Food security must be top priority

Published May 21, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines food security as a condition when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Referring to this definition, are we, as a country, experiencing food security? Or are we undergoing the opposite, which is food scarcity?

The foundation of food security is a robust, thriving, and sustainable agriculture and fisheries sector. No food security can be derived from exporting all the food that our population needs. It is only through enhancing the productivity of our farmers and fisherfolks can we all sleep at night knowing that there is food at our table the next morning.

Food security must also be a priority of the incoming administration. In fact, early this week, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar called on Filipinos to “set aside politics for the sake of agriculture.” “(There must be) no political colors as long as we talk about agriculture.”

In a statement from DA, Dar appealed to the next chief executive to give more focus on agriculture, given that its share only accounts for 1.7 percent of the annual budget, significantly lower than that of our ASEAN neighbors, which vary from four to six percent.

“After the elections, we should use the sector of agriculture to bring unity of purpose in order to transform this underinvested, under-budgeted, very neglected sector of the economy,” Dar said during the event which saw the official launch of the updated National Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization and Industrialization Plan (NAFMIP). The NAFMIP “shall serve as a directional plan for the sector’s growth in the coming years.”

“With NAFMIP, the succeeding leadership in agriculture will not start from zero; you have a document that (the next administration) can further strengthen,” said Dar. “For perspective, never has a more detailed strategic plan for the agriculture sector been drawn up since the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997.”

The NAFMIP is an important plan since it is not just about production, but also considers the entire value chain system and even beyond food systems to ensure food security, improve nutrition, raise incomes, and achieve resiliency and sustainability.

“We need to unlock that potential with political will, with the declaration that one of the topmost priorities of the government is agriculture, and that significant budgetary sources must be afforded to Philippine agriculture now and in the future,” Dar added.

NAFMIP also aims to guide the agricultural development programs and investments of partners from other national government agencies, local government units, and various stakeholders in the private sector as the plan promotes synergy.

Described by Dar as a “living” document, the overarching goal of the NAFMIP is to give first priority to enhancing the productivity, profitability, and competitiveness of Filipinos farmers and fisherfolks “as investing in them is also akin to investing in a future of economic growth and prosperity for all Filipinos.”

In 40 days, there will be a change of leadership in Malacanang. We call on our next leaders to carefully consider relevant studies developed by the current administration such as the NAFMIP. The NAFMIP is a roadmap for food security that must not be set aside or ignored, as doing so is detrimental not only to food producers but more so for the 112 million Filipino consumers.