Food security is paramount

Published June 28, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina


Former Senator
Atty. Joey Lina

Food, along with air and water, is undoubtedly the most essential human need. So essential that it’s among the most basic in the Hierarchy of Needs of renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow.
With food being a basic necessity, it isn’t surprising if its scarcity or inaccessibility leads to massive social unrest or even street riots as what happened in the past in many countries. The high cost of food, some contend, also triggered the wave of social upheaval known as the Arab Spring in the last decade.

At present, rising food prices are higher than those experienced during the Arab Spring uprising. And many are worried over the increasing risk of violence arising from a looming food shortage worldwide.
Many factors have created a so-called perfect storm for a global food crisis. Climate change, which is affecting food production, and the Russia-Ukraine war that disrupted the global supply chain are the top factors that triggered the current crisis in global food security.

In the World Bank report titled “Rising food insecurity in 2022” released last June 22, the WB noted “many countries are facing growing levels of food insecurity, reversing years of development gains, and threatening the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

The report seemed to aptly describe the Philippine situation when it said: “Numerous countries are experiencing high food price inflation at the retail level, reflecting labor shortages, a sharp rise in the price of fertilizer, currency devaluations, and other factors. Rising food prices have a greater impact on people in low- and middle-income countries since they spend a larger share of their income on food than people in high-income countries.” The WB report also warned of a dire situation in next two years. Citing its April 2022 Commodity Markets Outlook, the WB said the “the war in Ukraine has altered global patterns of trade, production, and consumption of commodities in ways that will keep prices at historically high levels through the end of 2024 exacerbating food insecurity and inflation.”

And what would “exacerbating food insecurity and inflation” mean for us? It means more Filipinos would go hungry amid the skyrocketing prices of food.

The hunger rate in the Philippines might even exceed the all-time high of 30.7 percent in September last year at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Around 7.6 million Filipino families went hungry that time, a Social Weather Stations survey said.

And along with the rise in hunger rate is the rise of the various forms of malnutrition, particularly stunting and wasting, plaguing Filipino children. The data on stunting is disturbing: one in three Filipino children is irreversibly stunted by the age of two due to lack of nutritious food.

Thus, ensuring food security is extremely urgent and of utmost concern – probably more than any other issue under the sun.

Effective measures need to be put in place, sooner rather than later, to keep food prices not only from spiraling out of control, but to bring them to manageable levels, especially for the poor who are hardest hit in hard times.

The incoming administration of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. obviously realizes the paramount importance of food security. The decision of the president-elect that he himself must be at the helm of the Department of Agriculture speaks volumes.

But the necessary actions to ensure food security and soaring food prices must be performed not only by the national government, but also by local government units as well. I’ve often said that many solutions to national problems are local.

The president-elect certainly knows the importance of LGUs uniting in concerted efforts with the national government. When I was Laguna governor and national president of the League of Provinces in the early 2000s, provinces competed in a food security program. Ilocos Norte, led by then Governor Marcos, was among the most successful.

LGUs can mobilize people to increase productivity and augment supply to lower prices of food. Former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor, when he once guested in my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan which I used to host, cited the importance of urban agriculture.

He said that when Cuba was suffering from widespread hunger resulting from the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the late 1980s, Cubans planted fruits, vegetables, even herbs, and raised chickens in almost every place feasible – in their apartments, rooftops, in balconies.

LGUs can also establish and intensify the Food Always In The Home (FAITH) program that I created in 1995 in Laguna. The highly successful program, which has since been adopted by the National Nutrition Council, enabled people to produce clean nutritious food in their backyards, thereby reducing home food costs by as much as 50 percent while improving family nutrition.

Indeed, so much can be done with LGUs and the national government working with the people to ensure food security.

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