Where do we start?

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

On the first hour, first working day of the new president, which one of the many urgent problems of the nation should he think of as top priority?

I think nothing is more important than food.

His promised P20/kilo rice will have to be backpedaled nicely if he listens to experts. There is no winning this one. He could end up killing almost all of our rice farmers, as Congressman Joey Salceda puts it, or increase our borrowings to finance a subsidy for consumers.

His inclination to resurrect the old functions of the  National Food Authority and effectively shelve the Rice Tariffication Law must also wait until he gets a full briefing on what the experience had been.

With the import price of rice and its availability affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it will be tempting to launch another self-sufficiency program, as if it is possible.

And speaking of Ukraine, availability of wheat in the world market is starting to dwindle and with that, prices are going up. Soon, our panaderos will be asking to be allowed to raise the price of pandesal.

That’s another headache coming soon.

That’s the thing. We import practically everything we eat because we can’t seem to produce competitively with imports.

Nothing wrong with importing most of a country’s food. That’s what Singapore does. But we don’t have enough export products to help earn the forex we need to import food. Not only that, we need to buy what our farmers uneconomically produce or poverty in the rural areas will worsen.

So, our urban workers end up paying more for their food than workers in other ASEAN countries. That spurs a demand for higher wages by labor in our manufacturing sector, making it difficult for us to compete in export markets.

Our agricultural sector is uncompetitive. Our industrial sector is uncompetitive. Were it not for OFWs and BPOs, we would be in real trouble.

But that’s the business side. On the social side, an international report has described us as chronically food insecure… Many of our people are often too poor to buy enough food to cover their nutritional needs.

The national Social Weather Survey of Dec. 12 to 16, 2021, found that 11.8 percent of Filipino families or an estimated three million experienced involuntary hunger – being hungry and not have anything to eat – at least once in the past three months.

IPC or Integrated Food Security Classification reports that “Around 64 percent of the population nationwide, which accounts for 54.9 million Filipinos, are chronically food insecure (IPC-Chronic level 2 and above)...

They analyzed 71 of our provinces and found out that four provinces, namely Lanao del Sur, Northern Samar, Occidental Mindoro and Sulu, have been classified in IPC-Chronic Level 4 (Severe chronic food insecurity), accounting for 658,000 people.

Some 48 provinces have been classified in IPC-Chronic Level 3 (Moderate chronic food insecurity), while the remaining 19 provinces have been classified in IPC-Chronic Level 2 (Mild chronic food insecurity).

“Approximately 21.6 million Filipinos are facing higher level chronic food insecurity (IPC-Chronic level 3 and 4). The population classified in IPC-Chronic Level 3 and 4 are of major concern, which is highest in Lanao del Sur, Occidental Mindoro, and Northern Samar (50 to 52 percent) followed by Sulu, Masbate, Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, and Saranggani (40 to 49 percent).

They defined their classifications as follows: “Severe chronic food insecurity (IPC level 4) is driven by poor food consumption quality, quantity, and high level of chronic undernutrition.

“In provinces at IPC level 3, quality of food consumption is worse than quantity; and chronic undernutrition is also a major problem.

“The most chronic food insecure people tend to be the landless poor households, indigenous people, population engaged in unsustainable livelihood strategies such as farmers, unskilled laborers, forestry workers, fishermen etc. that provide inadequate and often unpredictable income. Thus, it is likely that these people are not able to satisfy their food and non-food needs in a sustainable manner.”

Malnutrition affects the children the most. It stunts their growth and their brain development. It effectively condemns them to remain poor the rest of their lives.

That explains why we rank the lowest in math, reading, and science in international evaluations. Eventually, that’s why we have so many unemployed and underemployed, even when companies are finding it difficult to hire qualified workers.

The new president will have to go beyond the nutribun of his late father. While it is a good start to feed the elementary pupils with nutribuns before starting school every morning, they need access to more and better food for their nutritional needs.

Food security is a big problem. Food is the first basic need that society and its government must be able to assure its citizens.

Hungry stomachs also pose risks to social stability. So far, our people have been very patient, but for how long? This problem is beyond the capacity of the Agriculture department to handle by itself.

Indeed, DA’s budget is barely sufficient to pay the salaries and upkeep of its bureaucracy. Investments must be made to modernize farming methods. Corruption has resulted in our past attempts to modernize agriculture, the latest of which is the fertilizer scam during the Arroyo watch.

There is also the need to change structures and laws. It is time to dump the Agrarian Reform Law as we know it today. It has failed miserably since it was introduced by his father and revised by succeeding administrations.

We need to help make the farmer an effective small businessman by giving him access to financing, new technology, and marketing assistance. Our farmers must be freed from the clutches of cartels that profit from their lack of access to information, markets, and technology.

All these are only for starters. This is where we should begin. Dealing with food security could be the first test the new president will face. All those poor hungry and hopeful souls who voted for him expect relief quickly.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.


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