World Food Day: Advancing the right to food
By Gina Mission


In danger?
photo courtesy of IRRI

The United Nations (UN) observed the October 16 World Food Day with the theme "Youth Against Hunger." Not to be outdone, local women’s groups had their "Women feed the world" celebration. Wanting to be more realistic, the Philippine NGO Liaison Committee on Food Security and Fair Trade (PNLC), for their part, advanced the "Right to Food" crusade, which, according to the group, is in danger if the government doesn’t start re-thinking its agricultural policies.

   "All-out trade liberalization is not the ready answer to the problem of food security. We have to learn from the experiences of industrialized countries. They were able to produce large quantities of food stocks because they have fully supported their agriculture. On the other hand, our agriculture has been (and is) neglected in favor of industrialization efforts. This has adversely affected the development of agriculture," said Aurora Regalado, PNLC executive director.

PNLC is a network of NGOs working in the nexus of food security, trade and agriculture. It was established in 1996 at the conclusion of the International Conference on Food Security and Trade Liberalization held in Manila to promote an alternative food security agenda.

Promises, promises

   During his campaign, President Joseph Estrada promised that he would ensure food security for all, especially the masses. The President declared to transform agriculture and fisheries into globally competitive sectors, promising an initial budget of P20 billion for the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA). In his first state-of-the-nation address, he underscored renewed support to agriculture and food security, vowing to include it in his centerpiece program of poverty alleviation.

   But the 1999 General Appropriation Act has only allocated P14.7 billion for the Department of Agriculture (DA), which is even P1 billion less than the 1998 DA budget.

   "Has the President forgotten his promise?" PNLC asked.

   But perhaps, Regalado said, it wasn’t really poor memory that has gotten the President. "Maybe he has other plans in mind?"

The GATT

   At the end of 1999, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will hold negotiations in agriculture to continue the liberalization process that was initiated by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-Uruguay Round (GATT-UR). These negotiations are mandated in Article 20 of the WTO-Agreement on Agriculture (WTO-AA).

   In signing the GATT-WTO, members have committed themselves to increasing access to their markets for agricultural commodities and to reducing their export subsidies and domestic support to agriculture.

   In the Philippines, GATT advocates announced in 1994, "sa GATT, aasenso ang lahat" (Prosperity for all in GATT). In agriculture, the DA claimed that the net benefits of the Philippines under GATT include annual trade earnings of P3.5 billion from agricultural products, a P60-billion increase in the agricultural gross value added (GVA) and 500,000 new jobs.

   After four and half years of implementation, however, PNLC said that farmers, consumers, NGOs, church and other civil society groups, are saying that the outcome of the UR is "skewed in favor of developed economies like the United States and the European Union."

   Former Trade and Industry Secretary Cesar Bautista, in his speech during the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva in May 1998, said that the commitments of developed countries have been "less substantial when it comes to removing domestic support measures and export subsidies." He also said that developed countries committed de facto circumvention of export subsidy commitments by "rolling over unused budgets from a previous period to the next."

How the other half does it

   A paper presented by PNLC articulated that the agricultural production in developed countries continues to be highly subsidized. In 1995 alone, the overall subsidy transfers in the US and Europe rose by five per cent. In 1997, subsidies across developed countries amounted to $280 billion. And as PNLC predicts, US farmers may get a record of $21 billion in direct support in 1999 alone.

   Such big agricultural subsidies, said Regalado, resulted in overproduction. Thus, surplus stocks are exported in the world market at competitive price. This in turn creates distortions in the international markets for food and other agricultural products.

An agriculturally competitive Philippines?

   Given the existing imbalance in international markets, Regalado stressed, the Philippines, if it wants to survive in a globalized market and promote the interests of the people, needs to pursue a strategic trade and agriculture policy.

   "A policy that is aimed at achieving not only a more transparent, democratic and equitable trading system but also sustainable income and employment generation in the rural areas," she added.

   To ensure food security, PNLC demands that government

   "Food security is more than just a trade concern; access to food is a basic right. Thus, a sovereign state has the primary responsibility to ensure and protect that most basic of rights," PNC said in a press statement.

   And unless food is secured by what is readily available, affordable and preferably locally-sourced, PNLC does not think there will ever be a guarantee of the right to food. Especially for the poor.


CyberDyaryo | 1999.10.21