LTE: Chronic state of food crisis

October 17, 2011

Hunger, poverty, and violence mark the 2011 World Food Day as civil unrests and social instability occur in developing countries. In 2008, when the global food shortage has intensified, there were food riots in Mexico, Indonesia and Egypt.

This appalling state of hunger is revealed in the October 2010 statistics made by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Out of the 6.8 billion world population, 925 million are found to suffer from hunger and three-fourth of this population comes from Asia and Africa. They are the most vulnerable to various crises because they are economically deprived and ill-equipped to provide the family’s basic needs. In developing countries, about 1.3 million people only live on US$1.25 a day or less. US$1.25 is the minimum amount of subsistence set by the Millennium Development Goals Indicators.

In the Philippines, the incidence of hunger is consistently high with 8.9 percent in July of 1998 compared to March of 2011 data on on hunger reaching to 20.5 percent or 4.1 million families.

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These are the present scenarios as we commemorate this year’s World Food Day with the theme, “Food Crisis-from Crisis to Stability”. The FAO and the United Nations (UN) shall be focusing on the factors leading to the constant global increase of food prices and mobilizing stakeholders and players involved in the food production to take initiatives to lessen the impacts of crises to the poor. However, it downplays the conflicting interests of the powerful countries and their transnational corporations, and the poor countries and marginalized sectors that led to the chronic and systemic global hunger and poverty.

Providing food on the table is now a daunting task for the Filipino family subsisting on meager earning. The present state of the local agriculture contributes to the dismal conditions of millions of Filipinos. Agricultural productivity in the Philippines is beset with various challenges. The biophysical factors that directly affect the local agricultural production are attributed to the impacts of climate change with the occurrence of extreme weather events. Back-to-back typhoons Pedring and Quiel left large-scale destruction to agriculture and infrastructure amounting to almost Php 15 billion. The agricultural sector suffered most from the recent typhoons that hit country with Central Luzon’s production of rice and corn registering the worst damages worth Php8.54 billion.

The current state policies that dictate the direction of the local food production has aggravated the demise of Philippine agriculture, and only worsened food insecurity and corresponding hunger among millions of Filipinos. The present mandate of the government in ensuring food security and self-sufficiency has been redefined to become a supply-led policy that prescribes dependency on imports rather than strengthening local production and procurement.

A glaring example would be the historical trend of rice imports of the country. Rice importation surged from 0 in 1994 to 257,260 MT in 1995, consistently increasing to 1.7 million MT by 2006. The 2008 rice crisis, which is a repeat of the 1995 crisis, forced the government to set the import volume at 2.4 million MT, the highest in the history of the Philippine rice imports, hence, earning for the country the status of the no. 1 importer of rice worldwide. With climate change threatening the global production of rice, the world market for grains will be constricted resulting to exorbitant price increases for rice.

It is also in 1995 when the Philippines became a member of World Trade organization (WTO) under the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) with the promise of competitive trading of agricultural products. Sixteen years have passed but the country did not prosper in its status in rice production. The disparity on grain imports and the locally produced rice would be greatly felt when the application of the Philippines to the Quantitative Restriction or Minimum Access Volume under AOA will expire by 2012. This would result to the eventual flooding of imported rice that would severely impact on local production.

The farmers who are the country’s food producers are also those who suffer from hunger and poverty. They account for 75% population in developing countries based on FAO data. About seven out of ten farmers remain landless and have no access to agricultural credit, machineries and inputs that are key components for agricultural productivity and sustainability. Landlessness has brought social injustices as seen in the plights of the farmers of Hacienda Luisita and Hacienda Looc.

While the remaining land that the Filipino farmers till for food are being converted to non-agricultural purposes, it resulted to the decline in the farm area by 304,078 hectares from 1991 and 2002. Another pressure faced by the Philippine agriculture is the “food converted into fuel” bandwagon wherein vast areas of ricelands are converted into wide-scale plantations of sugarcane such as the one in San Mariano, Isabela covering 11,000 hectares of farms devoted to local food production. These situations only proved inutile policy of the government to strengthen the local agriculture.

The historical trend of Philippine agriculture has earned us valued lessons on how we should attain food security and self-sufficiency. At this point, our learning should lead us to the correct path that the only way for this country to address the crisis of hunger is by implementing policies that would give greater premium to the country’s local agriculture. The initial and crucial step would be the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program. By giving land and providing agricultural subsidies to farmers would make them fulfill their task of providing meals on the table for all the Filipino families. This should be supplemented by national industrialization to ensure agricultural modernization and the development of other industries that would paved the way for a progressive national economy to be enjoyed by all sectors of society.

Refrerence: MA. FINESA COSICO,
Projects and Extension Officer
Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM)

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