MANILA, Philippines – Hunger and malnutrition remains a major development obstacle in the Philippines. But it can be addressed through the right policies and joint local and national programs.
This was the key message at a multi-sectoral forum on hunger, entitled "#HungerProject: The end of hunger?" held on Monday, March 3, at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City. The forum aimed to raise awareness and inspire action against the continuing problem of hunger in the Philippines. (WATCH: #HungerProject: The end of hunger?)
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman, who was one of the panelists, said fighting hunger is everyone’s responsibility.
“This is the future of our country...It’s really the children who are first and foremost affected…These are the people who will be ruling the country in the next generation so we should all be involved,” Soliman said.
The other panelists were Praveen Agrawal of the World Food Programme (WFP), the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger, and Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, whose late husband former Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo created programs that lessened poverty in Naga City during his term as mayor.
The event also served as the launch of Rappler’s #HungerProject microsite.
Hunger in the Philippines
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Philippines scored a Global Hunger Index (GHI) of 13.2, which is categorized as a "serious problem." While hunger has generally declined in the Philippines in the past years – the country's GHI score stood at 19.9 in 1990 as compared to 13.2 in 2013, the Philippines ranks 28th in the world in global hunger prevalence.
GHI scores are calculated using 3 main indicators – undernourishment, child underweight, and child mortality. It uses a scale of 0 (no hunger) to 100 (hunger). The ideal score is less than 5, which indicates low hunger.
The 2013 4th quarter survey on self-rated poverty and food poverty by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) also showed that more Filipinos considered themselves hungry at the end of 2013 – around 41% or 8.8 million households considered themselves food poor.
Typhoon-ravaged Visayas scored the highest score in terms of self-rated poverty (68%) and self-rated food poverty (52%).
Undernourishment is also a problem among Filipino households. An estimated 15.6 million Filipinos were considered undernourished from 2011 to 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization said. The national average of self-reported food insecurity stood at 69.3%, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology said. Severe food insecurity results in hunger.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), one of the poorest regions in the country in terms of income, has a high rate of self-rated food insecurity both for adults and children – 78.9% for adults and 64.3% for children.
The statistics were part of research findings on hunger presented by Chay Hofileña, Investigative Desk editor of Rappler.
Inclusive growth as a solution
Linking the problem of hunger to poverty, Agrawal said the Philippines should go beyond band-aid solutions. He suggested that better income distribution might help solve the problem.
“I think one of the biggest issues that we need to start looking at is how should we address income distribution problems that can help (bring) down hunger...We need to look at this in the medium-term and long-term. This requires the utilization of cash and income in a proper way,” he added.
Robredo added that empowerment of poor communities by giving them livelihood and income opportunities also paves the way for inclusive growth, which helps lessen poverty. She cited the programs that her husband implemented during his term as Naga City mayor.
“He made the poor households the suppliers of government’s demands. For example, when Naga City would hold feeding programs for children, the government would make sure that supplies for that won’t be sourced out of the city. They did a lot of capability programs in order for poor households to be able to supply the needs of the day care centers,” Robredo said.
“With one set of funds, you are able to target income and health problems...The income being generated by the city are felt by the poor households,” she added.
Role of LGUs
Soliman emphasized the important role that local government units (LGUs) play in creating solutions to fight hunger.
“If the local chief executive is committed, is honest and is with integrity, you have a good partner. If it is the opposite, then you have a big problem,” Soliman said.
One of the welfare department’s projects this year is providing funds for LGUs for feeding programs in 45,000 day care centers. They also provide massive feeding programs for children in typhoon-hit areas.
According to a FNRI report on malnutrition, hunger mostly affects Filipino children. In 2011, 20.2% of children were underweight, while 33.6% were stunted or had lower heights for their age. Around 7.3% of the children suffered from acute malnutrition. (READ: National survey: We have many malnourished children)
Based on the same survey by the FNRI, one out of 4 pregnant Filipino women is nutritionally-at-risk, while around 12% of lactating mothers are underweight.
But the challenge is getting everybody on board. Robredo added there is no cookie-cutter model for working with local governments to get them to see the problem of hunger in their localities.
“Naga was an island in a sea of poor governance, poor health stats, poor poverty stats. In my district alone, poverty incidence is close to 50% right now, malnutrition rate is more than 20%...Not all local government leaders are proactive. Not all of them are open to the idea," Robredo said.
Learning from Brazil
The government is looking at how other developing countries managed to address their hunger problems.
WFP and DSWD are pilot testing a model based on Brazil’s Zero Hunger Program. The program empowers small farmers to produce food for social assistance programs of the government across different areas in the Philippines. (READ: DSWD, partners to roll out new program against hunger)
Initiated by former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, the program also institutionalizes structures to support the farmers’ livelihood.
“At the national level, they have legislations, laws, and financial procedures that enable the flow of funds from the national to the municipal and provincial governments. At least 30% of local funds, if spent on food, must be from local production,” Agrawal explained. Agrawal added that food producers are often the poorest in the food production chain.
The Zero Hunger program proved effective for Brazil since farmers had guaranteed demand for their products and government support. Like the Philippines, Brazil is a largely agricultural country. It also had credit systems that required a guarantee for produce. Agrawal said farmers did not just sit back and ask for funds but instead worked to produce more products.
“This model addresses various issues. It looks at pricing, so there isn’t inflation. It looks at supply, so it ensures we're doing the right product. It’s like looking at each area and saying focus on what you do best,” he added. (READ: World leaders sign Zero Hunger Declaration at Davos)
Soliman said the model is being tested in Camarines Sur, and will soon be launched in the Cordilleras and ARMM.
Pockets of hope
Agrawal encouraged the government to partner with civil society groups to come up with more encompassing solutions to hunger.
“Let’s not look at this as a competition but as a complementation...Let’s not forget who we’re doing it for, the people.They must be partners. They are not just beneficiaries. They need to be owners of the same process,” Agrawal said.
Soliman said she is hopeful that hunger can be eliminated in the country.
“There are so many pockets of hope and energy zones that I encounter...There are many citizen-led solutions that change lives and communities...There are solutions coming up from communities because they need to do it. If not, they will die.Their children will die,” she added.
She challenged Filipinos to join the fight against hunger.
“Join us! Join the (community projects)! We can end hunger by 2016,” she concluded. – Rappler.com
In case you missed the event, you can watch it here and read the liveblog. If you want more information on #ProjectHunger, email email@example.com and sign up to be a part of the #HungerProject community.