World food day is for farmers
October 16 is World Food Day. It should be a day of celebration for Manoy Dinio and millions of other farmers and agricultural workers worldwide. But celebrate what they did in their way. At the TBM citronella oil distillation and livelihood training facility in Canaman, Camarines Sur, the Social Enterprises Development (SED) team gave start-up kits to the organized groups among disaster survivors ready to embark on alternative livelihood while they still struggle to recover.
To be more meaningful, World Food Day should be an opportunity to highlight the grave problem and seek solutions to hunger, malnutrition, and rising food prices. These result from an unjust food system where the farmers are disadvantaged. World Food Day should expose the realities of marginalization and deprivation of our farmers, the creators of our country’s food wealth. Politicos from land-owning dynasties who call the farmers and fishermen “our heroes.” should not use the occasion for grandstanding. Yet, they pass laws that allow massive land conversions and displacement of farmers from their land to set up subdivisions and real estate.
That day, at 4:00 am, while his radio bursts out his favorite Tindog! with popular radioman Elmer Abad of DWNX-RMN on the air, Manoy Dinio finishes his cup of 3-in-1 instant coffee and a few bites of left-over rice tinutong before he sets off to his small rice farm in Tinambac, Camarines Sur. That is his daily routine, even if he does not expect a good harvest and income from rice farming, which he inherited from his father and his father’s father. Ironically, the rice farmers and food producers themselves are going hungry amidst an inflationary surge in the prices of all goods.
At the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, it was a fun-filled event of “stories, music, art and dance” with special guests sharing about “water is food, water is life,” which is the theme for 2023. For Manoy Dinio, what is there to celebrate when farmers are poorer than ever today? Irrigation is accessible only to an elite few. When they are lucky enough to harvest, farmers sell their unmilled rice at a dismally low six to seven pesos a kilo to survive!
Rice is now the topmost imported staple in the country. The government spent more on imported rice than on boosting farmers’ productivity. An economic think tank, Ibon Foundation, reports “50.9 million combined moderately and severely food insecure Filipinos, “making the Philippines the most food insecure country in Southeast Asia. They can only afford to eat from one to two meals a day, almost always with only a plateful of rice for three to five family members.
Is there anything to celebrate? The world is experiencing a third major food crisis than ever before. The UN report says nearly 51 million Filipinos faced moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020, the highest number in Southeast Asia. Wars and global conflicts are exacerbating the severe food scarcity worldwide.
While there is no reason to rejoice with the worsening plight of farmers, there are initiatives among concerned sectors to sound the alarm and seek solutions to address these persistent problems. For example, the Asia Pacific Association of Educators in Agriculture and Environment (APAEAN) International Conference is opening today with the College of Public Affairs and Development of the UP Los Banos at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) with more than a hundred participants from different countries of the Asia-Pacific. “Emerging Trends, Dimensions and Models in Agriculture and Environment Education and Extension in Post-Pandemic Times is the theme to guide the conference.
The Social Enterprises Development (SED) project team leaders of the Mariners-TBM-CBSUA partnership are joining as discussion facilitators and paper presenters. I joined the three-day conference with Dr. Cely Binoya, also the executive director of the APAEAN.
A few kilometers away is another conference, the International Rice Congress or IRC, that opened on World Food Day at the Philippine International Convention Center. Ironically, the Philippines, Asia’s top rice importer today, through the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Department of Agriculture, is hosting this year’s IRC for the first time. Previous to this, the IRC was held in Beijing (2002), New Delhi (2006), Hanoi (2010), Bangkok (2014), and Singapore (2018) for rice-based food systems to help shape a “food and nutrition secure future for all.”
In attendance are the prominent rice value chain actors like the rice producers, millers, traders, and retailers for convergence and collaboration with the experts and decision-makers from around the world, from the government, public, and private sectors, to talk about the development of hybrid rice and other new technologies for rice farming.
Will these meet-ups change Manoy Dinio’s situation and improve income from rice production? Domestic production needs more untrammeled support. Importing rice that competes with domestic production must stop.