COMMENTARY: Food production should be a priority

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews / 18 Feb) – The first presidential debate is happening soon. I would just like to point out that amid the same old spiels about their political piety and their penchant for making messianic promises, not one of the five presidential candidates Vice-President Jojo Binay, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Grace Poe and Secretary Mar Roxas — has raised the most pressing issue facing the Philippines, the country’s massive population.

Our census now stands at a little over 100 million. This makes us the 12th most populous nation in the world. Obviously, such a mammoth population presents many challenges for the country’s development. But food scarcity is by far the most distinct and frightening prospect facing the Philippines.

In 2015 the Philippines had a Global Hunger Index of 20.1 on a scale between one and 100. While this represents a significant decrease from its 1990 level of 30.7, this classification means that hunger is still considered a ‘serious’ problem for Filipinos.

Unfortunately, the government itself admits that the country’s current food security policy framework is unsatisfactory. Accordingly, it would be foolish for a Presidentiable not to treat food scarcity as a hot-button issue in his or her campaign.

It is worthy to note that food security is in fact now universally recognized as one of the most pressing global concerns of our time.

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development identified food security as the second most important goal. It states that by 2030 nations must ensure ‘sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality’.

Food production and climate change will prove to be an extremely delicate and contentious issue for all national governments in the future. 2016 could be even more challenging than usual for the Philippines because the El Niño phenomenon is expected to persist until the third quarter. This could lead to water shortages, erratic rains and increasingly extreme weather conditions. And that is not to mention the 20 or so typhoons expected to visit us this year.

These problems posed by Mother Nature are compounded by man-made challenges that make devising a viable food security platform even more difficult for the Philippines. Certain regional powers have never been shy in influencing Filipino politicians to prioritize commercial gains over ensuring food security and sustainability. Australia for instance has unabashedly declared their preference that the new president give utmost priority to mining developments.

Addressing the struggle between developing a sound and sustainable agricultural economy and meeting international trade obligations should be part and parcel of a viable food security plan. But, at the same time, any sustainable food security plan must emphasize environmental preservation. The recycled proposals coming from these presidential candidates, such as maximising feeding programs and building more farm-to-market infrastructure, are simply not enough.

In November 2015, youth leaders from all over the Philippines held a National Youth Congress on Food, Nutrition, and Ecological Agriculture precisely to exhort all five presidential candidates to do better. One of the participants made a statement that deftly summarized the responsibilities of the presidential candidates: ‘Now more than ever, with the challenges brought about by the changing climate, ageing farmers, nutrition security, disaster response and environmental protection, we need comprehensive, holistic, and responsive policies on food and agriculture that can act to the growing needs and concerns of the Filipinos’.

And as the presidential campaign rolls along, it would be good to remind ourselves that securing the Philippines’ food supply will be even more important as the population continues to grow way beyond the hundred million people mark.

Any proposed economic development platform should be explicitly anchored in this reality. Indeed, campaign agendas that do not address the health and well-being of the 100 M can be rightly criticized as grossly irresponsible.

All five presidential candidates should also be aware that ignoring the issue of food security could have dire consequences for their electoral aspirations. The youth comprise about 40 percent of the estimated 54 million registered voters in the Philippines. And this demographic has articulated their demand quite clearly. Food production should be an unequivocal priority of the next administration.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is presently completing a Masters of Law and Development in Melbourne Law School. He recently published a book entitled, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.]