Source: Philippine Information Agency
Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Philippine Statistics Authority.
MANILA, March 2 -- The Philippines should continue and further improve its program for the vulnerable sector of the Philippine society to eradicate hunger, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food said on Friday.
“Accessing adequate and nutritious food continues to be a challenge across most of the country both in terms of under and over nutrition, with women and children faring worst,” Ms. Hilal Elver said but acknowledging that the government is doing everything it can under the ‘circumstances.’
The Philippine government is aware of the problem, and “to be fair, they are really worried and is serious in doing something about the problem, but of course the problem is huge,” she told reporters in a press conference.
In recent years the Philippines has rapidly risen to a lower middle income country ranking as the 39th largest economy in the world, according to a separate UN statement on Elver’s visit, citing 2013 World Bank data.
“Recovery in exports and investment generated gross domestic product (GDP) has led to a growth of 6% in the first half of 2014 [Asian Development Bank], with slightly stronger economic growth anticipated for 2015,” the statement said.
However, despite the unprecedented growth rates over the last few years, it is “lamentably the Philippines ranks 29th in terms of hunger incidence (2014 Human Development Index) with an estimated 3.8 million households having suffered from involuntary hunger at least once during the last quarter of 2014,” the statement also said.
Last year, the World Bank said that for the economic development to be felt by majority of Filipinos across social segments, consistent or sustained economic growth for 10 years is needed.
The statement noted that while there has been a decrease in the number of underweight children from 20.7 percent in 2007 to 20.2 percent in 2011, wasting has increased between 2003 and 2011 from 6 percent to 7.3 percent.
Elver also said that the government’s Food Staple Security Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA), although wide enough to cover important aspects of production, assistance to farmers, and even the trade aspects, should be expanded because Filipinos consume not only rice or corn, but also other food to complete their nutrition requirements.
Elver’s visit is at the invitation of the Philippine government, to engage with the authorities to identify the main obstacles hindering the full realization of the right to food and propose strategies for tackling these obstacles and improving the enjoyment of rights by the most vulnerable in society.
This is the first visit to the country by an independent expert on the right to food assigned by the UN Human Rights Council to report on initiatives to ensure the full realization of the right to food.
In an interview, DA Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said that the food security is included in the current administration’s main list of deliverables, and have likened the program as a domestic concern saying “It’s just like a household issue, why depend on others if you can produce the food yourself?”
Collectively, the Filipino farmers’ palay production reached 19.07 million metric tons (MMT), last year, despite the strings of strong typhoons that battered major agricultural crop areas of the country, the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) said in its annual data on agricultural production for 2014 released last month.
The output was higher than the DA’s target of 18.88 MMT last year, and also higher than the previous year’s 18.4 MMT output, based on BAS data.
Should the trend continue, the country may not need to import rice, except for the obligatory minimum access volume under the World Trade Organization, and also to allow flexible source of rice buffer for lean months.
In 2011, the government’s rice self-sufficiency program was articulated under the Philippine Food Staples Self-sufficiency Roadmap (FSSR).
Previously, the country depended much on rice importation to cover for its rice security, subjecting the domestic price to the whims of global market.
The UN rapporteur also said that those working in the agricultural sector are particularly prone to hunger due to low rural incomes, whether as farmers or farm workers.
“Fishers and coconut workers are coconut workers are not only among the poorest,” but also particularly “vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather events.”
Distribution of land should also be ensured that those beneficiaries will not be compelled to resold their land “whether of lack resources for production implements on the part of the famers,” or the myriad of ways that former land lords can retake the distributed land.
Asked about her engagement with the government agencies and officials, she said that “the government has been transparent and gave me all the necessary documents, as well as the NGOs,” adding that the government “is doing many things to address the issues but political issues, climate change, and economic issues,” have taken its toll against the efforts.
Although the findings are preliminary, and are yet to be discussed with the government before final report is sent to the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Elver listed several recommendations for the country which include the formulation and adoption of a national strategy to adequate food with, “time-bound benchmarks and effective implementation plans for each region, which should include necessary budgetary and fiscal measures for sustainability.”
She also cited the necessity of passing pending legislations that address hunger, including the Right to Adequate Food Bill, the National Land Use and Management Act, and the Agrarian Reform Extension Law.
The rapporteur also recommended the women’s participation in the crafting of a food security plan with state support for women to access sustainable agriculture and community-based coastal resource management.
The UN rapporteur also noted the importance of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (CARPER), which seeks the redistribution of land exceeding five hectares to landless farmers and farm workers who cultivate them.
On using genetically-enhanced seeds, “the aspect of food security is serious, because there are many countries in the world fighting against GMOs”
“I do not know what will happen in the future, because right now, there is a race among those in the industry sector who will produce the fastest, for industry, not so much for food,” which is more apparent in corn sector.
The concern with GMO-enhanced seed is the copyright, “I believe that seeds should be available for free to farmers, to ensure food availability.”
Finally, in the short term, “I call on the Government to expedite the Right to Adequate Food Bill and to allocate the necessary budgetary and human resources for its effective implementation.”
I also call on the international community to continue its cooperation with the Philippines, including through financial and technical support, she said.
Meanwhile, the World Bank has commended the Philippine government for the successful launch of the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) in a joint statement with the Department of Agriculture (DA) over the weekend.
At least P11.4 billion has been allotted for sub-projects by early January, the DA.
WB Task Team Leader Carolina Geron commended the partnership of the DA and the Local Government Units (LGUs) in implementing PRDP, during a meeting with Secretary Proceso J. Alcala and other DA and WB officials last week, the statement said.
“With just two months, the project has already mobilized implementing units which resulted in a substantial pipeline,” Geron was quoted as saying.
She added that representatives from other countries including Mongolia are interested to visit the Philippines to see the good strides of what the DA is doing in PRDP.
“In a way, you are already giving back to the global community with what you are doing,” Geron added.
The WB team has recently completed a series of reviews in four clusters namely—North Luzon, South Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to check the on-going preparation of sub-projects under the PRDP and assess the readiness of both the DA and the LGUs in executing the project.
Alcala said that more than providing financial assistance to LGUs, the project will offer “out of the box” solutions to promote efficient implementation of rural development projects from the national office down to the regions and LGUs, which the DA can also share to other countries.
One of the tools used and promoted under the PRDP is the “geo-tagging” of sub-projects, which promote correct and transparent implementation of projects on the ground.
PRDP, a P27.48-billion project, implemented under the DA has funding support from the WB, the national government and LGU.
The program, an offshoot of the similar concluded projects which targeted Mindanao, aims to develop the economy in the rural areas while increasing incomes of rural farmers and fishers. (ASD/Media ng Bayan-Opcen)