ISSUE NO. 1
JAN - MARCH 2005
Featured Stories The Tastes that Bind The Big Picture Mini-Size Me Where's the Beef? Green Dining Mutants on Your Plate Movable Feast Why are Filipinos Hungry? At the Kitchen of Divine Mercy Republic of Pancit Mama Can't Eat Eating Without Fear Order your copy now!
The Tastes that Bind
The Big Picture
Where's the Beef?
Mutants on Your Plate
Why are Filipinos Hungry?
At the Kitchen of Divine Mercy
Republic of Pancit
Mama Can't Eat
Eating Without Fear
Order your copy now!
Recently, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed that fewer Filipinos went hungry in the last quarter of 2004 compared to the previous quarter the same year. But perhaps that was only because it was the Christmas holidays, which means feasting at whatever cost in this country. The SWS also noted that people have been lowering their standards of living and trying to make do with even less.
The situation doesn’t get better when seen from a five-year perspective. By comparing August/September SWS hunger findings from 2000 to 2004, things look like they have deteriorated, save for a fluke of a year that was 2003, when only 5.1 percent of the respondents told SWS they had gone hungry. In 2000, that figure was at 8.8 percent; by 2004, it was up at 15.1 percent.
But the problem may even be bigger than we think. Mario Capanzana, head of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), says the perception of hunger reported by the SWS is different from the objective measurement of per-capita food thresholds. In 2000, the National Statistics Office estimated the food threshold at P7,810 per capita, meaning that each person needed at least P21 worth of food daily in order to survive.
In 2000, the proportion of the population not reaching the food threshold — 21.2 percent — was more than double the SWS hunger perception measure of 8.8 percent that year. There may be more growling stomachs out there than what the surveys reflect, but since the government takes a national census only every five years, more current figures are unavailable.
There are three possible reasons for the growing hunger among Filipinos:
Let’s look at each possible cause in detail. First, food production: from 1990 to 1999, the Philippine population grew at 2.3 percent while agriculture growth averaged only 2.1 percent. In other words, food production didn’t keep up with the growing population.
From 2000 to 2004, however, this was no longer the case. The agricultural growth rates were 3.6 percent in 2000, 3.9 in both 2001 and 2002 (a mild El Niño year), 3.7 percent in 2003, and an expected five percent in 2004. These rates are all higher than the 2.3 population growth rate. If that’s the case, why has hunger increased rather than decreased?
“Remember that the agricultural growth rates reported by government are at the farmgate level, not at the retail level,” says Romeo Recide, agriculture statistics bureau director of the Department of Agriculture (DA). But hunger is felt by consumers who buy food at the retail level. Thus, we must examine what happens from the time the food is actually produced at the farmgate to the time when the consumer actually buys the food at retail, or at the palengke or supermarket.
Table 1 shows a not-so-pretty picture, at least from the hungry consumer’s point of view. Compared to other countries, the margins between the farmgate and retail prices in this country are excessive. For carrots and pork, for example, the retail prices are more than double the farmgate prices.
“Hunger is not determined by food production alone,” says Capanzana. “It is also determined by food availability and affordability.” Although many consumers can easily afford the farmgate prices of the different food products, these products must first be available to them. This is at the retail level, not at the farmgate. By the time the food reaches the consumer at retail, the prices have increased tremendously.
Still, while the big disparity between farmgate and retail prices is a cause of hunger, this gap has not changed much over the last few years. “Therefore,” Capanzana concludes, “it is not a major cause for the increase in hunger experienced today.”
Ernesto M. Ordoñez chairs Agriwatch, a private sector initiative. He was a former undersecretary of agriculture and trade and industry, and former chair and Cabinet secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects. He is currently the national coordinator of the Alyansa Agrikultura.
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