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FROM the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) data bank researchers can see the huge potential of the Asean members’ ocean, mangroves and coral/reef resources.
The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia form the tip of the world’s golden coral triangle. The Philippines is the apex of the triangle while the base starts from Sumatra island from the west and extends to Papua New Guinea (which is not yet an Asean member) to the east.
The Asean Center for Biodiversity in the UP Los Baños campus in Laguna province reveal this is only three percent of the world’s geographical surface, but the animal and plant lives constituting the human food chain there is almost 25 percent (and still counting) of the world’s total.
The Asean 10 (member nations) is the source of 25 percent of our planet Earth’s fish, crustaceans, mollusks, seaweeds and other natural sources of human food and medicinal compositions. These Southeast Asian coral reef and offshore areas, including mangroves, provide the breeding pockets of all sorts of finfish which are also the food sources of various kinds of birds and reptiles.
This ecological balance in turn results in the sustainability of the human food resources. Properly and scientifically managed—meaning, conserved and sustained—the Asean members can feed a major portion of the world’s increasing population, predicted by the UN to be almost 10 billion before 2050.
The issue becomes dire when one considers that the health-conscious populations of all the continents have increased the demand for fish, accounting for more than 75 percent of the world’s fishing grounds being over-harvested. And there is an apparent increase in ocean fish-farming (although there no statistics we could find at this writing).
Case in point: The Tubattaha and Bastera Reefs between Palawan and Panay islands are the main breeding grounds of tuna in the Philippines. The newly hatched tuna seek refuge from predator fish in the corals. The milkfish (bangus) breed in the maze of mangrove roots.
When the tuna grow to be juveniles, they swim out to the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and join the adults in their round-the-Pacific journey—to the Japan Sea, then to the shores of Alaska and down to the US west coast. They turn right in the equator and back to the Philippines to spawn.
Those still too young to spawn, turn right on the southeastern Philippines and up to the Philippine Deep off our Benham Rise and the Pacific circle again. This continues and provides profits for organized deep-sea fishing firms operating in the southwestern Pacific region.
The mangroves of this region, estimated to be more than one-third of the world’s, serve as strainers of the municipal wastes people just throw on the inland waterways and float down to the sea.
With the world population now at seven billion, almost 85 percent of our seas are overfished. Dynamite fishing destroy corals and reefs (and even kill fishermen themselves) in the region. Other illegal practices include use of extra fine nets and trawl fishing.
Earlier revelations from the UN showed the increased international commercial and domestic shipping industry and military naval activities of the superpowers have greatly polluted the oceans with non-biodegradable materials like plastic bottles and other oil-based containers. Stomachs of dead birds and ocean mammals prove this.
Thus the Asean 10 committed in the recent US-Asean Conference on Marine Environmental Issues in Bangkok to rehabilitate, preserve and conserve their marine resources to achieve sustained food security.
More ocean conferences will follow the Bangkok meeting in Malta next month and next year in Indonesia.
The marine resources of Asean surely must be addressed immediately. But there are other measures governments and private enterprises and citizens must do simultaneously to attain food and water security.
Some of these (especially in the Philippines) are:
Educate our farmers (Asean 10 and 60 million people of the Asia-Pacific coconut community) to accept new production technologies like intercropping our coconut farms with vegetables, root crops and fruit trees to increase their incomes too.
Organize the individual farmers and fishermen into cooperatives—or cooperatives—and give them access to credit financing to increase productivity and production.
Modernize the post-harvest facilities with technologies to prolong the shelf life of their raw and finished products.
Provide the small and individual producers with cheaper energy or electric power to bring down their production costs and be more globally competitive with their finished products.
Push the Asean economic integration faster to be more efficient and a regional supplier of finished goods to the world and increase their collective—and individual—economy.
Provide them all with the vital regional and world market information to elevate their competitiveness in this globalization age.
Fast-track the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to enlarge Asean’s regional undertaking with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the “dialogue partners” the US, the European Union, Canada and Russia. (This will benefit Asean’s 620 million market base of 3.5 billion people and provide more opportunities for the small- and medium-scale industries—and hopefully lead to inclusive growth.
Continue to work as a collective bridge for peace among the military superpowers to prevent any increase in geopolitical and military tension in the Asia-Pacific region through economic cooperation.
Now is the time to start all these because the “build, build, build” fever is high with China’s offer of the railway network with all the Asean 10 members. This will naturally increase economic activities with the spin-offs and improve national and personal incomes.
Of course, there will be problems that will go with these economic interactions but at this point the positive side of the coin is much more important that the negative end. We just have to be alert to read the smoke signals all the time. We might miss the train if we delay action.
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