Food Supply Under Pressure

Feeding a whole nation is not by any measure a stroll in the park. Were it not for the fact that the majority of the population in a country like the Philippines are found in its rural areas and mostly living off the land, it would nearly be an impossible feat to provide food for everyone from day to day.

A simple pencil pushing would easily demonstrate this. Assuming that every person consumes or needs at least half a kilo of rice a day to survive, this would mean the Philippines, which has a population of about 80 million, consumes at least 40 million kilos of clean rice a day until the next harvest.

Forty million kilos of rice are 40,000 metric tons daily consump-tion. In a year, this level of daily consumption translates to 14.6 million metric tons. Packed in 50-kilo sacks, the volume would come to 800,000 sacks of clean rice consumed daily. If a big trailer can contain 2,000 sacks, it would mean a convoy of 400 such trucks put on the road everyday for 365 days, bringing the sacks to wherever people are to be found.

Gargantuan as it may seem, it does happen every day. Rice production and distribution level in the last three years, as per records of the Department of Agriculture, has reached 12 million metric tons and, fortunately, been going up. For the current year it reported a production level of 14.2 million metric tons. That is still short by about 400,000 metric tons of annual demand. The country imports the rice shortfall and is still working to narrow the import gap.

Still, under the situation, no Filipino is supposed to go hungry—at least in rice. That is, of course, assuming that every family in the country’s rural areas has a land to farm, is able to plant and harvest palay from the land, and pound it into rice for the family’s daily fare. And, assuming, that is, that those without the land and the skill by which to produce the grain, especially those in urban areas, are able to procure by buying at least half a kilo of rice, or its substitutes, every day of their lives.

As the population increases, so does the demand for food. The extent of farmland and the number of farms must increase yearly in time with population increase. As land is limited, increase in demand will have to find its answer either in technological advance or in importation.

Booster. The human need for food to survive, to satisfy tastes, to have the convenience of having whatever one may need anytime at arms reach of the best possible quality. To have in store enough of the essentials, even the non-essentials, for times of shortages or calamities, and to be in a better situation than one’s friends and neighbors in the matter of food supply, fuels the engine that boosts human initiative in produc-tion, in human creativity and productivity—and in turn boosts the rise of industries.

The feeding style of Filipinos has long been caricatured as being the rural rice-and-fish fare, gar-nished at times only by salt and backyard greens. Today, the middle-income urban Filipino’s table and kitchen, bolstered by shelves and a refrigerator well-stocked with all types of foodstuff—fresh, frozen, canned, dried or processed—has taken on the looks of a miniature grocery, replenished regularly.

Still, the main items are rice, pork, beef, chicken, and fish. These compose, together with crops other than rice, the overall agriculture production sector. In terms of percentage share, livestock and poultry sub-sector has the biggest cut, with 33 percent of the overall, while crops other than rice has 26 percent, rice and corn 23 percent, and fisheries 18 percent.

All these sub-sectors have steadily registered an increase in growth in the last three years. Fisheries brought in the most dramatic performance, having had a growth percentage of 1.72 percent in 2000 and gaining 6.77 percent in 2002. Poultry posted 5.72 percent in 2000, increased by 7.75 percent in 2001, and declined by 6.13 percent in 2002. Livestock had 3 percent growth in 2000 and steadily increased to 4.39 percent in 2002.

Rice had a less dramatic but steady increase, from 12.39 million metric tons in 2000 to 13.27 million metric tons in 2002. The sub-sector is expected to rise to 14.2 million metric tons this year, and to 14.98 million metric tons and up to 15.86 million metric tons by 2004. Thus, the import gap may be erased in the current year, and the country may posi-tion itself as an exporter by next year.

The livestock and poultry sub-sector, while registering overall positive growths, still had to import, and is working to shorten the import gap. In fisheries, Philippine seaweeds are the coming item, posting 27 percent of total fisheries production in 2002, and making the country one of the top producers of the commodity in the world, next to China and Japan.

It is worthy of mention that the top-producing provinces of Philippine seaweed are among its poorest, namely Tawi-Tawi, Antique, Bohol, Camarines Sur, Eastern Samar, Surigao del Sur, and Maguindanao.

The problem areas hindering the livestock sub-sector from hitting its target annual growth levels have been identified, so also the strategies deemed best to arrest the ill effects of these problems.

Among the problems is the high cost of breeders. Parent stock of poultry is being imported, while dairy breeds are very limited at the local scene. The same goes for quality beef and swine breeders. As an initial move, the Unified Artificial Insemination program of the Department of Agriculture has in its crosshairs the breeding of up to 100,000 head of animals in a year.

As to meat safety and quality, the disease control and eradication program aims to maintain the FMD (foot-and-mouth-disease)-free status of the Visayas and Mindanao through stringent enforcement of control rules and procedures at entry and exit points and at abattoirs nationwide.

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) will be put in place and strengthened at entry and exit points and at these abattoirs. In addition, new abattoirs will be set up—29 have already been funded, while another 30 new ones have been proposed, all to feature the meat safety and quality standards described.
Widescale crossbreeding is being proposed for carabao breeds to foster higher growth rates in meat and milk production. Carabao module stations are being eyed in different locations of the country. The effort will come together with the establishment of more dairy zones, improvement of production and reproduction efficiencies, and provision of loan financing for dairy animals.

Road Map. All of these crops and products of agriculture eventually find their way to homes and kitchens of the 80 million Filipinos today populating the archipelago—with a good volume of the crops and products taking a side trip to food processing establishments.

When delivered fresh, perishable items like fish, vegetables, fruits, fresh meat, dairy products, etc. must be sold and reach the consumer at best the same day and at most within three days. Beyond a day, most of these items may become toxic and dangerous for human consumption. After a day, they have to be stored well to retain a degree of freshness, or they become useless.

For this reason, perishable items must reach wet markets within the day. For example, fish traders based in the Visayas often have to charter air transports to deliver goods to Manila, and Mindanao traders have to do the same to reach either Manila or Visayan commercial centers in Cebu City, Bacolod, Iloilo or Roxas City.

For items to be exported, the airports located in Cebu and Davao have established international operations to serve local exporters of fresh commodities like fruits and fish products.

To extend the shelf-life of fresh foodstuff needed for daily consumption, and of agricultural crops which are abundant only on specific seasons of the year, they are made to take a side trip to food processing industries—the number of which have been increasing lately, run by micro, cottage, home-based and single-proprietor type of enterprises.

In fact, it can be said that the food processing industry includes almost everything edible and potable: fruits, vegetables, fish, milk, meat, poultry, grains, as well as convenience foods, soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, etc.

Fruits are preserved, quick-frozen, or dried. They are converted to sauces or paste, turned into purees and concentrates, or dried and dehydrated. The same goes for vegetables like tomatoes, green peas, cassava, cucumbers, ube, pepper, etc. Coffee and cocoa are also being locally processed and used as ingredient in confectioneries and various foodstuffs.

The meat of matured coconut, the source of coconut milk, is now being dehydrated and available in powder form. The residue, after the milk is extracted, is being processed into flour. The meat is also being desiccated, the result being used in the making of various forms of candy. The water of the young coconut is being bottled into a health drink, while that of a mature coconut is used in the fermentation of vinegar.

Food delicacies, in the form of bakery products, confectioneries, and various drinks, identified with various regions of the country are processed from flour, rice, or corn, mixed with coconut milk, sugar, cocoa, and natural flavorings. They are packed either in coconut or banana leaves, recycled bottles, or in boxes, others in plastic and paper containers.

For locally processed foodstuff and native delicacies to gain entry into export markets, local processors now take into consideration hygienic practices in the processing of foodstuff. They often consult the Bureau of Food and Drugs for the list of permissible flavoring substances, processing aids, and food additives, which indicate their maximum level of use and presence in the food. These include anti-caking agents, food colors, sweeteners, leavening agents, lubricants, etc.

Elements used in the processing of food and their percentage ratios of use are duly reflected in the packaging of the food items and other goodies. Also, these days we find expiration tags stubbed on to the plastic container of local bakery and canned products.

The demand for food is tremendous, as population grows exponentially everywhere in the world. In the Philippines, while enjoying abundance in resources, we still see many suffer daily hunger. According to a FAO study, people lack at least 300 kilocalories per person per day in their diets. This is attributed to lack of cash income that hinders obtaining food needed for a sufficient diet, and, in some cases, inadequate an agricultural commodity production to meet the need for proper diet.

Hunger is a basic development issue that impedes national economic growth and social progress. Everyone is challenged to work together quickly and to cook up strategies to deal with the pressure to end hunger.

by: Tony Calsado