As the country faces high incidences of hunger and food insecurity, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima stressed that achieving food security should be the top priority of the next administration.
De Lima said the current pandemic is a great reminder that a strong nation promotes, prioritizes and encourages investments in local domestic production and supply chains of essential goods, particularly food, which is the basic human need. Given the persistent threats of lockdowns and limitations on movements of goods and persons due to the pandemic, the government ought to include establishing and strengthening production and supply sufficient to secure the food needs of a given locality.
“The government has to make food security its number one priority,” said De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development.
“’Local domestic production” has to mean more than just ‘national’ food supply and security; it ought to mean ‘local’ on the local government level,” she emphasized, lamenting the lack of foresight in the exceedingly expansive transformation of agricultural lands, which are fit for food production, into commercial and residential areas. “This has led to the rise of real estate billionaires, while the ordinary people are left food-insecure and perpetually locked in a losing battle against rising food prices.”
“Kailangang mamuhunan sa pagpapalago ng lokal na supply ng pagkain, lalo na sa pamamagitan ng pag-aangat sa kakayahan at pagsusulong ng makabagong teknolohiya na makatutulong sa produksyon ng ating mga mangingisda, magsasaka at manggagawa sa industriya,” she added.
In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were reportedly exposed to severe levels of food insecurity. In the Philippines, food insecurity was highest between April and May 2020, or when the country was placed under enhanced community quarantine.
In a Nutrition Assessment Survey conducted from Nov. 3 to Dec. 3, 2020, the Department of Science and Technology found that of the 5,717 households surveyed composed of 7,240 individuals, 62.1% or six out of 10 reported they experienced moderate to severe food insecurity.
These statistics are on top of those gathered by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), which found that poverty incidence among the Philippine population increased to 23.7 percent during the first half of 2021 from 21.1 percent in the same period of 2018.
This translates to 3.9 million more Filipinos living in poverty, out of which regions with stricter quarantines, such as Regions III, IV-A, and VII, tended to see larger increases in poverty compared to regions under less stringent quarantines.
It is not unreasonable to conclude that food insecurity follows the same trend across regions, which is why the lady Senator from Bicol stressed the need to review the current laws on food security and enact a Right to Adequate Food law which ensures the protection of food production and sources of food.
“The right to adequate food is a human right which all governments must address. Aside from enacting a Right to Adequate Food law, we need to review and revise our food security laws in light of the experience with their implementation or non-implementation, as the case may be,” De Lima said.
“This includes protection for farmers and intensified efforts in helping them bring their produce to the market at fair and competitive pricing,” she added.
Notably, agriculture is among the hard-hit sectors as the economy struggles to recover from the effects brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting how farmers, whose lack of means to transport raw materials and manufactured goods, extremely disrupted farm and business operations.
In line with this, De Lima said the Department of Agriculture must also expand any existing program to provide logistical support to farmers to ensure that the produce reach the market.
“More than any ‘farm-to-market roads’ which is many times code for corruption project of congressmen, a program which helps transport the goods will be very helpful to our farmers,” she stressed.
“Food production should also be made profitable at all levels, with farmers, traders and retailers getting just returns,” she added.
Likewise, De Lima underscored the need to increase the country’s border control to prevent food smuggling, which endangers not only the consumers but also the livelihood of farmers.
For De Lima, the way to protect farmlands and food-producing areas is by enacting a Comprehensive Land Use Act which would prevent destructive developments and exploitation of land areas to the point of endangering our food security.
“This also means reviewing the achievements as well as the unintended negative consequences of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and make sure that genuine land reform is finally achieved in this decade,” she said.
Finally, De Lima also underscored the need to protect the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources.
“We must mandate our government to enter into international alliances that would prevent intrusions in our exclusive economic zones, stop overfishing, and protect the marine habitats from environmental degradation,” she said. (30)