Curbing hunger amid higher inflation


Rikki Mathay

Last month’s recorded inflation of 8.7 percent alongside the constant price hikes on basic commodities have been in the headlines of news nearly everyday – from price hikes in agricultural products including onions, fish, flour, to canned goods and even batteries. Compared to the same period in 2022, food inflation at the national level rose by 0.6 percent this 2023 considering that the country has been on a supposed road to recovery post pandemic. Core inflation, which represents the long run trend in the price level, climbed by 6.5 percent and this excludes changing food prices to which the Philippines has been vulnerable to.

At face value, this is such an irony, when we have been known as an agricultural country with 47 percent of our 30 million hectare land area being agricultural lands. However, another consideration is the fact that our farmlands are constantly battered by typhoons. In fact, the Philippines has been identified as “the most disaster-prone country in the world due to its high risk, exposure, and vulnerability to disasters and calamities” as per the World Risk Report 2022.

And, these disastrous onslaught of typhoons and floods even in rural areas in recent months, in addition to other political issues, continued to pummel agricultural production consequently leading to higher food prices

The most vulnerable to these price increases on essential goods are of course the low income earners of our society. Natixis Corporate and Investment Banking’s data shows that as of last year, the Philippines already ranks as the third most “food-insecure country” in Asia closely following India, and Thailand.

While the government persistently doles out targeted subsidies and discounts to assuage the effects of price hikes particularly on food, self-sufficiency in terms of feeding our people must be prioritized through bolstering our food production and expansion of policies to curb inflation.

Aside from our existing policy of fertilizer subsidy, there are other considerations our national government must take into account. This includes price controls as well as fuel subsidies – policies that our neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea – have already been implementing. Policies on enhancing efficiency of logistics and food delivery, building public infrastructure, as well as programs aimed at developing people to eventually be self-sufficient through skills training programs, and providing access to microfinance, must be explored.

More than these government policies, constant collaborative efforts with reputable non government organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Society (IFRC) recognized for its commitment to ensuring long term food security through pragmatic policies and programs, must likewise be strengthened.

Taking a cue from the Red Cross’ policy on food security, our government needs to formulate policies that are not merely band-aid solutions. This includes supporting employment and income generation which has been a key coping mechanism of people affected by food insecurity. “Food security programming can encompass many different interventions depending on the objective of the program. Examples of food security interventions include water for irrigation, livestock or health, seeds distribution or seed bank development, cash or food for work projects and food aid.”

As our national government is mapping out long term solutions, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), is essential in protecting as many Filipinos against the food price hikes and shortage.

DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian appears to be on the right track as he recently discussed long term partnerships with the United Nations (UN) to end poverty and hunger.

“One of the priorities that I am trying to pitch is fighting poverty,” Secretary Gatchalian said.

Gatchalian added, “To end poverty, the department should first address the hunger problem that many communities across the country are experiencing. One of the steps to take is to come up with digital food stamps that can be used by its recipients to buy goods in grocery stores and supermarkets. The department aims to mobilize enumerators to identify the individuals and families who are experiencing hunger, specifically targeting the 1.5 million households in pockets of poverty.”

UN Representative Gustavo González commits to provide the necessary technical assistance, as well as the resources needed to roll out DSWD’s proposal of ending hunger amid the inflation and other national issues that beleaguer our economy.

Fulfilling “zero hunger” in the Philippines, is utopian, suffice to say, it is highly unlikely to happen in the conceivable future. Hence, given all these considerations, the government must focus on policies and programs for the nation to achieve the more feasible and pragmatic goal of self-sufficiency which is our best armor against volatile variables that impact our people’s basic right to food.