OBLIQUE OBSERVATIONS

By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

In today’s ever changing world, things have become more complex. In trying to understand the problems and issues of today, It may help to view the scattered but interconnected pieces of the puzzle and observe with an oblique point of view. 

Recently, both our executive and legislative branches of our government have been keenly assessing our country’s present food situation and feverishly formulating policies to ensure food security. The News is filled with issues about fish, rice, sugar, and recently salt. “Pundits”, both known and self-proclaimed, have recently been harping about a global crisis on food.

Food has always been a staple issue for governments all over the world for decades. With all the advanced technology and know- how available, people often wonder why this particular problem remains a puzzle to this day. There are many reasons why this problem is complicated.

History and Background

Since the start of the 20th century , some 75 percent of our planet’s plant diversity has been lost. Farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties for genetically uniform, high-yielding and more profitable varieties. Also, despite having thousands of types of edible plants,  only three – rice wheat and corn provide 60 percent of the world’s main food source. Production of these grains are mainly found in specific areas of the globe. This dependency on three types of grain with limited variety in terms of strains has left our entire population in a very vulnerable position in terms of food security. Any event, both natural and man-made, that affects the supply of any of the three grain types creates serious ripples. As such the issue of food is mainly global in nature and not something one nation’s government can solve entirely.

For Filipinos, rice is our most important food staple. We eat an average of 115 kilograms per year and it is a large component (up to 20%) of the average Filipino’s food purchase budget. Unfortunately, we can only produce a maximum of 90% of our needs. Why can’t we produce what we need? Again several factors conspire against us. First, our population growth outstrips our ability to produce. Second, the land available for planting is finite. Third, unlike Vietnam with its Mekong delta and Cambodia which has the large Tonle Sap lake , the Philippines does not have the natural irrigation system of our southeast Asian neighbors. Producing more rice therefore as a unitary solution will not cut it. Importation? This would leave us vulnerable to events outside our country and beyond our control. The government is also faced with the dilemma of balancing consumer interests and farmer/food producer welfare.

Paradigm shifts and technologies

There are some sectors who have proposed substituting rice with vegetables or other cereals in our diets. There was a time when corn based cereal was common in the southern regions of  the country but rice eventually wiped out the competition. Everyone knows vegetables are healthier but accessibility is still limited. How do we produce cheaper vegetables? New technologies are now coming into play. There are enzymes used in open lots to produce more and better vegetables. Urban farming projects which use old buildings and water efficient hydroponics  are now being developed to produce more vegetables. Mushroom varieties that can be produced in alternative spaces and can produce more using smaller areas.

National Government alone, however, can’t push this shift and new technology. Now, more than ever, local governments including barangays and the private sector must step in to develop these technologies and techniques and implement them on the ground. Innovation and start up mentality with focus on social enterprises must contribute to coming up with solutions. It is easy to criticize but that won’t solve the problem. It is time for everyone to pitch in. This is my oblique observation and opinion.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.

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About the Columnist

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ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.