Strengthening the food supply chain for a food-secured Philippines
As a major food importer, the COVID-19-infected Philippines has become more vulnerable than ever due to the global economic downturns and disruptions in the food supply chain.
The food supply chain, colloquially known as “farm to table” or “farm to fork”, is a tedious and complex web of interaction among farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. It must remain smooth and free-flowing to ensure that food will be set on our tables, yet this seems close to impossible with the quarantine restrictions and physical distancing guidelines in place.
Undersecretary Rodolfo Vicerra of the Department of Agriculture said that the agency has been “working actively with different stakeholders in ensuring that food supplies reach the urban centers especially Metro Manila despite the challenges.”
Alongside medical workers, farmers and fisherfolk were considered to be frontliners during the early days of the lockdown. However, the restrictions imposed have generally limited their abilities to tend to their production areas which led the farmers to have reduced access to their input and output markets. Despite issuing food passes, farm owners and food producers have likewise established their production timelines and schedules as well even before COVID-19 struck the Philippines – another disruption in the food supply chain.
Due to the quick spread of the virus, food-handling and food transportation methods are also being challenged. There is now a decreasing availability of perishable food due to transportation challenges and food safety concerns as voiced out by consumers.
Action points to help mitigate such challenges that the food supply chain is currently facing include reorienting and transforming food supply chains that incorporate physical distancing, reducing links in the food supply chain to make it more flexible, and providing more storage capacity for perishable goods.
Moreover, capitalizing on IT-based solutions is crucial as it employs innovative ways to coordinate supplies from the fresh produce of the farm to the consumers.
Empowering the Filipino farmer
Ironically, farmers have been traditionally less powerful players in agriculture production. With very little access to funding and capital in food production, coupled with limited access to market and technologies, nothing could have ever prepared our farmers for the truly devastating impacts that COVID-19 brought to the agricultural sector.
Small farmers are unable to adapt and be flexible given that the average farm size is roughly at 1 hectare which does not help in any way to improve farm productivity.
The Philippine government, as manifested in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 and the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN), seeks to achieve Sustainable Development Goal or SGD #2 which is ‘Zero Hunger’ – both of which aim to take on a multi-sectoral and multi-level approach to achieve food security and malnutrition. In order to achieve these goals, however, it is important to empower our farmers – the food providers of the Filipino people.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) recognizes the need for professional farm management and more production clusters in order for the DA to become more effective in assisting our farmers.
Improving the overall agricultural sector to ensure better linkages from the farmers to the global value chain, improving the bargaining and market power of the farmers, and clustering various production groups to increase competition are also some of the actions that the DA are currently working on towards empowering the Filipino farmers while simultaneously boosting agricultural production.
To boot, based on the Social Weather Stations’ (SWS) latest survey, 4.2M Filipino families have experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months, twice the figure from December 2019 – a truly alarming data that calls for the urgent action of the government and other stakeholders to make drastic improvements in the food supply chain in our country.