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The key to a food secure Philippines

Aside from pork and chicken, Filipinos also consider seafood as their favorite source of protein. Local households are partial to a number of fish species including galunggong, tilapia and milkfish, which are used to make popular Filipino dishes. Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, an advocacy group noted that fish accounts for 66 percent of the 57-kilogram annual per capita protein source of Filipinos (See, “Group pushes aquaculture investments in lakes, dams,” in the BusinessMirror, January 26, 2021).

The spike in the prices of pork and chicken has recently trained the spotlight on the need to further boost the production of seafood items. The Covid-19 pandemic and the outbreak of animal diseases, such as the African swine fever (ASF), increased the demand for seafood as pork and chicken became more expensive. Consumers shifted to seafood because fish and other edible marine animals are still more affordable.

Until and unless ASF is eliminated and pork prices become stable, demand for chicken and seafood would remain robust and would eventually put pressure on domestic supply. The shortfall in pork supply presented market opportunities for fishers and even poultry raisers. However, increasing their output to meet demand would take time, including the resolve of stakeholders to address issues that prevent the fishery subsector from reaching its full potential.

Aquaculture, in particular, can help the country attain fish sufficiency and food security, but there is a dearth of qualified personnel such as aquaculturists who can build and run fish farms (See, “Fishery officials call on youth to seriously consider ‘promising’ career in aquaculture,” in the BusinessMirror, April 1, 2021). Citing data from the Commission on Higher Education, international research center Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center Aquaculture Department noted that young Filipinos are not keen on a career in agriculture. SEAFDEC/AQD said there are only 26,259 graduates from the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries disciplines from 2018 to 2019, comprising only 3 percent of all Philippine graduates in higher education.

The Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is mandated to build legislated multi-species hatcheries in at least 15 sites around the country. Highly skilled personnel, such as aquaculturists, are needed to operate these hatcheries and grow-out farms, which can help other fish farms produce popular fish species, such as tilapia and bangus. While SEAFDEC/AQD has started training fisheries graduates who can help man the hatcheries, the country would need more people with the right skill set required by fish farms.

Expanding food output amid shrinking resources would require the expertise of graduates of agricultural engineering, plant sciences, food sciences, animal sciences, fisheries, and forestry and natural resources. Enticing the youth to go into agriculture, however, would require more than the scholarship and mentoring programs currently being offered by the government. Policy-makers must also help the sector attract more investments so it could create more jobs, which is the key to a food secure future.

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