By Rolando Dy

Once again, a food price crisis has hit the country. It was so in 1995, in 2015, and this year (2018). What seems to be wrong?

The National Food Authority (NFA), the sole rice importer/regulator, failed in its mandate of food security. But that is the short of it. The long-term challenges are more complicated that they must be understood by all stakeholders.

There are three main metrics: affordability, availability, and food quality. The Economist Intelligence Unit developed the global food security index (GFSI), the latest was dated September 2017. The GFSI work is sponsored by DuPont.

Affordability “measures the ability of consumers to purchase food, their vulnerability to price shocks, and the presence of programs and policies to support customers when shocks occur.” It has six indicators: food consumption as a share of household expenditure, proportion of the population under the global poverty line at purchasing power parity (PPP), gross domestic products per head at PPP exchange rates, agricultural import tariffs, presence of food safety-net programs, and access to financing for farmers. This comprises 40 percent of GFSI.

Availability “measures the sufficiency of the national food supply, the risk of supply disruption, national capacity to disseminate food and research efforts to expand agricultural output”.

This examines how structural aspects determine a country’s capacity to produce and distribute food and explores elements that might create bottlenecks or risks to accessibility. The eight indicators are sufficiency of supply, public expenditure on agricultural research and development, agricultural infrastructure, volatility of agricultural production, political stability risk, corruption, urban absorption capacity, and food loss. This accounts for 44 percent of the index.

Food quality & safety measures the variety and nutritional quality of average diets, as well as the food safety. It covers the “nutritional quality of average diets and the food safety environment. Quality and safety have five indicators: diet diversification, nutritional standards, micronutrient availability, protein quality, and food safety.” This composes 16 percent of the index.

Where is the Philippines? The country belongs to the lower 70 percent of 113 countries. Among the eight ASEAN countries, the Philippines ranked 6th, ahead of Myanmar and Cambodia. Note that the latter are rice-exporting countries. Ranked first and second are Singapore and Malaysia, both rice-importing countries. Thailand and Vietnam, also rice-exporters followed at third and fourth. Indonesia was fifth.

Where does the Philippines falter? The Philippines is last in affordability, both second to last in availability, and food safety among the big countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Out of 19 the indicators, the Philippines scored below average in 14: food consumption as proportion of household food spending, poverty incidence, income per capita, food safety net, farmers’ financing access; food sufficiency of supply, government expenditure on agriculture R&D, agriculture infrastructure, political stability risk, corruption; and diet diversification, micronutrient availability, protein quality and food safety.

Quovadis? Relative to comparator countries, the Philippines failed dismally in affordability. Poverty reduction is key to food security. Of the 101 million people in 2015, some 21.6 million were poor. Nearly 17 million of these poor were rural folks with some 14 million farmers and fishers. Therefore, these groups account for two-thirds of all poor.

That means increasing incomes of farmers and fishers will solve overall poverty incidence. Since rice farmers comprise about a third, there is compelling reason to address the resource needs of the 70 percent – the non-rice farmers and fishers.

Are we food secure? From the GFSI analysis, we are not, compared to our neighbors, principally from affordability (income-related), and availability (access to domestic and foreign supply). The former is due in part to high rural poverty; and the latter due in part to low productivity, limited diversification and poor agri infrastructure.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2018 issue.