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Aiming for food security in a challenging environment

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When Filipinos talk about putting food on the table, they often consider the cost of bringing food, from the source, through various channels, and finally to the family home for the consumption and nourishment of its members. Food security is knowing that there will always be food available not only for the day but in the foreseeable future, and that the members of the family, while they have had something to eat today, will also not go hungry tomorrow or the days after that.

Many factors affect food security in the Philippines. Climate change is one. The Philippines ranked first in the World Risk Report 2023 for high disaster risk. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and disrupted supply chains contribute to food shortages and inflation.

Aside from the immediate damage done by rain, flooding, and destruction, climate change also has longer-term consequences in terms of compromising harvests, destroying crops, thus driving up demand and prices. In a survey commissioned by the Stratbase Institute for Pulse Asia Research, Inc. in September 2023, it was revealed that 95% of Filipinos claimed that they have seen and felt the price increase with food, with rice prices particularly affected. Inflation rate rose to 3.7% in March 2024. A survey by the Social Weather Stations in December 2023 showed that around 72% of Filipinos consider themselves to be hungry, with 35% of them saying that they are experiencing food poverty.

There is another factor that compounds the cost of food: logistics, or how food is brought from source to destination.

The Stratbase Institute published a paper entitled “Analysis of logistics costs for imported and domestic containers in the Philippines” written by Pablo Corralo Llorente of Bluefocus Infrastructure Advisors. The study shows that maritime transportation is costlier in the Philippines than in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, with destination charges having more weight. Logistics costs for an average imported container are about $5,300, representing slightly over 10% of final stock value.

Given all these, we at the Institute partnered with PHINMA Corp. and the Makati Business Club in holding a forum on June 24 entitled Achieving Food Security: Advancing Investments for Agricultural Sustainability. The event aimed to encourage insightful and collaborative discussions to cultivate a resilient and sustainable food security environment within the country.

Our takeaway was that prioritizing investments and implementing target measures can overcome food insecurity challenges, improve the standard of living for citizens, and pave the way for a resilient and prosperous future.

During the event, Eduardo Sahagun, PHINMA Corp. Director and Executive Vice-President, Construction Materials, emphasized collaboration among the public and private sectors in improving the lives of Filipinos. He also shared his aspirations for sustainability particularly supporting the cold chain industry for food security and safety, having sufficient cold storages to help the health sector, and, overall, having infrastructure resilient to climate change.

Mr. Sahagun also shared figures from a United Nations report that said that last year, nearly 51 million Filipinos faced moderate or severe food insecurity, the highest in Southeast Asia. He also referred to Agriculture Secretary Francisco Laurel, Jr.’s statement that 30% of the country’s agricultural produce is wasted because of poor logistics systems.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy, Planning, and Regulations Asis G. Perez enumerated several sector goals: achieving food security for the Filipino people through boosting local agricultural production to ensure accessibility to affordable and nutritious food, developing the agriculture and fisheries sector as a profitable industry for farmers, fisherfolk, and all stakeholders involved in the value chain, expanding and improving available agri-fishery areas for increased production, mechanizing and modernizing agro-fishery and production systems, developing and improving post-harvest systems and infrastructure, developing efficient logistics systems for both input and production output, and improving and expanding local and international market access.

The Department of Agriculture’s Official Spokesperson Arnel V. de Mesa, who is the Assistant Secretary for Special Concerns and for Official Development Assistance (ODA) – Foreign Aid / Grant, emphasized the department’s core function, to construct and establish infrastructure to support agri-fishery industrialization and modernization even as great inefficiencies in the supply chain must be addressed.

Danielle Del Rosario, Chief Operating Officer of Union Insulated Panel Corp., enumerated the social benefits of investments in agricultural infrastructure including cold storage and the cold chain industry.

The discussions last week brought me back to pronouncements made by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.: “Food security remains the forefront of our national agenda,” he said on one occasion. “We must invest in facilities, logistics, and systems that bring nutritious food to our people.” Finally, “we must also cooperate to develop technologies that increase the nutritional value of our food and content and prolong their shelf life.”

The executive guidance showing that our government leaders are acutely aware of the food security issue, as well as the unwavering support and commitment offered by the private sector, gives me hope that despite the difficulties we are facing, food security remains a reachable goal. Let us not take our eyes off this aim, because it affects each Filipino and seeps into each aspect of our nation’s life.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

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