Diversification seen as key to hitting PHL food security goals

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE DEPARTMENT of Science and Technology (DoST) said diversification will be key to efforts to ensure food security, bringing into balance cash crops with staples needed by the population.

“There has been more (focus on) cash crops… that has reduced the focus of diversifying food and livelihood opportunities. There is a need for us to diversify food that is available in terms of production and distribution,” according to Science Research Specialist II Charina A. Javier of the DoST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute said at the BusinessWorld Insights Forum Wednesday, “Ensuring Resiliency of our Food Systems.”

She cited a 2020 study published by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) which noted an oversupply of protein sources in the Philippines.

According to its estimates, meat imports and domestic production in 2019 were equivalent to 1.75 times the volume required for the Philippines’ own nutrition model, which is known as Pinggang Pinoy (the Filipino plate).

Meanwhile, the available fruit and vegetable volume was well below the quantities required to hit model levels.

“(ACIAR) saw that… vegetables and fruits are not enough (to meet the volume requirements) considering both local production and imports,” Ms. Javier said.

The ACIAR study found that the rice requirement was “adequately” covered during the period.

World Agroforestry Policy Specialist and Researcher Ayn G. Torres said diversification will allow farmers to increase their resilience against external shocks.

“It also contributes to improved nutrition, especially in the uplands,” she said.

Ms. Torres said farming programs must revolve around how to sustainably use the land to ensure farmers will have durable livelihoods.

“We also should not forget that there are around 18 million people in the uplands who are also getting their livelihoods from farming in deforested areas so we have to think about agriculture (in terms of) total land productivity,” she said.

Romeo S. Recide, the country’s representative to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), raised the issue of reducing food waste.

“If people reduce their wastage or eliminated their waste — of rice in particular — we will need to import 400,000 metric tons less,” he said, referring to the results of a survey conducted by the IRRI.

He said a typical Filipino household spends 40% of its budget on food, with about a quarter going to rice.

“Filipinos consume around 118 kilograms of rice per person per year — that’s more than two sacks per year. Rice, along with other cereals like corn and wheat, are daily staples for the vast majority of the global population, and therefore, are an integral part of the nutrition, cultures and economies of many low and middle-income countries,” he said.

Mr. Recide, who also serves as the IRRI’s secretary to the Board, said enhancing the productivity, resilience and sustainability of crops, particularly rice, is the key to achieving food security. — Angelica Y. Yang