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Opinion

Are we prepared for the impending global food crisis?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

The UN's World Food Program forewarns that the impending global food crisis is grave and imminent. No less than 345 million people are facing acute food insecurity in at least 82 countries. The whole world needs no less than $22.2 billion to fund the barest minimum of the required preparation. From the original 135 million people in 53 countries, these new numbers came about due to the confluence of three factors: COVID-19, climate change, and wars especially in Ukraine. Is the Philippines prepared for this hunger crisis of unprecedented proportions?

Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe and Russia's invasion has disrupted the global supply chain, stopping the free flow of wheat, corn, and other agricultural products to many countries. The other conflicts in the world today are exacerbating the problem. This is further complicated by a series of natural calamities driven by climate change. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and droughts have devastated agricultural crops and reduced the annual output for consumption of fast-growing populations. On top of all these are the lingering impacts of COVID-19 and its many variants. Famine is about to take place and the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries.

The German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel brought this matter to the president and BBM responded that food security is the top priority of his administration. The international conference on food security hosted by the UK on July 28-29 tackled this pressing topic. The conference brought together government officials, private sector representatives, academics, researchers, scientists, as well as NGOs and civil society representatives from various countries. This writer happened attended as an observer representing the media and the academic communities. I shuddered to hear the gloom and doom projections especially from the delegates from Africa, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

The perennial problems of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in the Philippines have become worse in the last three years, according to the findings of the UN Development Program. The Philippines had been ranked number 189 out of 197 assessed countries. Many Philippine families don’t earn enough to buy adequate and proper food. In the urban areas, many families are scavenging for food from garbage just to survive. Many young Filipinos die of malnutrition and diseases due to low levels of immunity brought about by improper, inadequate, and dirty food intakes. Stunted growth is endemic among the children of the poorest of the poor. The government does not have enough resources to subsidize the proper nutrition of a burgeoning population.

Filipino farmers are suffering from the onslaught of adverse weather conditions, high cost of farm inputs and lack of adequate technological support and market access. Added to their woes was the rice tariffication law that made the farmers' produce no longer competitive vis-a-vis the unabated importation of rice as well as endless smuggling of agricultural products. The country imports no less than 2.2 million tons of rice annually from Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries. Once the famine becomes imminent, these countries will most likely keep their rice for their own people. By that, more than 100 million Filipinos are bound to go hungry even if we have money to buy rice.

Agricultural lands in the Philippines had been converted into subdivisions, malls, and golf courses. Our leaders do not have a long-range land use development plan. A lady senator who owns the biggest real estate company chairs the agricultural committee in the Senate, a palpable conflict of interests. Thus, the Philippines is one of the most unprepared countries. The president, now acting as Agriculture secretary, should tell the nation what the plan is and how all sectors can support it. I am afraid that the food crisis will hit us more adversely than COVID-19 and the worst natural calamities. Let us pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

FOOD CRISIS

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