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Hunger by El Niño

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“There’s enough on this planet for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The continuing El Niño is one of the strongest heat phenomena on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Its devastation has significantly impacted agriculture, stunting, if not declining the farmers’ socio-economic situation. In general, this slowed down the economy at all levels.

The dry spell reduced crop production, resulting in lower volume and quality of yield. This impact affected food security as a major concern. El Niño has caused more hunger. More hunger in the sense that the Philippines still reels from high hunger incidence. The reason why the Philippines commits to reduce or eliminate hunger in the UN’s social development goals.

EL NIÑO AND HUNGER EXTENT

With the onset of El Niño, particularly the drought, the hunger challenge in the Philippines.

The loss of more than 6 billion pesos of crops is food loss for the table. As a nation of 115 million Filipinos the Philippines has 31 percent of families under hunger incidence. That is more than 7 million Filipinos for an average family of five members. An index of 5 family members is a conservative basis with an exponential population increase. Arguably, an increase of hunger incidence of 3-5 percent under El Niño can be a safe estimate until recovery. According to the agriculture department, thousands of farmers have lost their jobs in medium and large scale production areas.

On the other hand, marginal farmers’ sources of livelihood is a different story because they have been devastatingly affected. Aside from loss of income, this deprived them of food security. The country derives income from agriculture of about 30 percent with about 40 million Filipinos dependent on it.

Our countryside is an irony. This is where food is produced, but affordability and accessibility more often than not is wishful thinking. In comparison, it can be quite unthinkable to sustain existence if you are from the informal sectors where a regular job is a “fugitive”. The World Bank says, the country has a 64 percent poverty incidence with 37 percent self-employed Filipinos and 40 percent part-time workers.

BRIDGE THE GAP

This condition must be bridged immediately by the government taking bold actions. Our producer partners under the Fair Trade Producers Network – Philippines, a network of small agrarian reform beneficiaries, has been campaigning for immediate assistance and subsidies from local governments and other government agencies. They have been absorbing the brunt of the drought, estimated at 80 percent of their sugarcane plantations. It is now off season and almost if not all of them are jobless.

As producers of sugarcane they are caught in a double whammy – the continuing drought and the joblessness because of the off milling season. While there may be a little sigh of relief as parents since children are off from school, the family still needs to be fed three square meals a day. Worse, the recovery of sugarcane growth will be delayed by at least two months with low quality and volume, and it must recover as they brace for the onset of La Niña. Ample land preparations and cultivation that must be done, and doing so needs significant input and resources, and most of all sustenance while they intensively labor in their sugarcane production farms. This is where assistance and subsidies must come in, whether it is still drought or not, as the damage has been heavily absorbed.

IMMEDIATE AND MEDIUM AID

The bigger the damage, the bigger the extent of hunger it creates, where children suffer the most. The drought did not cause extreme hunger as the sugar crisis did in the mid-1980’s but surely many children still cry looking for food, while many jobless parents crawl their way to feed them.

Food for work can be one of the better ways to bridge this situation, and providing financial subsidies is one of the best measures, be it grants, or with reasonable and acceptable interest as loan. Providing inputs and seeds for other crops in preparation for erratic and unpredictable weather changes is also a major recommendation.

These are the calls of the agrarian reform beneficiaries and sugar workers under FTPN. These are the same calls of the rest of the small ARBs and sugar workers.

The El Niño may be over, but it left a devastating impact on rural agriculture, where the irony of truth manifests itself – food growers and producers suffer the most. It started to rain, and El Niño may have left but not hunger.*

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