High food prices, scarcity highlight need for regl biodiversity cooperation

Participants at a regional forum hosted by the Philippines on September 4 underscored the importance of regional cooperation to protect and conserve biodiversity—basically the source of food, medicine and raw materials for shelter—to combat food scarcity and soaring prices in the region.

This was highlighted at the news conference during the “Asean Biodiversity Heroes’ [ABH] Regional Forum: Philippines” held at a hotel in Makati City.

The conference tackled the issues of the soaring food prices in the Philippines, including hot chili, locally called as sili, which soared to around P1,000 a kilogram, and the decision of the Philippine government to import galunggong (round scad) to combat the soaring price of what is considered the poor man’s fish in the country.

Alcala: There’s scarcity of commercial fish

National Scientist Dr. Angel C. Alcala, a former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and who pioneered coastal-resource management in the country, believes the Department of Agriculture (DA) is on the right track in declaring a fishing ban or closed fishing season of galunggong to allow the species to spawn and replenish the depleted fish stock.

He said coastal-resource management is not the proper strategy to use because round scad moves in the high seas.

Named among the 10 Asean Biodiversity Heroes in 2017, Alcala was a resource speaker in the forum along with the ABH from Indonesia and Cambodia.

Imported ‘galunggong’ taken from PHL?

Alcala believes there is a scarcity of commercially viable fish in the Philippines.

He noted that there are more than 3,000 fish species in the Philippines, and round scad is just one of the many species that are getting harder to catch because of overfishing, prompting the government to resort to importation to combat price increase.

However, he lamented that the fish being imported by the Philippines may be from the same fish stock the DA hopes to protect by declaring a round scad fish ban or closed fishing season.

“I think there is the scarcity of fish, generally, in the Philippines.   But the fish we import, we get from China.  And China may have gotten it from our own waters, possibly from the spawning ground in the Spratlys,” he said.

No control over ‘galunggong’

Unfortunately, Alcala believes the Philippines does not have complete control over fish-resource scarcity, particularly of round scad, and that coastal-resource management is not the proper strategy to use.

“As I said, round scad moves in high seas. Round scad is not farmed so we have no control.  It is swimming around in the high seas. If you farm it, you can control it,” he said.

Asked for his recommendation, Alcala said:   “Some areas should be off-limits and open only at certain times.”

Biodiversity-friendly enterprises

Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) said that, as a food-security measure, the office is currently implementing a program promoting biodiversity-friendly enterprises in the countryside.

“The activities of these enterprises depend on our resources, either for good or services.  So we are helping out our local farmers through our people’s organizations.  Hopefully, the biodiversity-friendly enterprises [program] will be able to meet the requirements in terms of food security in the Philippines,” Rodriguez said.

Indonesia Waisimon: Work together

Biodiversity Hero Alex Waisimon from Indonesia said a good message for participants in the forum is for the Asean to work together, underscoring the interconnectivity of the Asean member-states.

He said participants at the forum should tackle the problems besetting the region’s rich biodiversity.

“How we can maintain it, and not only talk and talk.  Not only lip service, but hard work.  We need to work and do it together,” he said.

Chinn: Food security

Cambodia’s Sophea Chinn, a young government official who nurture’s the youth’s interest in wildlife through photography, said food security is a major concern for Cambodia.

Like the Philippines, Cambodia is experiencing food-production problems, and most of the fish in Cambodia come from inland water bodies, as its people also prefer to eat freshwater fish.

“The food we get from our marine areas is lesser.  But most Cambodian people eat freshwater fish.  Fish from freshwater are going down, that is why the government is promoting fish farming,” he said.

As a solution, he said, the government is also into development of more marine-protected areas (MPAs), where farmers and fishermen can catch fish while setting aside areas for conservation.

Protect biodiversity, protect food sources

Environment Undersecretary, for Policy, Planning, International Affairs and foreign-assisted projects Jonas R. Leones, meanwhile, said the high price of basic goods, like food, including fish, could not be attributed to biodiversity alone.

He agreed with Alcala that protecting coastal waters alone will not really solve soaring food prices.  Nevertheless, he said protecting and conserving biodiversity means the Asean is on the right track “because it addresses degradation and pollution.”

“With protecting biodiversity, we protect our food sources, but not the high prices.  It is critical that we continue our effort in collaborating for the protection of the environment.  So that at the end of the day, these will be developed and sustained,” he said.

Work at regional level

ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim said the intervention and responses at the conference show the interconnectivity in biodiversity.

“The response of Waisimon emphasizes regional effort. This is important for the Asean, as Dr. Alcala mentioned that fish migrate and move around our waters.  Each country may have an effort at the local or even national level but there is an opportunity to work at the regional level,” she said.

According to Lim, a former director of the DENR-BMB, the ACB can coordinate with the governments of Asean member-states on the protection of marine resources in the Asean. “Land-ocean connection…. That the effort should not be confined in the marine or coastal area, but also in the terrestrial area, to reduce the impact of land-based pollution,” she said.

“If we work together, with all of these solutions [proposed], we will have a higher chance of fixing scarcity of our commercially important fishery resources,” Lim added.

“It is also important to work across sectors.  We cannot work alone within the biodiversity sector or development sector alone. We need to recognize that biodiversity underspin all these needs.  Our program now is mainstreaming biodiversity in the marine and fishery sector, and this is supported by the countries in the Asean during our last meeting in Singapore,” she explained.


Jonathan L. Mayuga

Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.