In the recent United States election, Obama and hope won. But the stock market did not respond as expected. It was argued that only the West and the developed countries would be badly affected and that the East and developing countries would escape unscathed. That was wrong. It will only be a matter of time before we feel the pain brought about by this financial crisis.
Around the world, jobs are being lost and incomes decreased. In the Philippines, we can add to this the specter of national food insecurity.
What food means
They say that a way to a man?s heart is through his stomach. Another way that conveys the same message is to say that to be healthy is to be happy. And to be healthy, one must have good food.
Good food and health go hand in hand. With inadequate and unhealthy food, one is prone to diseases and sicknesses that require expensive medicine. This is difficult to afford during a financial crisis.
Good food and good health are also required to develop the brains of our young population. They are the nation?s future. If they are malnourished, their minds will not develop properly and they will only lead the nation to more troubles. Our youth should be well-fed, healthy and bright, if we are to hope for a better future.
What needs to be done
We hear of stimulus packages in different forms. There are grand plans to build infrastructure and increase public schools. But if our people do not have good food at affordable prices during this crisis, the stimulus packages will have limited value. We now have food security plans, but we suggest that a national strategic plan for food security to address this financial crisis should also be formulated and disseminated widely.
What are the key elements of this plan? Three questions should be answered: What food products do we really need? How do we produce them at the lowest cost? How do we make them available and affordable to the people?
In 2001, when coconut farm-gate prices fell to P4/kilo and our coconut farmers were starving, Department of Agriculture Director Rene Espino asked the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) of the University of the Philippines, Los Baños, to select five easy-to-grow vegetables that would provide the combination of vitamins, minerals and protein for a family of six.
IPB did better than that. It identified and produced the foundation seeds for these five vegetables, making them available for only P10 a packet for each family.
By definition, foundation seeds have at least three successive generations as potent in productivity as the original seeds. Thus, these vegetable seeds yielded enough nutritious food at a very low cost to help feed a family for more than a year.
This was made available to 100,000 coconut farmer families, with good result. With today?s financial crisis, such a program should be launched on a massive scale. It should include the appropriate low-cost production technology, as well as the education and distribution networks to reach the remotest villages.
Another example is the promotion of the vegetable ?malunggay,? which is very powerful in its nutritional content and inexpensive to grow. But how much of the DA?s P48.4-billion budget in 2009 (which is 60 percent lower than the 2008 budget) will be used for malunggay promotion?
It is hoped that the promotion of vegetables like malunggay will not be forgotten. This is necessary to ensure food security during this financial crisis. Imagine the good a small portion of the DA budget could do if it promotes programs similar to the ?Malunggay Republic? (09176245639) multi-facetted approach used by former senator Joey Lina.
We need a strategic national food security plan to address this crisis. The plan should be done jointly by the public and private sectors, with the farmers and fisherfolk heavily involved so they will have a sense of ownership and will participate in the plan?s implementation. Each municipality has its unique needs, and should, therefore, have its own unique plan.
The legally mandated Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Councils (MAFCs) have the appropriate public-private sector partnership to formulate this plan. Since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is expected to sign the national budget soon, it is imperative that this food security plan be formulated at the soonest possible time. This will guide the use of the budget of the Department of Agriculture for the right priorities.
The National Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which has not met for one year and three months, is urged to convene immediately. It should approve as soon as possible a strategic national food security plan addressing the financial crisis that will guide the MAFCs as they pursue their own plans. We hope this will be done soon, because time is running out.
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The author is chairman of Agriwatch. For inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or fax +632 8522112.