September 2, 2015
Pervasive poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the country endanger our future, champions and experts on food security and nutrition warned in a forum organized by the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) last August 28 at the Marco Polo Hotel in Ortigas, Pasig City.
“Food security is a matter of national security that requires strong government intervention and multisectoral efforts,” Butil Party-list Rep. Agapito Guanlao said.
The issue becomes more relevant, Bukidnon Rep. Joey Zubiri, vice chair of the House Committee on National Defense and Security, as the country faces natural vulnerabilities such as geography and changing environmental and economic contexts, including climate change and globalization.
The World Food Programme defines food security as “when all people, at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
A multi-faceted issue
“Food security is grounded on four critical elements: availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability,” Dr. Marilen Danguilan, adviser to WFP Philippines, said.
It encompasses a wide range of issues, from economic liberalization to national and local governance, employment and education to health and social welfare, agriculture to trade, land use to agrarian reform, energy to transportation, research and technology to disaster resiliency, Danguilan added.
Guanlao, who chaired the House Special Committee on Food Security for five years, also stressed that food insecurity is deeply linked to poverty. “Hunger dwells where poverty resides,” he said.
Ang NARS Party-list Rep. Leah Paquiz echoed Guanlao’s assessment, emphasizing that chronic hunger is caused by powerlessness.
Policy and governance problems
“The challenge to achieve food security remains huge despite the existence of many laws and agencies that supposedly address hunger and malnutrition in the country,” Danguilan lamented.
Poor implementation of laws and the fragmented and overlapping mandates of government agencies on food security only exacerbate the problem, she said.
“An overhaul of existing policies and programs on food security is needed,” Zubiri added.
Danguilan urged the government to provide the necessary support to medium- and small-scale enterprises as an anti-poverty pillar.She also called for strengthening social protection to tip the scale in favor of the marginalized and underprivileged, particularly in the labor and agriculture sector.
Interagency coordination and accountability
Danguilan also underscored the importance of ensuring effective and efficient implementation of policies on food security by enhancing integration and coordination among various agencies.
Guanlao suggested that the best way to enhance interagency coordination is creating a cabinet-level National Food Security Council.
On the other hand, AAMBIS-Owa Rep. Sharon Garin wants to strengthen the National Nutrition Council.
“There is also the need to institutionalize government interventions and initiatives on the first 1,000 days of life, a critical period in child development that covers the nine months of pregnancy and the child’s first two years,” Garin said.
For her part, Paquiz pledges support for Barangay Nutrition Scholars who are at the forefront of promoting proper nutrition and good health.
Support farmers and fisherfolk
Furthermore, Danguilan urged the completion of land distribution to tenant-farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.
“Prime agricultural lands should also be protected,” Guanlao said. He lamented the conversion of vast tracks of prime agricultural lands for commercial and residential use, which could have been prevented if only a national land use law is passed.
Support for farmers should not end in land distribution. Beneficiaries of agrarian reform should be capacitated for long-term sustainability, he added.
Capacity-building and technology transfer to increase and maintain productivity was also one of Garin’s suggestions to ensure sustainability. She also suggested crop diversification.
Guanlao added that among other critical interventions needed to promote high-yield agricultural production are irrigation, and access to low-interest credit and subsidies.
Moreover, Zubiri said that the government should lead the so-called “blue revolution” to maximize the country’s rich maritime resources.
Lastly, to achieve food and nutrition security, Ako Bikol Rep. Rodel Batocabe said, we need to have culture change—a shift in paradigm that will give utmost priority to adequate food, proper nutrition and good health.
For him, the problem lies in communication. The media, which plays a critical role in influencing people’s consciousness, should be tapped to effectively disseminate essential information on food and nutrition security, Batocabe concluded.