A Policy of Self Sufficiency

Yeo Teck Wei is a Singapore based freelance writer who contributes weekly articles to www.wazzupmanila.com.

What everyone should know about food security

Do you know what is really implied by the term “food security”? Do you know who are the key organizations supporting international food aid? What can you do to help sustain food security? Did you know that having sufficient food does not always equate to food security? Read on to find out more.

What does the term food security imply?

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) states that food security exists when:

People, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

In other words, all three conditions must exist before a country can claim having attained food security.

How do countries tackle the issue of food security?

There are two fundamental approaches in tackling food security namely, food & income sufficiency.

A food sufficiency policy,means
1. An intentional attempt to increase domestic production to level greater than consumption. The surplus is then stored for various intentions.
2. During famine, surplus is the freely distributed public or at low, affordable prices.

In short, domestic food production should be able to account for a huge portion of local consumption.

A income self-sufficiency policy means

1. An intentional attempt to increase the people’s real income through job creation and other means.
2. In times of famine, disease outbreaks and other calamities, people should have enough income to support themselves even with hyper-inflated food prices.

This policy is often adapted by countries that are geographically disadvantaged in terms of agriculture. Those countries are often left with no recourse but increase the people's real income.

Two Examples

China, with its food self-sufficiency level at 95%, is a classic example of a country that embraces a food sufficiency policy.

On the other hand, Singapore, whose geographical conditions (i.e. small land size, warm weather etc.) is not suitable for massive food production, manages to assure its citizens of stable food supply by raising their real income.

The two countries show the vast difference in how countries worldwide tackle the issue of food security.

Two relevant UN Agencies

The United Nations has two sub-organizations that assist countries tackling the problem of food security. These are the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The former is one of the world's biggest food aid supporters, while FAO acts as “a neutral forum for nations to negotiate agreements and debate policies.”

What can YOU do?

Food security is a concern for both the political bigwigs and the man on the street. Thus, it is of vital importance that people know what they can do to help. The United States Department of Agriculture has suggested in detail what the community and individuals can do. Examples given include:
1. Food drives
2. Community gardens

…And so much more.

For more information, please read the full report Together We Can!


The writer based this article's findings and conclusions on how six different countries tackle the issue of food security, after 2 weeks of intensive research.

The countries studied are: Singapore; China; Philippines; America; Britain, and Australia. Given the wide differences between national income, current political situation and other factors that were taken into consideration, these nations were chosen so as to provide a realistic scope and depth for the article. This article is not an official representation of food security planning for any country used in the article.

Related Article: All about the Rice Shortage

Philippine News Roundup −15 May 2008

This is today's news roundup. Updates will continuously be posted during the day.

A few days after publicly declaring that the government can have Meralco if it wants to, the head of the Lopez group admits to soliciting proxies in a bid to stop GSIS from taking control of the power company. Within the last few days, the government side has been dominating the media scene with accusations of cheating and other unethical management practices to include the Meralco's sweetheart deals with companies owned by the Lopez family (this is the latest accusation). Starting today, the public can expect to start hearing from the other side. With the Lopez family admitting that it will fight the government's takeover attempt during the company's annual general meeting (May 27), it is but logical for the group to go all out in a public relations campaign.

Back to the rice issue, the government has already imported 1.7 million metric tons (MT) out of the 2.1 million MT that it plans to buy for 2008. With the international rice prices rising at a rate higher than petroleum, it should be better off making a serious attempt to increase the rice harvest during the 3rd and 4th quarter of this year. On top of the sensible suggestions posted here and here, it will probably be good to look at the Chinese plan to offshore rice production.

More on the government, the finance department declares that the Philippine government is on track to meet its revenue goals for 2008. Of course, with all its unexpected expenses for this year like the huge subsidies in rice, the new oil hikes and the current direction of the Philippine peso in the foreign exchange market, it will probably have to let go of its dream of a balance budget only for this year. All is still well, though. A balanced budget wouldn't mean anything if the country is in turmoil.

In the advice section, here's a good section for people wanting to finance and build a dream home.

For the weather, PagAsa reports that the Luzon and Visayas regions will experience cloudy skies and scattered rain showers as an active low pressure area was detected near Casiguran, Aurora. On top of that, Tropical Depression COSME was detected As of 2AM today, at 11.8N (latitude) and 116.8E (Longitude), with a maximum sustained wind of 55 kph, heading NNE at the speed of 02 kph and headed towards the direction of South China Sea.

By the way, Piolo Pascual and Sam Milby dropped their libel case against Lolit Solis after the later retracted her statements in a contested article. In a signed statement which she submitted to the court, Solis wrote, “There is no factual basis for my article, which came out on Oct. 15, 2007. I am extremely sorry for dragging the names of Sam and Piolo. Sam, Piolo, I am sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I caused.”

With that, today’s lessons are

“Beware of the tyranny of the pen.It hurts much worse than the sword”


“If you want to people to have fun, make fun of yourself”.

Offshoring Rice Production

Why do the babies starve when there's enough food to feed the world? – Tracy Chapman

China and the Philippines Agricultural Comparison

China hosts roughly ¼ of the world's population. It is said that a few decades ago, there was intense rice shortage in the country which made the Chinese clear entire forests and convert it to farmlands. Despite that, the harvests were always not enough. At present, the Philippines is said to be in the same situation- large population but not enough farmlands.

Henry Lim Bon Liong, the brains behind the Philippine's very popular high breed rice varieties, claim that China today has so much rice in storage that it can afford not to plant rice for one year and still be able to sustain the country's need through its existing stocks.

Despite that, agriculture everywhere is a serious and ever increasing challenge even for those who are in food surplus. The unpredictable climate, human abuse, demands for land conversion, pestilence and force majeure are enough to change a country's state from food surplus to huge deficit in just an instant. The recent cyclone in Burma is a good example.

Why Offshore Rice and Other Agricultural Products

Because of that, it is seen as a wise move to apply to agriculture certain strategies that until now are seen as applicable only in other industries. People running outsourcing, production and other wired businesses recite the terms “mirror, back up and redundancy” over and over again. All three differ in technical definition but in laymen's lingo mean the same- should one area fail, another should activate in real time in order for service to continue without interruption. In short, the three terms in outsourcing, production and IT refer to the seamless transition from one source to another to be able to fill the void, in the event of any force majeure.

Where is China Offshoring Food Production

In agriculture, China is now taking the lead as it eyes Africa, South America and Russia as possible sources of farmlands. It is now looking at the possibility of buying or leasing land from those countries in order to have supplemental, redundant, mirrored and backup sources of food to be able to continue serving the needs of its people, without interruption.

That is a good program worthy of serious consideration. With the Philippines, spending so much in food subsidies, it will probably be wise to seriously look into this model that can possibly solve the country's present and future food problems. Based on the the Philippines’s high agricultural cost structure (fertilizers, labor, transportation), rice produced offshore will come out much cheaper.

I am not kidding!

News Roundup −09 May 2008

A few days after the president's call on big businesses to help her fight Meralco, and the GSIS started posturing for a corporate battle, the chairman of the power company's controlling company declared that it is open to a government buyout.

The most important stories today are still about a commodity deemed so vital that the government is forced to heavily subsidize it. In reality however, people can really live healthier, wealthier and happier without it.

Since the government will probably be forced to let go of $500 million (the approximate offer price for its Petron shares) to subsidize 1 million metric tons of imported rice, the president is keeping a sharp eye on suspected rice hoarders to make sure that its expenses will not go to naught. Yesterday, she personally went to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to follow up on the filing of cases against suspected rice hoarders. Of the 33 arraigned, 14 were charged for diverting government procured NFA rice to be packed and sold at higher prices.

A few hours later, it was reported that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced the result of its study on consumer price elasticity in the Philippines. The ADB stated that for every 10% increase in food items, 2.3 million Filipinos fall into poverty. The report added that the same amount of increase in non food items has the same effect on 1.7 million Filipinos. The same study however mentioned that an increase in food prices will benefit net food producers who are not necessarily the farmers, who mainly falls under the category of consumers.

The study conforms to the position of the Trade Union Congress of the Philiippines (TUCP) that the plan of the Regional Wages and Productivity Board's (RTWPB) to grant P15.50/day cost of living allowance (COLA) will be infective in helping alleviate the lives or Metro Manila's workers. They are demanding nothing less than an P80/day across the board wage increase. Let it be noted that some respected economists in the country warns that an increase greater than the amount of P20/day will probably trigger more price increases.

To make matters worse, 53 schools are now petitioning the Department of Education (DepEd) for an 8~10% tuition fee increase by next month.

A good balancing act for the government is therefore very necessary. Will it want to please the workers and cause further inflation or will it follow its mathematical computations at the cost of unpopularity? Still want to run for the presidency?

In Singapore, there's news for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW's). In that country, employers or members of their household who cause hurt to a domestic worker may be jailed for up to 18 months or fined up to 1,500 Singapore dollar or both. A Singaporean housewife was charged for pinching the arm and thighs of her Indonesian maid. A few days prior to that, A Singaporean engineer was ordered jailed for three weeks for physically assaulting his Filipina maid.

That's all for now. If there are updates, you'll find it in this site. Please stay tuned.

Solutions to the Philippine Rice Problem

This is a continuation of the article “The Current Philippine Rice Situation“.

The solution to the Philippine rice problem is a combination of several ideas, the top four of which are discussed below. If the Philippines will be able to successfully implement the three proposals, nothing less than a sustained supply can be expected. Let us start with the immediate solutions.

Free for all rice importation and removal of tariffs, VAT, etc.. At this point, the government charges rice imports a tariff of 40~50% and a value added tax of 12%. Because of that, the price of imported rice is very high. A removal of tariff, tax and other restrictions (quota) on rice imports will encourage more businessmen to bring in the commodity. With more imported rice coming in, hoarders will be forced to sell their stocks, thus creating a free flow of the commodity in the local market. Such move will also spare the government from having to import rice and will save the taxpayers approximately P22.Billion ($549 M) for every one million metric tons of rice that it imports .

Countertrade. If ever the Philippine government needs to import rice, it should avoid the speculator infested futures market. Instead, it should go for government to government transactions and go further by using countertrade. For instance, mangoes, bananas and finished articles of clothing may be sent as payment in exchange for rice. Countertrade has successfully been used by the Philippines to procure armored personnel carriers and many other items in the past. Countertrade will spare the government from high international commodity prices while promoting local products.


Control Population Growth. An increase in the country's rice production will be meaningless if the population problem is not addressed. According to reports, the number of Filipinos grew by more than 10 million within the past 10 years. UP professor Pernia points out that had our population grown parallel to Thailand's, the demand for rice would not have reached the present level. And with the current level of production, the Philippines would have been in surplus. If the country's birth rate will not decrease, it will have to continue increasing production and/or continue importing more and more rice every year.

Promote the Use of Rice Alternatives. Arresting population growth, increasing rice production, lowering rice production costs, and many other measures will all be gone to naught if people will still be dependent upon rice. Production problems like typhoons, pestilence and a lot of things that can go wrong will go wrong. Especially now that global warming is believed to have actually arrived and creating havoc in rice exporting countries, it is but a matter of time before it hits the Philippines.

People don't really need rice. The only reason there's this hullabaloo right now is that the people of the Philippines are psychologically conditioned not be complete without it. As mentioned repeatedly in this website, the cultural and psychological values that rice have, far outweigh its nutritional value. Alternatives like Kamote (sweet potato), for instance, is cheaper, easier to cultivate, resistant to typhoons. Kamote can be eaten as a standalone dish, and has lots of vitamins and antioxidants that rice doesn't have.

Related Article: Government may lose up to P22B in rice subsidies

I consume coffee more than I do rice

I started drinking coffee when I was in high school but it was more of a breakfast ritual that continued until college. Upon joining the corporate world however, my daily consumption rose to noticeable levels that my boss had an item for it in the grocery list JD's coffee! Being largely uninitiated then, I took coffee with unrestrained enthusiasm that two and a half mugs of espresso after lunch, once caused palpitations and had me going home early.

A few years later, the sudden boom in the Manila’s coffee shop industry introduced me to more varieties. I developed a taste for various brands and hatred for others. I also liked the various concoctions like machiatto and Frappuccino but mostl, it was  a choice between the classic Cappuccino, Americano and the regular brews with the last one being preferred 99% of the time.

I remember that as I was growing up, a lot of people cautioned against coffee due to supposed health concerns. In this period however, the popular scientific thought seems to point to the other direction. Coffee is now said to bring a lot of health benefits to people and that gave me more reason to continue its consumption. Coffee continues to keep me company in my solitary work station and occasional business meetings. And now, I feel less guilty about it.

Philippine coffee should be going through good times, as this article is being written. There are hundreds of new café's in Philippines CoffeeMetro Manila and more scattered over the rest of the Philippines that failing to gain from it will be a great shame for our coffee farmers. An industry expert once lamented that while the Philippines is blessed as the only country to grow all four main varieties (Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica), farmers grew all four side by side with each other resulting to mutations, growth of crossbreeds and eventually, inconsistent quality.

Philippine coffee should be on its way past that stage. After all, local demand is growing fast. Here's to the farmers and coffee drinkers all over Cheers!

Surviving the Philippine Rice Crisis

“Here, no one has ever died from hunger but a lot had from overeating.”

In a casual conversation, those were the words of China's then Premier Deng Xiaoping to a visiting foreign official. It may be have been hard to believe at that time. China was known as a poor country and a lot people there seemed hungry. It was a long way from the present rice exporter. Then, it was clearing entire forests and converting it to rice lands. And yet, nobody ever died from hunger.

In the Philippines, I once asked a group of medical professionals if they've seen anybody die from hunger. They paused for a moment, looked at each other and said, “No, none at all”. Whatever the ending will be of this country’s rice situation, a hunger related death will not be a part of it. On the contrary, the incidence of hypertension, diabetes and other diseases related to improper diet will continue to become major contributors in the mortality rate of this country.

I agree with the government when it said that there is no rice crisis. Not yet. At this point, all the commercial stores are still well stocked and the National Food Authority (NFA) is still able to supply all its shelves. There may be instances when some store’s daily supplies ran out early. But still, it is refilled within reasonable periods.

Traditional Philippine Rice VarietiesWhat prompted this issue to explode are mainly consumer panic and speculative demand. Everything was quiet until some sectors came out and called everyone's attention to two government memos alerting the president that some of the country's rice suppliers like China and Vietnam are experiencing low harvests due to crop infestations and will probably be forced to reduce its export commitments to our country. After that news broke out, prices went up and the state of near panic that we have now ensued. To make matters worse, the practice of hoarding seem to have intensified and should the government fail to control this, an artificial rice shortage will occur and the consequences will be dire.

The law of supply and demand states that price goes up or down in accordance to movements in supply and demand. As demand increases, and supply levels remain constant, the price goes up. With the state of near panic that is present in the economy, it is but normal for the prices to go up.

Some people are now buying more than their daily requirements, fearing that the next day's prices will be higher. Unethical businessmen, on the other hand, are trying to profit from the situation by hoarding stocks while waiting for the prices to go up. Such a situation is resulting to a higher demand and unusually low supply levels. There can be no other explanation, other than that.

The stores are still selling, the government warehouses still have inventories to supply the people for 57 days, rice harvests are ongoing and imports are on its way. Should there by any real shortage this year, it will start during the end months when the economy has exhausted its local produce and supply of imported rice. Definitely, no shortage will happen this summer and prices should remain stable. Any increase in price that occurs earlier than October will be artificial. If the price of rice goes up uncontrollably before there’s real shortage, this country should have attained a state referred to in economics as “Private failure” and following a textbook solution, it will be up for the government to intervene. That's what they are here for.

This article will stop short of discussing the country's popular solutions to the rice crisis and instead talk about the least discussed- Rice & Chopsticksminimizing rice consumption. In this planet, half of the population do not eat rice and yet, survive and even lives happily. In fact, the non-rice eaters seem to be healthier. While not intending to become controversial, I dare say that Filipinos can live without rice. For us, rice comes with cultural and psychological importance that far outweighs its nutritional benefits. Because of that, it will take some adjustments, but it is very possible. I, myself, have experienced not eating rice during the first stage of my Atkins diet. I became irritable for a couple of days but after that, I felt good. I lost all excess weight and actually became very healthy. Serious Gym buffs do not eat rice. My neighbor, who once held the Mr. Philippines title, eats sweet potato (Kamote) for more than half a year prior to competition and he never feels week at all. In fact, no street toughie ever dreams of messing with him whenever he is on a potato diet. Another example is a friend's dad who hails from Batanes. Due to the constant typhoons, they cultivate “Kamote” more than rice for it grows under the ground and doesn't get damaged by strong winds and rain. His dad told him, that people in his area only eats rice when they have ran out of sweet potato.

Should rice become scarcer, I will start by reducing my share in the daily consumption. Eventually, I will change to other sources of carbohydrates. A rice shortage should not be a source of fear for as long as food in general is in relative abundance. I will survive without rice, so will all of you.