Tackling the Food Crisis

The looming food crisis, is it just a media blitz? An alarmist point of view or it is for real? There is food crisis if supply of food is in adequate and we see people falling in line to buy food and, in extreme cases, there is a breakout of food riots.

The looming food crisis, is it just a media blitz? An alarmist point of view or it is for real? There is food crisis if supply of food is in adequate and we see people falling in line to buy food and, in extreme cases, there is a breakout of food riots.

Obviously, we do not have this yet in the Philippines. But it does not mean that we’re entirely out of danger.

Overall Food Scenario
In fact, a Japanese investment bank Nomura listed the countries that are in danger of being hit by a prolonged food price spike or food crisis. Of the top 25 countries identified in the list, the Philippines ranked 13th.

The UN FAO said that the 21st century would see food prices rise by up to 20%. This is its gloomiest forecast since the 2007/08 food crisis, where food riots happened in more than 25 countries and 100 million extra hungry people.

What are the factors leading to such forecasts?

Simply put, agricultural production is not enough to feed the world’s growing population.

On one hand, countries around the world are facing a decline in land-based food production. Various reasons are cited for this drop, including less fertile soil; lack of freshwater; decreasing fossil-fuel resources; use of food crops as feedstock for biofuel production; climate change; and land use conversion for industries and housing.

On the other hand, the world's population is growing at the rate of 1.14% - with the Philippines’ population annual growth rate at a much higher pace of 1.931%.

In the Philippines, supply side factors are also affecting production.

Difficult and uncertain production environment brought about by climate change - such as flooding, drought, high temperatures – are leading to decreased individual and aggregate crop and animal productivity including fish catch.

Rising oil prices are pushing up food production costs. The impact of this trend has been very much felt in the country since our food production and distribution systems is oil dependent from land preparation, fertilizer and harvesting to post- production processes such as milling, processing and cooking.

Aside from conversion of local farmlands, unsustainable methods of production have also resulted to the deterioration or reduction of natural resources that are crucial in food production – including topsoil and fresh water supplies.

Food consumption pattern, habits, preferences or culture have also changed.

The global shift to “meat” culture has led to tremendous need for more lands, water, and nutrients to produce the feeds for animals that are raised to be sold or for consumption.

Urbanization gas also resulted to change in priorities or work habits and preference. Fewer people are now involved in food production and have become consumers. In developed or industrial economies, less than 3% are engaged in food production. In the Philippines, 20% are into agricultural production compared to a rate of more than 60% 50 years ago.

Preference to consume well-milled rice over the more nutritious brown rice variety that is produced by many local farmers has also placed a stress on local rice supplies.

Interrelated steps can be taken to avoid the occurrence of a food crisis or at least minimize its impact.

Shift to sustainable agricultural methods
First, we need to shift to ecologically sustainable agricultural methods.

In our farms, we need to fast track the adoption of biodiverse, integrated and organic farming (BIO Farm or Life Farm as opposed to “chemical or poison farm”) employing agro-ecological principles and methods

We also need to fast-track the implementation of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) which will help address the interrelated need of climate change adaptation by farmers, producing food with minimal use of fossil fuels, and producing safe and nutritious foods.

The farmers likewise need seed support as they have lost their indigenous/traditional seeds through long years of monoculture farming practices.

To ensure nutrient retention in our farmlands, we need to pursue integrated nutrient cycling. This will solve the waste disposal crisis in the urban areas and the nutrient scarcity in the farms if we are to reduce or stop using chemical fertilizers.

Supportive laws that must also be enacted to achieve the food sufficiency. In line with this, the country must adopt “food sovereignty” as the evolving principle in achieving food self-sufficiency. Essentially, food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

A Land Use Law and a parallel Water Use Code must also be enacted to stop land use conversion and ensure the preservation of our water resources. Watershed protection and management must also be given a higher priority, which will recharge our aquifers, improve our water supplies, and enhance our hydroelectric power generation.

Shift in attitudes on consumption
Second, we need to change our attitudes towards food consumption.

We need to diversify our food sources. This means reducing meat consumption, and eating more fish and legumes. Shifting from well-milled to brown rice. Eating fruits and vegetables that are in season.

We should also give more priority to locally-produced food for our consumption to save energy in packaging, hauling, storage and transport.

Population control
Third, effective population management policies must be put into place to control the country’s booming population. Simply put, an increasing population means an increasingly stiffer competition for food and other resources.

Expert says
Our country’s overall food scenario highlights the need to address both the areas of agricultural production, the Filipino consumption culture, and population control. This requires the government to craft policies to boost production and control the country’s increasing population; and for the people to change our attitudes towards food consumption.

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Excerpted from a policy paper written by Teodoro C. Mendoza, a Full Professor of Crop Science at the UP Los Baños College ofAgriculture. Prof. Mendoza currently teaches ecological agriculture and farmingsystems and he is into energetics and carbon footprint analyses of crop agriculture