Free to choose

The country cannot hope to achieve food sufficiency if it does not know how to play the piano well.

Pardon the resort to the maxim of an Asian sage but the fact is that no nation on the planet became prosperous by insisting on maintaining only traditional agricultural technology for its food production system.

We are a country of nearly 100 million people, and we are expanding by the hour as the birth rate is much higher than the mortality rate, while our agricultural areas are getting smaller by about 6,000 hectares a year.

A researcher has estimated that with the current population and the decimation of our arable land, each man, woman and child must rely on a 1,000 square meter plot of land to produce all the food they need.

Moreover, the National Nutrition Council (NNC) said that the choking impact of land conversions has already affected the diet since Filipinos are eating less and less of the proteins and carbohydrates they need on a daily basis.

Blame this on poverty but blame the entire problem on the lack of a comprehensive view of what the country really needs to ward off starvation in the long run.

A wire report has claimed that up to one out of 10 Filipinos works overseas, and it makes bad economic policy to rely on the millions of Filipinos abroad to slave themselves to death so we can import rice and other food items.

In Bicol, farmers claim that seven out of 10 of them do not own the land they till, and they have to cough up so much for ground rent, farm inputs and other needs to sustain their agricultural activities.

What do all these things amount to?

It means that we have neglected our farm and fisheries sectors, believing that under a globalized world, other nations would produce the food for us.

This is like thinking we are like Singapore, actually a trading outpost, that must rely on imports to feed itself. However, the Singaporeans are not completely import-reliant since this city-state is now engaged in urban agriculture and putting every bit of space in condos and homes to good use.

Singapore has even worked on recycling water that is potable and fit to be consumed by finicky expatriates.

With the situation deteriorating rather than improving, the country must choose whether to go the way of the dodo and become extinct in no time or it must sit up and take notice and start producing food in earnest to satisfy its own needs.

However, we cannot be self-sufficient if we do dare to scale the heights, as my Chinese teacher says.

It means welcoming science-based farming systems to raise output in smaller areas under cultivation.

It means having sympathetic understanding for any genetically-modified crop that comes our way and not resorting to demonizing a scientific enterprise that might deliver us from hunger and famine.

It means giving farmers the land, the inputs and the knowledge to produce more and free us from the bondage of imported food. Joel Paredes

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