EDITORIAL - A looming food crisis

The warning comes from the secretary of agriculture himself, although William Dar was merely echoing similar statements issued by global experts: a food crisis is looming in the second half of the year, due to the lingering COVID pandemic, Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine and the sustained impact of climate change.

In a report last month, the United Nations Task Team for the Global Crisis Response Group said an estimated 1.7 billion people, mostly from developing economies, are expected to suffer from food insecurity, high fuel prices and debt burdens. Aside from the impact of the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has pushed up global fuel prices to record highs and disrupted supply chains.

The Philippines is now reeling from soaring pump prices and the incoming administration is inheriting a record-high P12.68 trillion debt that the government was forced to incur to finance the pandemic response as the economy nosedived into its worst post-war recession.

In a briefing last Wednesday, Dar said that already, fertilizer prices have tripled while the costs of certain poultry feeds have doubled. The country is fully dependent on imports for its fertilizer needs.

The agriculture department is seeking an additional P6 billion this year for  fertilizer subsidies to boost farm production plus more funding to encourage urban farming. Where to source those funds is a problem when the country is already buried in debt and businesses are just starting to recover from the pandemic.

Although Dar says the country still has sufficient supplies of rice, vegetables and fish, he warns that the food crisis may start to be felt by late June or early July. While the government works out the proper responses, he has urged the public, seriously, to try backyard farming and livestock breeding even in urban centers.

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The looming crisis should provide more impetus to boost agricultural production. The country’s neighbors notably Thailand and Vietnam and even tiny Taiwan have robust local agribusiness enterprises. Dependence on imports to stabilize local supply and prices is unsustainable, and kills the marginalized sectors that depend on agriculture for their livelihood. With the looming food crisis, there should be greater urgency to develop long-term food security anchored on the strength of local agricultural production.

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