Feed ourselves first

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

One of the most over-used but under achieved concept in the last six months has been Food Security. Everyone has been talking about it, warning us about it and then talking some more. Ironically, very little has really been accomplished, little real intervention to get food out of farms and into mouths and the situation is no different in the Philippines.

People got excited when the President himself took over the position of Secretary of Agriculture but after that initial hurrah, most people are still waiting. In the meantime, anyone on social media, particularly Facebook, must have caught sight of a new ad campaign repeatedly aired regarding 15 million Filipinos suffering from involuntary hunger. Yes, there are 15 million children and adults who have nothing to eat, can’t buy food, miss meals or go hungry for days.

In the meantime, government officials are pre-occupied with a supposed/projected “sugar shortage.” That is sick. Statistics say we have 15 million who are presently not eating NOW and the government is worrying about sugar and a shortage that is not even there. The same goes for the focus on food security instead of individual or family food self-sufficiency.

To be clear, what I am proposing or trying to pitch to the President and the government is to consider or launch a program focused on helping Filipino families at every economic level to become self-sufficient in food by planting vegetables and raising animals for meat wherever possible. I keep hearing about the need for corporate farms but they all overlook the fact that most of the good lands have been subjected to land reform. Even those who actually want to get into contract growing are stumped or obstructed by local governments in many provinces who prioritize their fantasy of creating “urban centers” or becoming cities.

Through the years, I have spoken to employees, retirees, business people who all wanted to be part of corporate farms or contract growing, particularly with San Miguel Corporation and BMeg feeds. Almost all of them quickly discovered that many LGUs want the farms as far as possible and as remotely located from the town or city. A number of LGU officials own piggeries and poultry farms so they block or restrict the construction of other farms. Others prefer eco-zones and not farms.

During my engagements with backyard hog raisers and poultry farmers as a guest speaker at BMeg Fiestahan outreach programs, I discovered a growing pattern where LGUs have drastically reduced the number of farm extension workers and manpower of city or municipal agricultural offices and veterinarians. Clearly, many LGUs are indirectly “anti”-agriculture and subsequently anti-poor or would rather promote political patronage or a dependency relationship based on financial dole outs or “ayuda” and not food self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile the Department of Agriculture in the past administration used quarantine and isolation strategies to combat the outbreak of diseases but never admitted that a big part of the problem involves the failure of the DA or the breakdown of immunization or vaccination programs for livestock. It seems that vaccinations are no longer part of any program.

In many provinces, I have seen first hand how the local native chickens were totally wiped out because of outbreaks. Only privately vaccinated fighting cocks have survived in these locations. Back in the 60’s and 70’s no visit to the province was ever complete without tasting “tinolang manok na native.”

The DA has a pilot project somewhere in Quezon province trying to bring back different species but the program is so small and isolated that ordinary backyard hobbyists have actually come up with better and more resilient versions by crossing native chickens with the Mindanao featherless chicken called Cobra, the Malay Asil, Layers and Kabirs. They are larger, more-meaty and produce the preferred “organic” brown eggs.

There was a time when provincial families and barangays had enough space to plant vast selection of vegetables, plant fruit trees that could support mixed feeding program of one native pig tied behind the house. Homeowners would buy feeds such as BMeg and augment these with excess vegetables and fruits, not swill.

The objective was to raise your own chicken, pick eggs in nests around the house and every so often slaughter a pig for community consumption or special events or sale. It was not about ROIs or corporate farming or programs. It was and can still be about food self-sufficiency at a personal or family level.

Some people will surely push back or quip that you can’t farm in the city, the concrete jungle, etc. Well, explain to me how hundreds of thousands of “Plant Titas and Titos” managed their Instagram worthy gardens? Urban pet owners have managed to turn dogs into diaper wearing fur babies in strollers invading malls, fish lovers have raised meter long kois and exotic tank busters in their gardens and living rooms and the MMDA have established living walls of plants on EDSA that do well when properly cared for. Even “squatters” have made vertical pechay walls using soft drink bottles!

While PBBM is busy running the state and the DA, perhaps he can assemble a team to focus on food self-sufficiency at family and barangay levels, require all LGUs to come up with a mandatory complete pro-agri individual and family-based food sufficiency program, a serious national competition for urban and community farms and special awards for communities that transform useless ornamental gardens, sidewalks and vacant lots into science-based fruit, vegetable and livestock showcases that actually produce and benefit people in need and the community. Then incentivize the participants with financial incentives from different volunteer corporations.

If PBBM spearheads this and popularizes it through political leadership, we can feed more than just 15 million starved Filipinos, we can feed ourselves.



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