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PH has highest rate of stunting among children worldwide

Investing in the nutrition of Filipino children is urgently needed as more studies reveal that Filipino children remain vulnerable to malnutrition and hunger despite the country's economic progress. As such, advocates for food and nutrition security are calling on election candidates to prioritize food and nutrition.

“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait.  The child cannot.

Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow,’ his name is today.” ― Gabriela Mist

Filipino farmers, along with advocates for food and nutrition security, called on candidates in the upcoming elections to prioritize food security and child nutrition, and to present more specific plans to address the issue.

“Give us concrete policies, not just motherhood statements. We are talking about food security—food on the table,” said Romeo Dongeto, Executive Director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), in a recent press conference.

A recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that the 2015 average hunger rate at 13.4 % was lowest since 2004.

However, Dongato said, the World Food Program Survey on Food and Nutrition Security revealed that 67% of Filipinos in the provinces surveyed from August to September 2015 said they augment their daily food requirement through credit extended by the nearest sari-sari stores in their areas, and that their usual meal consists of bread or instant noodles. The study also revealed that one-fourth of those surveyed said they experienced hunger every month.

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In 2015, the SWS noted that 36% of families in the country still feel hungry. The 8th National Nutrition Survey also showed that one out of ten Filipinos suffer from chronic energy deficiency, and 19.9% of children were underweight.

Read: 20 Kiddie nutrition tips for a balanced diet

“Invest in our children. How will economic growth be sustained if our children are stunted and malnourished?” Dongeto asked.

Dyan Rodriguez, Vice Lead Convener of the Philippine Coalition of Advocates for Nutrition Security (PhilCAN), also stressed the urgency of investing in the health of Filipino children. According to her, 4 in 10 children living in poor countries suffer from malnourishment; malnourished children are 20% less able to read; and malnourished children earn less. The Philippines also has the highest rate of stunting worldwide.

“The effects of malnutrition are irreversible,” she said, as she showed members of the press a brain scan of a 9 year-old where gaps in the brain caused by poor nutrition could be seen clearly.

ON THE NEXT PAGE: The role of the NFA

Rice production

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Nestor Diego, Secretary General of Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Pilipinas, meanwhile, questioned the importation of rice by the National Food Authority (NFA), and accused the NFA of prioritizing rice importation.

Diego said the NFA bought only 1% of the country’s total rice production in 2015 while importing the rest of the country’s supply.

A total of 1.78 million metric tons of rice was imported last year, while local rice production reached about 18.86 MMT. This falls short of the 2015 rice production target of 20.08 MMT, and is 0.6% lower than the production in 2014.

This despite a recent claim by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala that the country has reached 97% rice self-sufficiency in rice.

Director Angel Imperial, Jr., NFA Spokesperson admitted that there is a need to improve rice production in the Philippines, but denied Diego’s claims that the NFA has been prioritizing importation. He explained that the NFA imports only to ensure that the country’s rice stocks are adequate.

“Importation happens when rice in stock is lacking. NFA rice buffer stocks must be equivalent to 30 days of the country’s daily consumption,” Imperial also said.

Imperial said that the NFA procured 4.5 million bags of rice from local farmers just recently.

ON THE NEXT PAGE: Ending hunger through legislation.

Improving food security and nutrition through legislation

While there are a multitude of bills and existing laws that relate to food and nutrition security, such as Republic Act 8976 or the Food Fortification Program and RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Act (CARP), the implementation of many of these laws are insufficient.

Marami pa rin ang walang lupang sinasaka (Many farmers still don’t have land to till),” Diego lamented to illustrate the poor implementation of the law.

According to Dongeto, 80% of poverty involves those in farmers and fishermen in the rural areas.

“To achieve food security and end rural poverty, the government should support small farmers by implementing agrarian reform, preventing conversion of prime agricultural lands to commercial use, influencing the farm-gate price of rice, and strengthening the mandate of the NFA to buy local produce and protect farmers from traders,” Diego stressed.

Dongeto further stressed the need to fully implement existing laws and provide adequate funding. At the grassroots level, Rodriguez said, local nutrition councils of the various local government units should be activated.

New policies seeking to contribute to food and nutrition also need to be passed into law.

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 Ending hunger and malnutrition is a collective effort

Rodriguez emphasized that all stakeholders from both private and government should work together to end hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines. She specified the need to allocate a budget for food and nutrition in the annual budget.

Imperial meanwhile appealed to Filipinos to do their part in conserving rice. According to him, an average of 2 spoonfuls of rice per person is wasted per day. This equates to 3.3 kilos per person each year, and Php 29 M per month or Php 10.5 B per year.

“That is enough to feed the entire Philippines for ten whole days,” Imperial also said.

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