Food security

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

If you take long drives to the provinces, you will see not only mountain ranges in the horizon, pristine white sand beaches, and the thousands of islands that make up our archipelagic country.

Wherever you’re heading, you’re sure to see sprawling agricultural lands as far as the eye can see;  long piles of palay or rice grain on provincial highways; sun-baked farmers bent down planting seeds or tilling their different farms; and fishermen on decrepit fishing boats docked along the country’s ports to unload their catch.

The Philippines is no doubt one of the world’s major food baskets, an agricultural country with a land area of roughly 30 million hectares, nearly half of which is agricultural land.

“We have a land so fertile that one Israeli agriculturist once said the Philippines could produce enough food to feed the world, and seas so wide and islands so plentiful we could not even get the exact number,” the Department of Agriculture said.

Yet, problems have hindered the growth of the sector for decades now – lack of infrastructure on irrigation, farm-to-market roads, corruption, smuggling, farmers’ access to capital, and a comprehensive food security road map.  The pandemic worsened the situation.

Buying local

One way to help our farmers and fishermen survive, recover, and thrive is to buy local products. It is not the only solution, and it will not solve the problems I mentioned overnight, but it will greatly help our agricultural producers.

A few weeks ago, I attended a virtual meeting organized by food security advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan and I was moved by the discussions on the plight of the industry; of how badly they were affected by the pandemic, especially by the hard lockdowns that prevented them from bringing their products to consumers.

To help cushion the impact of this problem, the group urged Filipino consumers to patronize Philippine-made products, especially during the holiday season.

This is a very practical and doable call. It is our duty as consumers to respond.

Native fruits, pork, fish, chicken

There are many native and locally available fruits like sinturis (mandarin orange), pineapple, and lanzones, which can also be included in fruit baskets during New Year’s Eve, Tugon Kabuhayan convener Asis Perez said during the forum.

Nikki Garcia of Vitarich, said there is more than enough chicken supply in the country to last years.

By buying local, she said, “consumers not only feed their families, but actually feed all families that help bring fresh chicken to our tables.”

Fresh Options CEO Robert Lo, on the other hand, said 60 percent of local pork production comes from backyard producers whose production undergo strict quality control.

For local fruits and vegetables, Sentrong Pamilihan (Sariaya) administrator Carlo Cena said buying local supports not only local farmers, but also the community as more jobs are created for porters, drivers, and others in the supply chain. Sentrong Pamilihan has almost 2,000 farmer members.

For the local bangus sector, Sarangani Bay’s Andrew Borbon said bangus exports are patronized by many Filipinos abroad. He encouraged Filipinos here to buy the products as well, especially this holiday season.

Immerse guests in local food

I also very much agree with Chit Juan, the indefatigable social entrepreneur who posted an appeal on social media. She urged hotel operators to immerse quarantine quests in local food – from locally produced fruits, instead of cheap apples and oranges from China; to local coffee to traditional dishes such as Adobo and Sinigang to our favorite snacks such as Turon to heirloom rice or adlai.

“The Philippines has a rich heritage of food flavors. Let’s not make it just the easy way always – serving the cheapest food with no thought of promoting local culture and local food...Think of it as an opportunity to share our best food and drinks with them. It will come back to you and your business a hundred fold. Think about it,” Juan said.

Ella’s harvest adlai

Speaking of adlai, I recently tried Ella’s Harvest Adlai, owned by entrepreneurial couple Ryan and Ella Stephanie Uy, and it is a gastronomic delight. Adlai is an heirloom grain packed with health benefits. Ella’s Harvest is sourced from the indigenous people of Bukidnon. It is available at S&R and Lander’s Superstores, as well as in select outlets online.

The same proponents also have raw brown organic muscovado sugar, produced by Raw Brown Sugar Milling Co., a family-owned company in Negros Oriental. The products are made purely from 100 percent sugarcane juice from their own organic farm land. This is also available in select stores nationwide.

Rebuilding the local economy by buying local

Food security is strongest when food is produced and distributed locally. Furthermore, locally grown food is fresher and more nutritious, and helps build the local economy.

Indeed, there are countless advantages to buying local. Admittedly, such products are not always cheaper, but if you look at the long-term benefits, it’s money that is ploughed back to our economy, our fellow Filipinos, and this country we love most.

And isn’t that priceless?



Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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