By PCCI CHAIRMAN WILLIAM S. CO
Happy 2023 Chinese New Year!
The Philippines is one of the most food-insecure countries in Asia.
One of 10 households in the Philippines is food insecure, according to the World Food Program October 2022 survey result. Similarly, in the latest Global Food Security Index Q2 2022 by Deep Knowledge Analytics, the Philippines placed 146 out of 171 countries as the most food insecure country among its peers in the East and ASEAN region generating a score of only 5.05 out of possible 10 premised on these three key indicators – food accessibility; crisis level; and food system and economy resilience.
Now, the Philippines, like many other countries, is facing skyrocketing food inflation due to supply issues and the high cost of fuel. Our domestic inflation hovers at a 14-year high ending the year 2022 at 8.1 percent.
Recently, Filipinos experienced how little supply and high demand of food could affect its price. The price of onion reached as high as ₱800 per kilogram last December. Now, Filipinos would again brace for another price increase in agricultural commodity – egg.
One of the reasons why the onion’s price skyrocketed is because the Philippines was not able to purchase imported onion to augment the low supply from local sources.
This just goes to show how the Philippines heavily relies on imported onions. Onion, however, is just one of the agricultural imports that the country needs. Rice, corn, rubber, and garlic are also being imported.
Along with onion, in terms of value, they comprise the top five agricultural imports of the Philippines in 2021, based on a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
It is a sad reality that the Philippines, an agricultural country, heavily relies on these agricultural imports when, climate-wise, it can also grow these in-demand produce all over the country which could help minimize the importation.
While minimizing agricultural importation, the government could also address the issues on population growth, land conversion, access to modern planting methods, machinery, and better seeds, lack or absence of infrastructure, and trade policies to improve the food security situation in the Philippines.
In providing better seeds, the government, under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and a grant from the Chinese government, established the Philippine Sino Center located in Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in Nueva Ecija which has been providing hybrid rice seeds to farmers. I was back then the Agricultural Attache’ to China when this initiative was sealed.
The Center has been doing a great job, I believe it is now in its Phase 4 of implementation, in providing hybrid rice seeds and other programs related to rice since then.
It is about time that the Center expands its coverage for other crops such as corn, sugarcane, and sorghum. Corn could be an alternative of rice and a major component for feeds while sugarcane is equally important to increase domestic sugar production.
Food diversification is also one of the solutions to address food insecurity. Rice is the staple food of Filipinos and one of the solutions to diminish the demand is to promote food diversification.
What are the solutions or programs that the government has laid down on the table to help Filipinos learn, and have access to other food choices that they would like and afford?
For rice, the Phil Sino Center has been providing farmers with good hybrid rice seeds. Maybe, it could also do research and development for other crops to increase production and help minimize agricultural imports.
It’s a long shot but well worth trying so that, maybe, in the future, it can solve the food security issue of the Philippines.
(Dr. William S. Co is the chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and director for PCCI committee on Agriculture and Fishery)
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