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Community pantries, agriculture and youth initiatives

Community pantries, spearheaded by a spontaneous youth initiative, is a blessing for agriculture. Feeding our hungry with the fruits of our agriculture has suffered greatly from COVID-19 and increased poverty from unemployment.

On Dec. 1, 2018, hunger incidence in Metro Manila was 9 percent. This more than doubled to 21 percent in August 2019. Despite government and the private sector taking extra efforts to address this problem, hunger incidence still increased to 31 percent in December 2019.

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New approaches had to be formulated. In July 2020, the youth, led by Jose Ma. Montelibano who had more than 10 years of feeding program experience with Gawad Kalinga, launched Walang Iwanan Alliance (WIA). It was a platform that would have a target data base of where the most hungry were. It would also gather donations and funnel these to existing organizations who are doing feeding programs with best practices.

By September, WIA had forged partnerships such as with Globe Telecom that would course their clients’ Globe Reward Points to WIA if desired. WIA has since received P20 million in donations from multiple sources. It had used some concepts of community pantry by coursing food and cash to collection points in churches and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The WIA mantra is “Kung hindi gutom, kayang tumulong.” If the top 30 percent of our population gave P25 everyday for a meal for the bottom 30 percent, there would be no severe hunger.

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Last December, WIA conducted a hunger forum with three speakers representing six different sectors: Brother Armin Lustre for business and education; Dingdong Dantes for youth and Vicky Wienecke for NGOs and LGU Teamwork. Secretary Karlo Nograles spoke at its conclusion, and formally launched later the Pilipinas Kontra Gutom movement, again mobilizing the youth sector.

There was indeed success, but still not enough. Prayers were offered to solve this huge hunger problem. Then, on April 24, a youth came to the rescue. Twenty six-year-old small business owner Ana Patricia Non started the Maginhawa Community Pantry. Offering just a small table on Maginhawa Street, people could give what they wanted and others, get what they needed.

A God-given simple idea immediately blossomed into 262 community pantries recorded in several provinces like Cagayan, Leyte, Zamboanga and Davao. Imagine at least 40,000 community pantries in our 40,000 barangays, led by the youth. This is where “bayanihan” can be spontaneously demonstrated with no required approvals, permits, or bureaucratic constraints. It can be like the mass-based Saemaul Undong movement. This initiative encouraged the patriotism and national pride that is largely responsible for bringing South Korea to where it is today. Even there, the youth were at the forefront.

For a while, the Maginhawa Community Pantry stopped operations because of questioning from police authorities and fear of Red-tagging and imprisonment. Thankfully, our government has stopped this, and should end similar abuses in other parts of the country. For disclosure purposes, I have been a victim of such abuse with a nine-year warrant of arrest just for nonviolent discussions and published articles against martial law.

How can agriculture benefit from community pantries? It can be an additional distribution outlet for farmers, specially when their products cannot be sold. This provides a supplemental market with no middlemen involved. A new added optional feature is that people can buy farmers produce when there is an oversupply and donate this to the community pantry.

This is happening right now with the community pantry organized by Fr. Monoling Francisco SJ, in Quezon City. There can be many variations to the community pantry concept. The creativity of the youth can be harnessed to best suit the unique situation that exists in a given specific area.

The P11 billion saved from the pork tariff reduction tariffs, if not implemented as recommended by many economists from Congress and the private sector, can fund not only the hog backyard raisers and COVID-19 victims, but also logistics to help farmers take advantage of the community pantry opportunity.

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Today, importers are allowed to get any amount of pork they want. With their current gross margins of 110 percent as calculated by the economist Rep. Joey Salceda, they are sufficiently motivated to import. In addition, there is no assurance that importers will pass their huge cost savings to consumers. Part of the P11 billion in saved government revenue can also help support mass-based hunger mitigation initiatives like community pantries, instead of the importers who definitely do not need it and will import anyway.

With the youth in the lead, and the right government encouragement instead of harassment, community pantries and agriculture can indeed be a marriage made in heaven. INQThe author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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