October 31, 2018 ( By BusinessMirror Editorial )
PEOPLE eat more diverse food when they can afford them, when they understand the nutritional value of various food products, and when safe and healthy food is readily available. This is according to a 2014 policy note written by David Dawe, senior economist of the Food and Agriculture Organization, and Steven Jaffee, lead rural development specialist of the World Bank. The consumption pattern of Filipinos, however, does not reflect this.
Government data indicate that the diet of Filipinos is still “rice-centric.” According to the report, titled “Consumption of Selected Agricultural Commodities in the Philippines,” Filipinos continue to eat rice in huge quantities. Published by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2017, the report noted that each Filipino consumed an average of 109.87 kilograms of rice a year. Among all agricultural products, only rice breached the 100-kg level; all other food items were apparently being consumed in much smaller quantities.
Annual per capita consumption of vegetables is dismal, based on data released by the PSA. The PSA report indicated that Filipinos ate only 2.37 kg of ampalaya; eggplant, 4.26 kg; squash, 2.9 kg; cabbage, 1.13 kg; pechay, 1.24 kg; stringbeans, 1.92 kg; and munggo, 0.81 kg. The same pattern was also observed in the consumption of fruits, despite the fact that the country is a major producer of bananas and pineapples.
Filipinos also ate protein sources, such as meat, in limited quantities. The average per capitaconsumption of pork was only 8.9 kg; beef, 1.04 kg; and poultry, 9.32 kg. As for fish and other marine products, average consumption per year was less than 5 kg. These figures show that among the major agricultural products consumed by Filipinos, rice is the most accessible and most affordable. They simply could not buy other protein sources on a regular basis and follow the recommendation of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute. The FNRI prodded Filipinos to eat more fish, lean meat, poultry, egg, dried beans or nuts and fish to meet their daily energy requirement. But a survey conducted by the FNRI showed that more than half of Filipinos are not able to meet this.
The FNRI had urged Filipinos to consume fish, lean meat, poultry, egg, dried beans or nuts daily for growth and repair of body tissues. The institute attached to the Department of Science and Technology also recommended the daily consumption of milk, milk products and other calcium-rich food, such as small fish and shellfish. To prevent cardiovascular diseases, the FNRI encouraged Filipinos to limit their intake of salty, fried, fatty and sugar-rich foods.
Unfortunately, the continuous increase in the price of food items, which is exacerbated by policies that accelerate inflation, makes it more and more difficult for Filipinos to “eat healthy.” It also does not help that the government is not making any move to wean farmers and even consumers away from rice simply because it is easier to maintain the status quo. The planting of rice is promoted and even supported by the government, to the detriment of other farm subsectors.
Two years into the term of the President, Filipinos have yet to see significant strides in boosting food production. Food production is not just about increasing rice output, but also that of other commodities— such as vegetables, pork and poultry—so these can become more affordable. The Duterte administration would do well to remember that it is cheaper to invest in initiatives that would boost food production than take care of sick Filipinos.