The Philippines is endowed with rich natural resources that can feed its people.
Yet a great and growing number of people in the country suffer from food scarcity and hunger with latest official data counting 12.2 million Filipinos subsistence poor. This dismal food situation is caused by the continuing lack of genuine land reform and the implementation of neoliberal policies that undermine the people’s capacity to produce and buy food.
Not too long ago, the Philippines was a net food exporter. But then aggressive liberalization efforts especially since the 1990s caused a sharp turnabout in its food self-sufficiency. The country has been posting food trade deficits since 1995, when the World Trade Organization (WTO) was set up with the Philippines as a founding member, averaging $US985.6 million annually.
The influx of cheap, heavily subsidized imported food commodities and agricultural goods has also greatly undermined the livelihood of small local producers. already long suffering feudal exploitation stemming from their landlessness, small Filipino farmers and direct food producers face even more bankruptcy and desolation under agricultural liberalization.
Rural livelihoods, which account for a significant portion of employment in the country and people’s capacity to afford basic food needs have been drastically eroded.
For instance, the average daily pay of a Filipino farm worker is equivalent to less than 23% of the daily cost of living of an average family. The same is true for workers in other economic sectors: manufacturing workers, for example, receive only a little over 29%.
There is a wide gap between Filipino families’ incomes and what they need to buy food and other basic needs because of neoliberal policies that depress wages and incomes at the same time as allowing monopoly pricing. Price and production subsidies for food are the people’s last line of defense against the increasing unaffordability of food — but these are being abolished such as through the continuing privatization of the National Food Authority.
A real shift in policy direction and priorities on agriculture, food production and agrarian reform is needed if the new administration of President Benigno Aquino III is to reverse the worsening state of hunger and poverty in the country. The relentless neoliberal attack on the country’s food security must be met with ever-growing people’s resistance to defend the national patrimony and sovereignty and with an unflinching commitment to build a society that can adequately feed its people.