The nexus between food insecurity and national security | Inquirer Business
MAPping the Future

The nexus between food insecurity and national security

Here’s the big picture. We are food insecure and at grave risk. By our own hand, we’ve posed a profound threat to national security. The complex relationship between food insecurity and national security has tremendous economic, social and political implications on our well-being, stability and survival. What bedevils is that we’ve continually failed to reverse the situation through decades of policy failures, neglect and inability to reverse our dire straits.

Food insecurity has undermined our capacity to survive. Millions of Filipinos have lacked access to nutritious food through decades of neglect. Physical and cognitive development have been compromised, leading to decreased productivity and earning potential. It has diminished our human capital and economic competitiveness on the global stage. Food insecurity increases health-care costs due to malnutrition-related illnesses, further straining the national budget and diverting resources away from national development initiatives.

Socially, food insecurity aggravates inequality and social unrest considering that the poor are bearing the brunt of its consequences. The vulnerable women, children and elderly among us are disproportionately affected. It has fueled migration from the rural areas to our cities, further straining already overburdened regions and heightening existing social and cultural tensions. Stunted development, poverty, health-care deficits and budgetary deficits are a dangerous mix, especially in times of great volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in many parts of the world that threaten food resources and supply chains.


Politically, food insecurity could easily destabilize the government and spark civil unrest or even open conflict. History has shown that food shortages and cost-price spikes are catalysts for social upheaval and political instability as evidenced, for example, by the Arab Spring protests in 2011. If the government fails to address the root causes of our food insecurity, it risks losing its legitimacy and stands to face internal dissent. Moreover, our vulnerability invites unfriendly nations to exploit it to satisfy their core interests. The wolves out there are merciless and we are easy pickings. We are prime candidates for unconditional surrender.


Furthermore, food insecurity intersects with environmental challenges, such as climate change and resource depletion, amplifying its impact on national security. Climate-related events, such as droughts, floods and extreme weather patterns, disrupt agricultural production and magnify food insecurity, particularly in vulnerable regions with limited adaptive capacity. Additionally, competition over scarce natural resources, such as water and arable land, intensify geopolitical tensions, trigger conflicts and further jeopardize regional and global stability. Iraq and Ukraine were our main fertilizer sources until war came knocking on their doorsteps.

Holistic approach

Addressing food insecurity requires a full spectrum approach that encompasses both short-term relief measures and long-term sustainable solutions. Social amelioration programs, such as food assistance and nutrition education, can help alleviate immediate suffering. For the long pull, investments in agribusiness education, technical training, financing, infrastructure, mechanization, research, technology, post-harvest facilities, downstream manufacturing and direct distribution from farm gate to market are essential for enhancing food production and resilience to climate-related shocks. Farming must ultimately be profitable.

So, what must we do? We’ve known for the longest time that food insecurity poses a grave threat to national security that jeopardizes our economic stability, social cohesion and political order. Instead of single-mindedly focusing on restoring food security, we’ve failed to effectively address the underlying drivers of food insecurity and implement comprehensive strategies. Hopefully, the current administration turns the situation around. Here are some key steps that we can take:

  •  Upgrade and modernize infrastructure, including irrigation systems, roads, storage facilities and processing plants, to increase productivity, reduce post-harvest losses and facilitate market access for farmers.
  • Increase investment in research and development to develop crop varieties that are resilient to pests, diseases and climate change. Embrace innovative technologies, such as precision farming, hydroponics and vertical farming, to maximize resource efficiency and enhance yields.
  • Smallholder farmers play a crucial role in feeding the nation but often lack access to credit, markets and technology. Implement policies and programs to provide access to financial services, extension services, mechanized equipment and input subsidies.
  • Most land reform beneficiaries who were not trained to manage a profitable business have either sold their land or leased it back to their original owners. New legislation should encourage big business to engage and revive the sector through land consolidation to ensure economies of scale, raise productivity and turn in a profit.
  • Develop and implement climate-smart practices to mitigate risk from droughts, floods and extreme weather events. Encourage the adoption of agroforestry, conservation practices and crop diversification to improve soil health and water retention.
  • Strengthen value chains by promoting linkages between farmers, processors, retailers and consumers. Invest in market infrastructure, such as cold storage and transport facilities, to reduce post-harvest losses and improve market access for farmers, especially in remote mountain, coastal and rural areas.
  • Reform policies and regulations to create an enabling environment for sustainable development. Streamline bureaucratic processes, reduce trade barriers and provide tax incentives for new investments, including subsidies for sustainable farming practices.
  • Encourage the growth of value-adding downstream industries to expand the economy, broaden marketing options and reverse the labor diaspora that has endangered family unity and social cohesion. Support entrepreneurship and innovation through training, financing and market linkages.
  • Strengthen agricultural education and extension services to build the skills and capacity of farmers, extension workers and agricultural professionals. Provide training on modern farming techniques, business management and sustainable practices to enhance productivity and resilience in the sector.
  • Foster collaboration among the government, private sector, civil society and research institutions to drive innovation, investment and policy reform. Public-private partnerships can leverage resources, expertise and networks to overcome complex challenges and achieve inclusive growth.

If the current national and local leadership manage to get their act together to implement these strategies in a coordinated and sustained manner, the Philippines can transform the agricultural sector, improve food security and create a more resilient and sustainable food system for the benefit of all Filipinos. INQ

The author is a former Department of the Interior and Local Government secretary, life member of Management Association of the Philippines, trustee of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and current president of the Rotary Club of Manila.
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