the here and now, which is a whole lot better than some amorphous promise of jobs and food in an undetermined future.

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