WHILE there is substantial overlap among the concepts of food sufficiency, food security and food sovereignty, they do depart in terms of the strategy they will adopt based on the ultimate goal that they want to achieve. Food sufficiency means the production of all the basic food commodities within the country's border required by consumers. Meaning, that ample supply of these commodities will have to be produced within the country to meet total demand, regardless of the heavy economic burden of such a production strategy to the country.

Food security entails the production of food commodities up to the level wherein the economic cost of their production is financially viable while plugging any supply gap by importing the same commodities from trading partners who produce them at a cheaper cost. The thrust is to make those food commodities available at affordable prices to consumers who constitute the vast majority of the people. This will result in raising the overall consumers' welfare.

Undeniably, trade and its promotion are key components of attaining food security. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization espouses food security because it promotes the efficient allocation of budgetary resources while at the same time ensuring a higher consumption welfare to the public. In other words, it is a pragmatic approach that simultaneously guarantees the availability and affordability of nutritious food to the public, particularly the poor.

But if global trade (i.e. the smooth flow and exchange of goods) is impeded due unforeseen circumstances, the attainment of the pragmatic food security objective is compromised. For instance, if the Philippines can no longer rely on its trading partners for its supply of basic food commodities, such as rice or wheat, then food security will be difficult to attain.

This concern has been catapulted to prominence first with the logistical bottlenecks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation has been aggravated by the current Russia-Ukraine crisis as the two countries locked in conflict are major oil and grain producers in the world. The effect of the developed Western countries' sanction against Russia has resulted in shortages of certain food commodities. If developing and food deficient countries like the Philippines can no longer rely on trade for their supply of basic commodities, then it will be forced to produce those basic commodities regardless of economic cost.

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This is where the concept of food sovereignty comes to the fore. It means that in the interest of national security, the government must ensure production of basic food commodities to meet the food requirements of its people, with economic cost consideration playing a secondary role to the national security imperative.

Attaining food sovereignty

But how do we attain food sovereignty?

Ostensibly, the first step is for the national leadership to decide that agricultural development will be a priority agenda in the national development effort. This is exercising the so-called "political will."

Which leads us to the second step. The exercise of "political will" should not end at the rhetorical level, which ironically is the currency today, but translate to significant budgetary allocations to the agriculture sector. Funding should follow a clear vision, strategic direction and a solid plan identifying programs and projects to systematically attain the objective of agricultural development.

The third step is professionalizing the agricultural bureaucracy. Budgetary resources are not enough. A clear vision and a systematic plan will not be sufficient. In the final analysis, the plan has to be executed by people. If they are wanting in technical and managerial skills, it is inevitable that scarce public resources will just be wasted through incompetence, corruption or both.

The national leadership should end this practice of awarding positions in the agricultural bureaucracy to political supporters regardless of whether they meet the technical qualifications for the job. Agriculture is a science and it is not necessary that those cultivating a hectare or so of farmlands immediately qualify to become leaders of the institution.

It is for this reason that neighboring countries with successful agricultural sectors like Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have carefully selected technically competent leaders to man their agricultural bureaucracy. Agricultural development cannot be achieved based on the gut-feel or populist orientation of their leaders deciding on critical issues confronting the sector. It has to be based on science for which a technically incompetent leader is unqualified to do the job.

The fourth step is the consolidation of farm production. The protracted implementation of the agrarian reform program has resulted in miniscule farm sizes now cultivated by our tillers. At present, the average land size is around a hectare. This makes it difficult to apply modern farm machinery and technology because such tiny farms cannot enjoy economies of scale.

Again, for those obsessed with agrarian reform, farm consolidation does not mean consolidation of land ownership. It only involves consolidation of farm production and their proper production scheduling to ensure a steady supply of the commodity throughout the year.

And the fifth step is to ensure that local government units (LGUs) perform their mandated task in agricultural development. The Local Government Code of 1991, strengthened further by the recent Mandanas-Garcia ruling, assigned the role of delivering extension support and other basic services to the LGUs to their farmer/fisher constituents. Unfortunately, many of them are neglectful of their mandated functions, leading to a situation where the Department of Agriculture central office is blamed for the dereliction of their responsibility under the law.

In Vietnam, local officials are assigned productivity targets and failure to reach them, after sufficient resources are provided by the central state, will mean replacement of those non-performing officials. This will require a robust monitoring and evaluation system in assessing the performance of our local executives in the pursuit of agricultural development.

Unfortunately, our democratic system does not allow for such a sanction to be imposed on non-performing LGU officials. Their stay in office is dependent on their popularity. If they are voted into office by the electorate, there is no way those technically unqualified officials will be booted out of office.

That is the tragic part of our flawed democracy. But to delve deeper to this issue will require another essay.

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