Growing a better future in a hungrier and warmer world
Today, we celebrate World Food Day, the United Nation – Food and Agriculture Organization’s (UN FAO) annual observance that promotes greater understanding of our food system and finding solutions to end hunger. This year’s theme “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition” is a very apt call given the complexity of the challenges behind how food travels from our farms and seas, to our tables, especially in a country as geographically diverse as the Philippines.
Two years back, Oxfam released the report “Weathering the Crises, Feeding the Future”, which described the chain that links food producers and consumers as getting corroded. While I was browsing over the report, 3 ironies struck me:
There is a feast, yet at the same time, ‘a hidden hunger’ amidst us, which mirrors the pervading inequality in the accessibility of food.
Despite the bullish growth of the Philippine economy and the wave of investment upgrades for the country, one in every 10 Filipinos still goes to bed hungry. The income of the top 20% families is eight times higher compared to the total income of the bottom 20% of the poorest Filipino families.
The greater irony of this is that the incidence of extreme poverty (or people going hungry) is more prevalent in regions where agriculture and fisheries are the main source of livelihood and employment. Such an unequal situation pose additional burden for rural women, who do half of the work in the farms, perform most of the housework, yet remain unrecognized and missed out in agricultural programs. (WATCH: Food for thought: Where does your food come from?)
Undernourishment exists among poor children, while cases of obesity and diabetes are on the rise among adults -- an indication that there is something wrong with our diet. Yet, despite the rich biological resources of the country, we have not fully optimized the diversity of food resources we are endowed with.
Against the backdrop of increasing food prices and worsening climate change, the farmers and fisherfolk who should have benefitted from this, were also the ones most hurt.
Recently, Oxfam released the report “Growing Disruption: climate change, food and hunger”, almost at the same time that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 5th Assessment Report.
In a nutshell, Oxfam’s report underscored how extreme and volatile weather is already undermining food security in terms of availability, access, use and stability. It warns that unless urgent actions are done, climate change will add more significant challenges unto already stressed food systems.
The extent of estimated damage that weather abnormalities like typhoons, floods, and droughts across 10 agriculture and fisheries commodities from 2000 to 2010 alone has cumulatively reached P106.88 billion, accounting for almost 15% of total government expenditure for the entire agriculture sector.
The effects to the lives of the rural poor are real, ranging from compromising their health and safety, to loss of income and livelihoods. Women also feel the brunt of extreme weather events. For example, an elderly widow in Davao del Norte, who was hoping to cash in on ‘copra’, ended having had to run for safety when coconuts fell out like balls from the sky. In the adjacent province, a landless farm worker in Compostela Province was not able to earn from her daily wage for months when the banana plantations were devastated by typhoon Pablo in December of last year. In the recent emergencies where Oxfam has responded, we have seen men leaving evacuation centres to look for temporary jobs, while women are left on their own to feed the family.
The impact on food prices was immediately felt afterwards. Prices of food commodities in the local markets suddenly went up. Mothers who go to the market everyday attest to the fact that the price of vegetables double or triple after every typhoon. Mothers who hold the power of the purse are forced to scrimp on their budgets and, worse, forego meals just so their children can eat.
We produce much, but we also waste much.
While significant efforts have been poured to increase food production, a significant volume of food is being lost on both ends of the food chain. An average Filipino wastes about ¼ cup of cooked rice every day, which if not wasted, can cumulatively save the country P6.2 billion. This same amount could have fed 2.6 million poor Filipinos.
At the farm level, food is wasted because farmers and fishers lack post-harvest facilities and much needed infrastructure to dry, process or store their produce. Continuing pressures to increase production without addressing wastage are already compromising our fragile ecosystems. In rice alone, 30-40% of the farmers’ harvests are wasted due to lack of postharvest and processing facilities. Imagine the amount of resources, energy and water wasted in the production, transport and distribution of food.
UN FAO’s Food Wastage Foodprint report notes that the world wastes about 1.3 billion tons of food every year. The sheer equivalent amount totaled US$750 billion, greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of Switzerland in 2011.
Despite this grim picture, a better food future is still possible but will require serious concerted effort from all of us.
Fixing the food system starts with me and you
This year, Oxfam launched the #GROW challenge. It starts with five simple ways about how ordinary women and men can contribute in fixing the loopholes of a corroded food system just by doing five simple things: (1) reducing food waste; (2) eating brown rice; (3) buying locally grown food; (4) saving water; and (5) conserving energy.
But individual initiatives are not enough - these should be complemented by positive, responsible actions of the private sector.
When Oxfam launched its “Behind the Brands” campaign, it globally challenged the top 10 food and beverage companies behind major food and beverage brands to look at their respective value chains, and consider how their business policies and practices impact the livelihoods of small producers, especially women; promote land rights of farmers; and how much they contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, among other criteria. The companies responded by acknowledging that problems do exist, with a few of them making initial commitments to look at these issues more closely.
More than being responsible, we also call on the agribusiness sector in the Philippines to be responsive to small producers’ needs. For example, investing in fair and transparent partnerships with small producers, and ensuring that the way they source their raw materials does not harm the environment, nor compromise the health and safety of farming communities -- are some of the ways that the private sector can do their share. There is a business case for doing such, that if one does not take care of their supply chain, including the natural resource base where raw materials are sourced, the practice will eventually hurt the long-term prospect of the business.
The Philippine Government must play a lead role
Putting food self-sufficiency, and investing in women and men small producers on top of the government’s policy agenda, is a step towards the right direction. Amidst the growing calls for transparency in the use of public funds, government leaders need to work harder in ensuring that every peso is well spent and that every centavo is properly accounted for. Supporting the establishment of women-managed areas (WMAs) in local communities, which includes mangrove reforestation, is one example of a no – regrets strategy that will protect communities, provide additional food for families, and augment the income of women fishers.
As time is ticking before the country becomes fully integrated into the ASEAN regional economy in 2015, small producers and the local industry needs all the help they can get to be competitive. A clear industry roadmap that includes small producers, including, well-coordinated support services that will lower production and manufacturing costs of agricultural products, are needed to help create jobs in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors. A competition or anti-trust policy that levels the playing field, and avoids concentration in the distribution of agricultural inputs by a powerful few, can also help lower production costs and hence, lower food prices.
Food production areas must at all times be protected. Relevant legislation such as the passage of the National Land Use Act (NALUA) is urgently needed to safeguard remaining vital food production areas from further land conversion. The 2008 food price crisis already taught us that we cannot depend on other countries to feed us. The immediate passage of a national land use policy will likewise allow communities to situate settlements, build infrastructure, and plan development in an effective and efficient manner.
Climate adaptation finance windows, such as the People’s Survival Fund (PSF), must be directly accessible to local governments and communities, and benefit small women food producers equally as the men. But first, the President must sign the implementing rules and regulations of the law, to fully operationalize the Fund. – Rappler.com
Justin Morgan is the Country Director of Oxfam in the Philippines.