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Grace Poe to prioritize food and nutrition of children

“There is a direct proportion between nutrition and performance of the children. We need to invest in our children,” Grace Poe said as she promises to prioritize child nutrition through feeding programs.

Presidential bet Grace Poe says the government should focus on child nutrition as she pushes for a more extensive implementation of  feeding programs.

“We allot money for so many different projects. We need to spend more on the nutrition of our children,” Poe said in the vernacular during a recent press conference in Baguio City.

“Nakabatay talaga sa talino at galing ng ating populasyon ang [magiging] kahihinatnan ng ating bansa. Kung mahina ang ating mga kabataan hindi sila matututo...(The fate of our country depends on the intellect and ability of the population. If our children are weak and go to school hungry, they will not learn),” Poe also said, adding that healthy children will become smarter adults who will be more able in their jobs.

Poe cited a school in Iloilo that offers free meals to its students, who have, in turn, gotten higher test scores. Class attendance, too, increased to almost 100%. Similarly, students in a school in Tondo that provides free lunch, have higher marks compared to students in the wealthier cities of Makati and Taguig.

Read: 15 brain-boosting food that kids should eat during exam week

Poe also discussed Valenzuela’s successful feeding program, which benefitted some 7,000 children. With a budget of less than Php 40 per child, students were fed simple but nutritious meals, such as malunggay meatballs, and itlog lugaw with malunggay, to name a few.

Such programs, Poe said, should be replicated throughout the country.

The Senator authored the Sustansya Para sa Batang Pilipino Bill, a bill that aims to provide free lunches to public school children nationwide to address malnutrition among school-age children.

Poe, however, said that only about two million students benefitted from the Php 3.2 billion feeding program last year, adding that she hopes to extend the service to all public school students.

“…we cannot give up because it is a huge undertaking. This is something that we really need to push for and to ensure [that] it will not be a source of corruption. Hindi naman pwedeng source of corruption therefore wag na natin gawin yon. Gawin natin lahat para hindi pwedeng mangurakot dito (We can’t just give up because it could be a source of corruption. Let’s do everything we can to ensure that it won’t be a source of corruption),” she also said.

Find out what the First 1,000 Days bill is and how it will benefit newborns and their mothers, on the next page.

Poe also hopes Senate Bill 2755 or the First 1,000 Days bill, which she authored, will be enacted soon. The bill seeks to improve the overall health of Filipino children from the womb until their 2nd birthdays through proper maternal and child care in the barangay level.

“Under the measure, mothers and children will be protected from malnutrition through a comprehensive health care program for pregnant and lactating women as well as the health and nutrition of children from conception to 1,000 days,” the bill states.

According to UNICEF, around 3.6 million children between the ages of 0-59 months are underweight, a large number are undernourished, and 4 million are stunted.

By 2050, Poe further said, the average age of the country’s population will be 23 years old, making the need to invest in developing a competitive, intelligent, and empowered population ever more urgent.

“This will be my and Senator Chiz’s priority if we are given the chance,” Poe pledged.

Combating malnutrition

Dyan Rodriguez, Vice Lead Convener of the Philippine Coalition of Advocates for Nutrition Security (PhilCAN), revealed that 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, she said, has the highest rate of stunting worldwide.

“The effects of malnutrition are irreversible,” she also 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 were evident.

“Nutrition is not budgeted,” lamented Rodriguez, as she called on candidates to prioritize child nutrition through budget allocation and decentralizing nutrition programs, where LGUs take the lead in feeding programs.

While a recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that the 2015 average hunger rate was lowest in 2004 at 13.4 %, 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.

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.

Investing in agriculture

Senator Chiz Escudero meanwhile discussed the need to address agricultural issues that continue to plague Filipino farmers.

According to Escudero, he and Poe aim to earmark 10% of the national budget or Php 300 billion for agriculture. The Department of Agriculture currently receives only Php 80 billion.

Spending for agriculture, Escudero noted, should also include new irrigation facilities, such as a national water transmission pipeline.

“El Niño sa ibang lugar sa bansa pero bumabaha, nagpapakawala ng tubig sa ibang parte (El Niño in some parts of the country, while other areas are releasing water),” Escudero pointed out, adding that the transmission pipeline will aid in bringing water from areas with an abundant water supply to areas experiencing water shortage.

Aside from additional irrigation canals, Poe enumerated other priority projects such as: the repair of pumps, additional water catchment facilities, post harvest facilities (20% of palay harvested is lost when left to dry on the roadside), capital for farmers, additional food terminals where farmers can bring their harvests, and food processing chains.

Farmers and fishermen, according to the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, account for eighty percent of poverty in the country.

“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,” Nestor Diego, Secretary General of the Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Pilipinas, said in a press conference on hunger and malnutrition.

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