How do we feed the future?

An estimate of 7.6 million Filipino households has experienced involuntary hunger at least once due to insufficient food supply during the COVID 19 pandemic. The Social Weather Stations (SWS) recorded a 30.7% hunger incidence during their survey in September 2020. It was 9.8 points higher than the record from July of the same year (20.9%) and almost 22 points higher than December 2019 (8.8%).

Out of the 7.6 million families, 5.5 million have experienced moderate hunger –they experienced hunger one or a few times. On the other hand, 2.2 million families have experienced severe hunger –went hungry often or always in the last three months. The SWS survey reflects the effects of the massive loss of livelihood, resources, and employment caused by the pandemic.

But hunger has always been a serious problem in the Philippines way before the pandemic started. In 2017, we even ranked 29th in the Global Hunger Index. More than 13 million Filipinos can't afford to eat thrice in a day despite the government's efforts.

In the slums of Metro Manila, most families were forced to scavenge from dumpsters just to put food on their tables. Pagpag is left-over food from garbage and dumps that are washed, cooked, and even sold. And despite the warnings of the National Anti-Poverty Commission and other health agencies, it has been a staple in the lives of these communities.

Seeing their situation makes one wonder, why in a country with hectares and hectares of agricultural land, why are millions of people experiencing hunger?

Over 2,000 tons of food are wasted every single day in Metro Manila, even though an alarming number of families are sinking way below the poverty line. Aside from causing food insecurity, the massive food waste also contributes to the destruction of our planet. It wastes the water, oil, and land used in the production and distribution of these food supplies; it also releases methane, a greenhouse gas, as it begins to decompose or rot; and it harms our depleting biodiversity. Hence, this problem must be solved immediately.

How do we bring these wasted foods to our hungry countrymen before it reaches the dumpsters and landfills?

Western countries like France and Italy have implemented an anti-food-waste ban. These legislations encourage supermarkets to donate their unused food instead of just throwing them out. In Denmark, the government established Wefood, a mandated food waste grocery, which sells excess food from local markets at a 50% discount. Meanwhile, in Canada, a pay-what-you-can grocery store was opened.

While similar laws and regulations are yet to be drafted and implemented in our country, non-government organizations (NGOs) like the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines are spearheading projects like "The Sustainable Diner: A Key Ingredient for Sustainable Tourism" in cooperation with establishments in Metro Manila and Tagaytay City. The project aims to equip the media, food establishments, academe, and even fellow NGOs with the knowledge and practices on preventing, managing, and diverting food wastes from their homes.

Although projects like these are beneficial in the campaign against food wastes, it rarely reaches the masses. Local government units must cooperate with these NGOs, major food and beverage companies, supermarkets, and food establishments to formulate programs that would cater to those who need it the most.

That's just one approach to tackle our problem. If we want to live in a country where everyone gets to eat a sufficient meal every day, we must make real changes in our policies, laws, and actions. We need to start paying attention to our food and agricultural sector. Our farmers, especially the small-timers, need our support. Adequate funds should be allocated to really allow them to make developments and reforms that would improve the conditions and ensure food security in our country, especially now that we are in a seemingly never-ending pandemic.

Additionally, the government should also start projects that would teach local communities about gardening by conducting seminars and providing them the adequate resources to create their gardens in their area. Projects like these could encourage the rise of community-supported agriculture (CSA), which directly connects producers and consumers. Aside from providing fresh and healthier produce, CSA also creates a more cost-effective and transparent local food system beneficial to both farmers and consumers.

Ultimately, agriculture plays an integral role in shaping our past, present, and our future. And if you want to unravel more stories and ideas that capture the link between our society and agriculture with the passing of time, stay tuned for TEDxUPLB 2021: Sign of the Times on May 2, 2021. Hope to see you there!

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