Food insecurity in PHL

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released last week the 2017 Global Food Security Index (GFSI) that provided a worldwide perspective on which countries are most and least vulnerable to food insecurity and how resource risks increase vulnerability. The GFSI, developed by the EIU and sponsored by chemical and seeds firm DuPont, considered three core pillars of food security—affordability, availability and quality and safety—across 113 countries. It also included a new category on natural resources, which measured a country’s exposure to the impacts of a changing climate, its susceptibility to natural resource risks and how a country is adapting to these risks.

The GFSI model defined food security as the state in which people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meet their dietary needs for a healthy and active life. The EIU said this framework is based on the internationally accepted definition established at the 1996 World Food Summit.

Out of the 113 countries ranked by the EIU, the Philippines garnered a score of 47.3 and placed 79th. The country trailed behind other poor countries, including Guatemala, Honduras, Ghana and Pakistan. In Asia Pacific out of the 23 countries assessed by the EIU, the Philippines landed on 17th place. Poor countries in Asia Pacific, such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan, obtained higher scores and fared better than the Philippines.

In terms of the three pillars of food security, the Philippines ranked 77th on affordability, 80th on availability and 69th in quality and safety. The country’s ranking in the new natural resources and resilience category was dismal at 101st. Among the subcategories, the Philippines ranked first in only one—nutritional standards.

The index, which also included year-on-year trends, showed that in the last five years, the Philippines had never garnered a score higher than 50. From 2012 to 2017 the index showed that the Philippines’s average score declined by 2.6 points. Among Asia-Pacific countries surveyed by the EIU, the Philippines and Tajikistan performed poorly in the last five years. However, this is not unique to the Philippines and other countries that have seen their scores decline. According to the EIU, more than 60 percent of countries in the GFSI saw their scores deteriorate in the past year.

According to the GFSI, the major challenges that the Philippines needs to address to boost food security are the minimal public expenditure on agricultural research and development (R&D) and corruption. Out of 100, the Philippines scored zero in these two indicators. This means that government spending on agricultural R&D and efforts to eliminate corruption are not enough.

Governments can take a cue from Ireland, which has overtaken the United States, at the top of the GFSI. Its continued economic rebound after the Irish banking crisis of 2008-2010, and as its high public investment in R&D have enabled Ireland to take the top spot in this year’s GFSI. Unfortunately, GFSI experts noted that austerity remains the norm across advanced economies and many emerging economies, including the Philippines.

Aside from putting more money into agricultural R&D, the government should reach out to the private sector and find ways to boost food supply. Data from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) showed the R&D expenditures of both the private and public sectors in the Philippines have not even reached 1 percent of GDP. While the absolute values grew over the years, the DOST said the equivalent shares to GDP remained constant at 0.14 percent.

For a country that is highly vulnerable to climate change, low government spending on R&D is unacceptable. The Philippines must not just rely on the kindness of its neighbors and other advanced countries to develop the technologies needed to increase food production. Instead of spending taxpayers’s money on projects that do not benefit many Filipinos, such as the construction of basketball courts, the government should just channel funds to more R&D activities that will improve the country’s food supply.