I have gone over the 2016 Global Food Security Index (GFSI) and I was no longer surprised at its findings. Published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, the report ranks countries based on how they are secure when it comes to supplying food for their populations.
The capacity to produce food was not the only factor taken into account, because other equally important considerations like the general population’s being able to afford food, facilities to store, process and transport food for better accessibility, as welll as nutrition and dietary standards, were also taken into account.
And guess what country was the most food secure nation in Asia? Those who equate food security with food self-sufficiency will likely think countries like China, Thailand or even Vietnam are the most food secure countries in Asia because they produce enough rice at a lower cost compared to the Philippines.
But the most food secure country in Asia is Singapore, which is ranked No. 4 in the world. And come to think of it—Singapore imports more than 90 percent of its food needs because it does not have area to grow crops or raise livestock, obviously.
Japan was the second most food secure nation in Asia or tied at No. 22 worldwide with Italy. While Japan’s rice production area continued to shrink due to industrialization, it was able to compensate thru sustained investments in improving yield per hectare.
Among other Asian nations, China was ranked at No. 42 or tied with Romania, while Thailand and Vietnam were at No. 51 and No. 57, respectively. The Philippines was ranked at No. 74 followed by India at No. 75.
Looking at the report, it is obvious being food secure does not equate to having enough local production of a certain staple for a country’s population. If that were the case, Thailand and Vietnam would be ranked among the top nations because they can produce more than enough rice for their populations. Thailand is even the largest exporter of rice.
So there lies the crux of the matter—food security or being food secure is not the same as being food self-sufficient.
In the Philippines, food self-sufficient may mean being able to produce enough rice to feed the population. But in reality, that simply means being self-sufficient for the staple.
Going over the report, let me quote two excerpts that will give readers of this column a better insight on the importance of food security.
In a section on “Quality and Food Safety,” the Philippines got a much higher score, thanks to the government’s program in improving access to potable water supply, imposing higher tax on carbonated drinks to fight obesity which is a form of malnutrition, and providing school-based feeding program and educating the young on food nutrition.
On the aspect of availability, a food secure nation must be able to provide not only a sufficient supply but its ease of accessibility ensured. This includes sound infrastructure investments, sizable public spending on research and development to produce climate-resilient crops and to avoid environmental degradation. Oman is ranked first in this category given its high agricultural investments in R&D over any other country.
Stated in the “Key Findings” section, this statement is even more compelling: “Developing economies that prioritize investment in agricultural storage and transport infrastructure increase their capacity to ensure food security for burgeoning populations.”
In the Philippines, post-harvest losses in vegetables range from 15 to 25 percent because of the lack of cold storage facilities and trucks by both traders and farmers. In rice farming, post-harvest losses can reach up to 20 percent.
When it comes to rice, the government through the National Food Authority can only store 33.42 percent based on July 2016 Rice and Corn Inventory report of the Philippine Statistics Authority. Commercial establishments held 30.68 percent and households 35.90 percent. Rice stored in private hands can be subject to hoarding.
Worse, the present road networks are still inadequate to link food production centers to major urban markets, thus causing high spoilage and rejects due that eventually result to higher prices of commodities.
The business of transporting food around the Philippines must be balanced, with government providing strategic investments for the common good vis-à-vis private sector’s motivation for profit. Farmers must be given their fair share and operationalize a win-win marketing arrangements, starting with transparent farm-gate prices .So when farmers end up extremely poor, they hardly have enough money to eat three meals a day or secure a balanced diet.
The report concluded that the quest to improve food security requires economic growth as an essential ingredient. When poor countries are developed and income increases, the food system and institutional infrastructure are built and, food security improves. Inclusive economic growth provides the impetus to raise farmers’ income and “improve their ability to gain access to food, health and education while providing governments with the cash needed to make development more equitable.”
I am not saying that the country abandon its rice self-sufficiency program. But let us offer viable alternatives to help our poor farmers increase their incomes, giving them the purchasing power to afford and access quality and nutritious food, at all times. Growing high-value crops that have revenue potential—such as palm oil, rubber, cacao, coffee, mangoes, pineapple, soybean, and cassava must be pursued with a clear roadmap and assured investment support. That way, farmers do not equate farming as a subsistence but is a business to grow and nurture.
Will the Philippines pursue food sufficiency over food security? The answer maybe lies on a policy shift, instead of targetting the entire population, focus must be given to the poor and vulnerable groups. Agricultural investments to bring new technologies to improve planting and processing climate-resilient crops which gives a high source of protein such as millet, chick pea, peanuts must be encouraged. By providing affordable and accessible healthy foods to deter malnutrition that will somewhat avoid the crowding-out on health and education budgets, the country’s political stability is secured.