The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations publishes an annual report called the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. The most recent addition from 2021 reported that the global prevalence of moderate and severe food insecurity has been slowly increasing. The alarming news, according to FAO, is that the increase in 2020 was equal to the previous five years all added up. Before the pandemic, the UN estimate for the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity was 135 million. Today, that number swelled to 276 million.
As the world faces skyrocketing food prices, poor and developing countries suffer the most. The International Food Policy Research Institute, a non-profit organization that focuses on ending hunger and poverty, said the long-term relief from rising food prices can only be possible with increased agricultural production.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., as concurrent agriculture chief, is right on track when he issued his first marching order to the Department of Agriculture to ensure the country’s food supply for the rest of the year, especially for rice, corn and even pork and chicken meat. “We have to attend to the impending food crisis that it seems will be visiting us in the next two quarters. When we look around the world, everyone is preparing for it,” Marcos told high-ranking agriculture officials at an executive committee meeting on Tuesday at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (Read, “Marcos as agriculture chief: Food supply, prices first priority,” in the BusinessMirror, July 5, 2022).
Marcos added: “We are already in a disadvantageous position in terms of food supply. We should really pay very close attention to what we can do. I think the conclusion we have come to here is that we have to increase production.”
The President reminded the agriculture officials that on top of making food supply sufficient is ensuring that they would be affordable to the Filipino consumers. “We have to think very hard about making sure that people have the same sufficient food. And number one, at a price that they can afford. Because, again, it is useless to have food if you cannot afford it.”
Here’s one way to quickly improve production and lower prices of farm products: Provide small-scale farmers with improved seeds, fertilizer, credit and other resources they need. There’s no better time for the DA to bring extension and advisory services, and other innovations to our farmers.
To help strengthen the government’s food sufficiency program in the long run, an official of the Department of Education in Antique is seeking President Marcos’s support to strengthen the farm school in the province and other parts of the country, as these farm schools serve as good training grounds for the new breed of Filipino farmers.
DepEd-Antique Superintendent Felisa Beriong, in extending her congratulations to the President, said she was elated to know that food sufficiency is a priority of the new administration. “With Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio as our DepEd Secretary and President Marcos heading DA, we could really look forward to more support to our farm schools,” Beriong said.
Antique has a farm school in Barangay Aningalan, San Remigio but there are plans to also open farm schools in other municipalities. Learners, mostly children of farmers in the upland barangays, are being taught how to cultivate rice and other crops, as well as entrepreneurship to teach them how to market their products.
The Philippine Statistics Authority said 23 percent of the country’s workers are active in the agriculture sector. Those employed in agriculture comprised of 7.46 million males and 2.24 million females in 2019. Unfortunately, most Filipino farmers do not want farming for their children, according to a study published in the Philippine Journal of Science. Among the interviewed farmers, 73 percent of them believed that their children would not have a future if they become rice farmers like them. The farmers commonly pointed out how rice farming is “physically tiring and not economically rewarding.”
Pundits said weak government policies and programs, the country’s excessive reliance on agricultural imports and widespread corruption have taken their toll on the agriculture sector.
During the administration of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Philippines attained rice self-sufficiency in 1975–1976, and the country exported rice to neighboring Asian countries in 1977–1978 when farmers produced under the Masagana 99 program a surplus of some 89,000 metric tons.
Can the President duplicate what his father has done?