Why not enough food?

I am taking two steps back because we are moving from a bad drama to maybe an even worse one. Politics have taken a very frightening turn, in the context of democracy, that is, and it has been happening while the climate is turning bad as well. Politics is becoming more confrontational, old rules are being set aside, and war has replaced political debate in several countries. Climate change disruption is not far behind.

Listening to people who have very broad views of global dynamics are saying almost the same things. Temperatures are like earthquakes and hurricanes – they are real. Whether you accept calling it climate change or global warming – or not, it is measurable, usually from its destructive impact. And they are united in warning us about disruptions in the food chain.

Businessmen say bad politics make for bad business, and who can dispute that except for the usual profiteers during calamities and wars? Well, bad weather conditions and natural calamities are bad for the food chain – from production, processing, and all the way to distribution. For a country where food poverty is extremely high and affects the majority of Filipinos, I marvel how certain politicians have time to play around.

I think it is time for Filipinos to focus on food in all aspects. I know that the super-rich believe they are above all these, but I hope they will step down to the ground and lend their attention. The reality is that the wealthy and powerful do control the economy, not just politics, and they can make things better or very much worse. With the majority of Filipinos in a state of dependency, the priorities of the economic and political elite will mostly be followed.

Naturally, thinking of how food can be disrupted from both climate and politics, I am inevitably drawn to keeping an alert eye on agriculture and the leadership of the department. So far, there has not been much news in terms of volume, but a critical few about its prioritizing corruption in the institution. My conclusion regarding this is from the ongoing changes in upper management.

The relative quiet despite terminations, transfers, and demotions tell me that the head is determined and has the political backing of the president. Officers in the department are not your usual career people because many of them have had operational alliances with powerful political figures all the while. That reform has been started without much fanfare means the political backers of suspect officers in the department are staying away, at least for now.

No better time, too, because an honest-to-goodness food production program has to be launched soon, and backed up by crucial support from the president to the local government officials. If there has to be a whole-of-nation approach, it should be in agriculture. And it is also do-able if the food production campaign is broad in its view and wise in its implementation. It is first in the food production sectors where most of our poor belong, our farmers and fisherfolk. It is there where the weakest can participate and actually contribute.

There was a time a few years ago when I was so hopeful when a new DA Secretary announced his flagship vision – Plant, Plant, Plant. I thought there could be no better vision and urgent mission than to plant, plant, and plant. Planting food is agriculture’s core mission, its primal purpose. Yes, I know that there are attendant concerns, like credit, technology, equipment, post-harvest facilities, storage, distribution, and marketing. But without food, what will the other concerns do?

There are several layers of benefits that are derived from simple planting – or fishing in the coastal areas. The most important is the development of man’s capacity to produce. If man has intelligence that distinguishes him from other animals, it is his capacity to produce. Consumption is mostly a pre-ordained function, but production requires human intelligence. Starting off people from childhood onwards to plant instills in human beings to produce what they need. It is their first step towards independence.

The reason why man has survived from its earliest beginnings can be credited to his instinctive drive to produce what he needs to survive, first of which is food. For thousands of years, food was the first factor that assures man’s survival and perpetuation. Modernity has brought in all sorts of other attractions, but most are just attractions and not requirements for survival. Food production is.

Many research surveys have consistently placed Filipinos among the highest in food insecurity. Even FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) points out that, from 2019 to 2021, 5.3 million Filipinos were severely food insecure and 48 million more experienced moderate and severe food insecurity. These figures alone are not statistics – they are human beings, they are Filipino citizens. It is almost criminal to have higher priorities than producing and providing food for all Filipinos.

But here we are, simple citizens who are not in charge of government priorities. I will just say this, that if the upper 10% of society will be food insecure, most government resources will be dedicated to food production and the farmers and fisherfolks responsible for that. Considering the cost to Filipinos, it is justifiable to allocate 20% of the national budget to focus on sustainable food production, at least for 5 years.

While ordinary Filipinos may not be the ones setting the priorities and budgets of government, we can still help in our own ways. These ways may be small but we can be in the hundreds of thousands or millions deliberately increasing our capacity to farm and to fish. In fact, it may be ordinary people in Philippine society that may influence the government to align its priorities with ours.

One thing is sure. We cannot dance to the tune of politics today. Ordinary Filipinos cannot dictate on the political elite but will go hungry ahead of those causing discord in the country. We simply have to save ourselves.