In search of food security
By Gina Mission

wo months ago, Vicente Ligason, 36, arrived in Manila from Bayugan, Agusan del Sur, a rural town in the northern part of Mindanao. His wife, Gilda, and their two children are in the province. Unskilled and minimally-educated, Vicente decided to try his hand peddling fish while waiting for his job application in one of Kalookan City’s plastic factories. Because with or without a job, he has to send money to his family.

___His cousin, Jerome Monteron, has been very supportive, offering him a room in the latter’s modest dwelling, accompanying him when he applies for jobs, and lending him a thousand pesos as start-up capital for his fish-vending venture.

___Ligason is just one of the thousands of people from Mindanao who left for Manila in search of better opportunities. For these people, it is not the promise of urban living, where life "pulsates" and "vibrates", that lures them to the metropolis. As Ligason told CyberDyaryo: "It is a matter of life and death. There is hardly anything to sustain us there. If I don’t do something, I’m afraid my family will not be able to eat."

___How a family like Ligason’s, with three hectares of farmlands to their name, could starve if he were to remain in his homeplace, is a story too complicated for him to fully comprehend. There was El Niņo, followed by La Niņa and sure enough, his harvests, as everybody expected, have dwindled. And in his book, anything that decreases while one’s need for it increases, is not good. For Ligason, it was simply a case of farm yields being "just not enough." And so he had to leave.

___Cristina David, research fellow of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), says that Ligason’s case is not isolated, especially since he is from Mindanao, and the issue on the table is food security.

___To start with, Mindanao, receives the lowest budget for agriculture-related research and development. This despite the fact that it is the country’s second largest island, is home to some 16 million people, is contributing 34 per cent of the country’s total agricultural production, 44 per cent of domestic food trade, and 13 per cent of its total manufacturing output.

___A tabulated presentation in David’s paper, Constraints to Food Security: The Philippine Case, shows that from 1994 to 1996, Mindanao got only a total of P84.72 M for research and development. In contrast, Visayas got P115.97 M, and Luzon got P726.09 M.

___Part of the problem, David said at a recent roundtable discussion on Food Security, Farmers’ Welfare and Agricultural Efficiency for the Next Millenium, is the reality that food security is often confused with rice and corn sufficiency. The program was organized by PIDS and the Philippine APEC Study Center Network and was held at the ACCEED Conference Center in Makati City.

___David cited many instances when government tried to address food security threats by importing more rice when the domestic supply ran out. The Green Revolution decade, she said, was almost always equated with food security.

___"More often than not, government forgets that the goal of food security is for the benefit of all Filipinos, particularly the poor. Also, the production of rice and corn is not the only, and often not even the dominant, source of current and potential income of the farm households who grow these crops," David wrote in her paper.

___After all, food security, as a goal, is meaningful only at the household level. No matter how hard the government tries to create an "illusion" of food security by importing tons and tons of rice, when the average Filipino doesn’t have the means to acquire these imported grain, David maintained, food security is still absent.

___"This goal [of food security] aims to ensure that for all households, particularly the rural and urban poor households, food is available at prices that they can afford," David said.

___At the center of this food security issue, according to David, areb "distorted agricultural polices and priorities." Agricultural research or technology generation, in particular, is severely underfunded. David showed a table where only 5 per cent of total public expenditures for agriculture have been allocated for agricultural research and 9 per cent for extension.

___In addition, David also talked of "inefficiencies caused by the misallocation of research resources within the sector and weaknesses in the institutional framework of the research system" including organizational structure, lack of accountability, fragmentation of research, incentive problems, instability in leadership, and weak linkage between research and extension.

___"Allocation of research expenditures across commodities and regions have been highly incongruent to their relative economic importance in terms of gross value added (GVA) contribution to total agriculture of the commodity or the region," David said.

___Rice and corn, for instance, both had 0.25 and 0.05 research intensity ratio (RIR), respectively, of the total resources available to the agriculture sector from 1994 to 1996. Cotton or silk and abaca, on the other hand, had 25 and 1 RIR, respectively, in the same time period. The irony of this is that, rice and corn have a combined GVA of 25 per cent, while cotton and abaca have only 5.

___"This is scandalous," remarked David, referring to the above figures. "It’s bad enough that the government can only afford to provide – not without cost to the people - food security in terms of rice and corn and never mind the viand to go with it, it’s even worse that it could not prioritize these commodities in its budget allocation," she said.

___Vicente Ligason may not fully understand David’s words, but one thing he knows for sure, based on his own experience: "There is no food security in farming."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.07.15