By Brian James Lu

National feeding program should benefit local dairy producers

In 2018, former President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11037, or the "Masustansyang Pagkain para sa Batang Pilipino Act," with the aim of addressing the problem of undernutrition among Filipino children. The Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) are the lead agencies in implementing the national feeding program, targeting public kindergarten and elementary schools and public daycare centers.

The DepEd implemented the School-Based Feeding Program (SBFP)—Milk-Feeding Program Component in 2019 in response to RA 11037 by providing fresh milk as a supplement to the hot meals given to children in schools. In the school year 2021–2022, the DepEd was able to cover 3.1 million learners.

The DSWD, on the other hand, implemented a Milk Feeding Program for children enrolled in the Child Development Centers (CDC) and Supervised Neighborhood Playgroups (SNPs). In October 2021, more than one million children were provided with nutritious food and 100,000 with milk all over the country. RA 11037 provides funds for its implementation under the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The provision of milk to millions of children is a necessity and a laudable program for children. The World Bank said that for nearly 30 years, there have been almost no improvements in the prevalence of undernutrition in the Philippines. In 2019, one in three children (29 percent) younger than five years old suffered from stunting or being small for their age. It was also noted that the Philippines is ranked fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest prevalence of stunting and is among the 10 countries in the world with the highest number of stunted children. Reversing this trend will ensure that Filipino children are sufficiently nourished to ensure their physical and mental health.

RA 11037 is also beneficial to the economy since it boosts the production of a local dairy. The DepEd gave assurances to local dairy associations that their sources would come from the local dairy industry. In fact, according to DepEd Undersecretary for Administration Alain Del Pascua, for the past two years, the Department has sourced 80 percent of fresh milk and other milk-based products from local cooperatives and enterprises. The DSWD, on the other hand, has partnered with the National Dairy Authority (NDA) and Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) by tapping smallholder dairy farmers to boost local production.

It is surprising, however, that local industry players voiced their concern over the priorities in the procurement of milk. Sometime in April 2022, there was concern over the prioritization of procuring commercial milk instead of locally produced milk. Dairy industry leaders pointed out that in the 2021 DepEd milk feeding program, cooperatives assisted by the National Dairy Authority (NDA) supplied 50.02 percent of the milk requirement. However, from April to June 2022, NDA-assisted cooperatives supplied 27.27 percent as against commercial sources’ share of 41.89 percent, compared to 19.07 percent last year.

Local dairy farmers must benefit from government programs by sourcing from the local industry. This boosts local production and increases job creation in the whole country. However, it is regrettable that, according to the NDA, the Philippines imports 99 percent of its dairy needs. The NDA administrator himself emphasized this when he stated that the Philippines only produced 1 percent of the nation's milk supply during the 28th anniversary of the agency.

Unfortunately, in 2023, the Philippines may increase its dairy importation further due to higher demand from consumers and the processing industry. In 2021, the Philippines was the 22nd largest importer of milk in the world. Imported milk comes mainly from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France, and Bangladesh, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Indeed, there is a need to increase local dairy production to cope with the demand. The Philippine Dairy Industry Roadmap covering 2020–2025 outlined the country’s direction and goals in achieving milk self-sufficiency. If all interventions are in place and if the policy environment is correct and supportive of domestic dairy sector growth, the Philippines may see an estimated 82.1 percent self-sufficiency in ready-to-drink milk and an overall milk self-sufficiency of 5.40 percent in 2025.

The dairy industry still has a long way to go to achieve significant progress in its milk self-sufficiency program. Given the situation, it is imperative for the government to place emphasis on local dairy production by providing opportunities to dairy farmers and cooperatives.

The National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA), which advocates for supporting local industries, supports the government’s program of providing nutritious food and milk to indigent Filipino children to boost their health. It calls on concerned government agencies to prioritize locally produced milk over commercial and imported milk. It can also be noted, according to Section 16 of the IRR of Republic Act 7884 “The National Dairy Development Act”, that the government’s nutrition programs requiring milk and dairy products shall be sourced from small farmers and dairy cooperatives in coordination with the NDA. For a long time, our country has remained dependent on various imported agricultural products, including rice, milk, and vegetables.

With Republic Act No. 11037, providing fresh milk to millions of undernourished children, we hope that the local dairy industry will also be given an opportunity to grow and develop in line with the Dairy Road Map. Unchecked importation has consistently threatened Philippine agriculture. By giving emphasis to the sourcing of locally produced milk, our government is also providing a livelihood to thousands of dairy workers in the country.

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 Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Brian James Lu

BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.