THINK ON THESE: Fighting hunger

“Food is literally the most important thing in the world. It is not even next to life, because it is life itself. Deprived of the right to food, man knows no other. For the hungry, there is no dignity, no human rights, no rule of law, no liberty, no celebration of the spirit… the most crucial task before world community today is to assure that enough food is available at the right place, at the right time, and at the right price.”

That was what Arturo R. Tanco, Jr., president of World Food Council, said some years ago.

But despite this fact, governments today “have been spending less for food production than they do for defense, infrastructure and education,” said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol in his acceptance speech as chairman of the 40th session of UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) in Rome, Italy.

“Billions of dollars have been spent by governments to perfect precision bombs but the development of precision farming technology has largely been left to private sector,” Piñol deplored.

Quoting statistics released by FAO, the agriculture secretary said that “the average public expenditures for agriculture of 51 countries from 1982 to 2007 steadily went down from 7.8% to 4.2%.”

Piñol observed: “While we do not have the latest data on this, it is safe to say that if the downtrend continues, many people in many countries around the world would suffer from food shortages in the coming years.”

Some years back, the Philippines was listed by FAO as one of the 13 low-income food-deficit countries in Asia (“those that do not have enough food to feed their populations and for the most part lack the financial resources to pay for imports”).

The other twelve countries — most of them thickly populated — were Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

“In many developing countries, rapid population growth makes it difficult for agricultural production to keep pace with the rising demand for food,” wrote Don Hinrichsen in a report published byPopulation Reports. “Most developing countries already are cultivating virtually all arable land and are bringing more marginal land under cultivation.”

Jacques Diouf, at the time when he was the director-general of FAO, echoed the same concern. “Population growth continues to outstrip food availability in many countries,” he pointed out during the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome.

This alarms experts so much that the concept of food security came into existence. FAO defines it as a “state of affairs where all people at all times have access to safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

People are said to experience lack food security when “either they cannot grow enough food themselves, or they cannot afford to purchase enough in the domestic marketplace.” As a result, “they suffer from micronutrient and protein energy deficiencies in their diets.”

Every night, an average Filipino joins at least 3.7 billion other people who go to sleep hungry. Their hunger, however, is not the growing, aching kind. Rather, it is silent, insidiously stunting their bodies and brains, weakening their immune systems, and sapping their energy — and prospects for living productive lives.

Their hidden hunger is malnutrition, which reportedly contributes to killing an estimated 40,000 people each day. “The impact of hidden hunger on people’s health is very real,” the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said in a statement. “It can result in more frequent and severe illness and complications during pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, and childhood.”

“We’re losing one generation after another to malnutrition and this just shouldn’t be happening anymore,” deplores Dr. Howart Bouis, a senior research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute.

Hunger is the world’s “most solvable problem,” declared the UN World Food Program. But in the Philippines, hunger persists across the country. But while the situation has improved, it has remains “serious,” according to the International Food Policy Research Institute said. In fact, the Philippines’ Global Hunger Index score of 13.2 ranks 28th worldwide.

It is very alarming, indeed. Carin van der Hor, Country Director of Plan International, observed that malnutrition among Filipino children below the age of five has changed very little over the past 10 years. “The reduction of child malnutrition has been alarmingly slow,” Hor said.

Citing the National Nutrition Surveys done in 2011, Hor said that children below five years old who are underweight remain at 20% while children who are below the average height-to-age ratio remain at 30%.

Hunger is real. Malnutrition among Filipinos is real. Something must be done before it’s too late. “When there are no roads, people would make their own trails; when there are no classrooms, students could gather under the shade of the trees; when there is armed conflict, negotiations could stop the war,” Piñol said in his speech.

“But there is nothing that could stop hungry people from staging riots,” he reminded.

“It is a must therefore that we reminded our governments that there should be more investments in agriculture not only to ensure availability and affordability of food but also to reduce poverty in the countryside,” Piñol pointed out.