How can government lower food prices in the Philippines?

Jodesz Gavilan
The former head of the Bureau of Agricultural Research, Dr Eliseo Ponce, also identifies the factors behind the hike in the country's food prices

FOOD SECURITY. Food security is important in attaining zero hunger. File photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/Rappler.com

MANILA, Philippines – In a country that is agricultural and rich in marine resources, why are millions getting hungry? High food prices are among the culprits.

“In the Philippines, food is really expensive. We are even the most costly among ASEAN countries,” former Bureau of Agricultural Research director Dr Eliseo Ponce said recently during a round table discussion hosted by the University of Philippines Los Baños’ Interdisciplinary Studies Center on Food Security.

So what makes food so expensive in the Philippines? (READ: Patas o Pataas: A look at food price hikes

Ponce concludes it’s the lack of framework in policy building, outdated administrative guidelines, inadequate infrastructures, and abusive middlemen that are behind the country’s food prices hike.

So he suggests: in order to attain stability in food commodities, the government should be able to handle well the following situations: 

  • Natural calamities

Bad weather conditions already make it hard for farmers and fisherfolk to continue with their livelihood. So when natural calamities hit the country, the agricultural sector is first to suffer and is usually the worst hit. (READ: Empowering farmers against climate change)

During Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) alone, the damage to the rice sector hit almost P3.2 billion ($72.73 million)*.

With less harvests due to disasters, sellers are forced to hike the price of goods.

What is disheartening, based on recent data from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), is that the farmers and fisherfolk often get the lowest cut from the profit; a chunk goes to the middlemen. (READ: Preserving the tradition of heirloom rice in the Cordilleras)

  • Production costs and low productivity

The high cost of energy, transportation, and labor in food production is passed on to the consumers, if producers are to make any profits.  

So it is important to prioritize projects that can lessen the costs of the process. For example, farm-to-market roads should be properly built with adequate materials. (READ: Farm-to-market roads: A farmer’s journey)

  • Limitations in land resources

The urbanization of several areas in the Philippines – especially in regions with the most fertile land for agriculture – has contributed to the decrease in productivity. As a consequence, food prices increase. (READ: PH agriculture: Why is it important?)

Proper land use maximizes resources and empower the agriculture secto. This, said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), would help the economy and even alleviate poverty. 

WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE. Women contribute greatly to both national and household food security, and yet their efforts are left 'invisible and undervalued,' says the FAO. File photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/Rappler.com

Clear policy needed

Ponce said government needs to “set a clear and national policy on food and nutrition security” to end hunger in the country. (READ: How food insecurity threatens us)

In addition, the Department of Agriculture should be transformed into a “lean and mean” machine that will limit its function in order to focus on improving food security in the Philippines.

“Without a properly working DA, we can give and give budget to the department and nothing good will come out of it,” he added.

The 16th Congress is set to tackle the Zero Hunger Bill, which seeks to set a framework for comprehensive policies that will end hunger in the Philippines (READ: PH Zero hunger bill to take center stage– Rappler.com

*US$1 = P44

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.