THE House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Chair Joey Sarte Salceda (Albay, 2nd district) warns that the country could face a nutrition crisis, as a recent survey shows that some 100,000 new families experienced involuntary hunger during the first quarter of 2022 amid increasing prices of basic commodities.
Salceda cited the results of the April 19 to 27 survey, which showed that 12.2 percent of the respondents said their families experienced being hungry in the past three months. The figure was 0.4 point above the 11.8 percent or estimated three million families that experienced hunger based on the most recent survey conducted in December 2021.
“I fear that if we don’t find a way to get cheap, accessible sources of nutrition among the poor and among children, we will see a nutrition crisis that could affect long-term growth prospects.”
A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study (https://www.fao.org/agrifood-economics/publications/detail/en/c/121578/) that Salceda cited found that an augmentation by 500 kcal per day can cause as much as a 2.0 percentage point increase in real GDP per capita.
“That’s huge. Meanwhile, the mean daily energy intake of working adults was 1768 kcal/day or 74 percent of the Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) for this age group, according to another study by the FNRI [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7230657/]. That means working-age Filipinos have around 621 calories in deficiency. In my own calculations, that will result in at least P851,000 per person in lost productivity over one’s working lifetime,” Salceda warned.
“That’s worth a house! Working Filipinos currently lose a house’s worth of productivity because of poor access to nutrition. And that’s about to get worse during this period of high food prices. As caloric intake gets worse, and the quality of calories deteriorates, our long-term productivity will also suffer,” Salceda added.
The lawmaker emphasized that there is really a need to ensure access to cheap food. In the short-run, he said the country won’t be able to avoid imports until it is able to produce cheaply, but there is also a need to supplement the country’s domestic production of the usual staple crops with nutritional buffers such as camote, cassava, small-scale poultry and eggs, and easy-to-produce vegetables.
That means, he further said, that the country will have to support its main food system, but also encourage small-scale and local food production through initiatives such as community and backyard farming, which he said is already being done in his district.
“Furthermore, we will need to pursue programs to boost sectors that are high in nutritional value relative to the cost, such as eggs, legumes, and rootcrops,” Salceda added.
He explained that while supporting rice is good, rice as a foodstuff is extremely lacking in nutritional content so it won’t meet what the country’s workforce and children need to be more productive participants in the economy.
“That’s why I said the next Agri chief pick will be essential. I think given our current context, he or she will be the most important part of the country’s economic team.”