By Argyll Cyrus Geducos, October 15, 2020; Manila Bulletin

The public can expect the government to step up its efforts in addressing hunger with the launch of the National Food Policy to achieve zero hunger during the World Food Day on October 16, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said.

In an interview with Manila Bulletin, Nograles, who chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force on Zero Hunger, said that the National Food Policy will contain the government’s action plan or roadmap on how the country will achieve zero hunger by 2030.

“Kailangan po talaga nating mas lalong itulak ang mga programa ng gobyerno para pataasin at suportahan ang produksyon ng ating mga farmers at fisherfolk (We really need to push for government programs that will increase and support the production of our farmers and fisherfolk),” he said.

According to Nograles, the government’s National Food Policy aims to ensure food security in the country by supporting farmers and fisherfolk through increasing their productivity and income.

“‘Pag maraming food and agricultural products mas ma-e-ensure natin ang food prices natin at hindi tayo mauubusan ng pagkain (The more food and agricultural products we have, the more we can ensure food prices and that we will never run out of food),” he said.

The new policy will likewise ensure that food will not just be available but also accessible by bringing agricultural products to the markets.

The Palace official also said that the government aims to take a closer look at the nutritional intake of vulnerable people–the poor, jobless, children, indigenous peoples, and pregnant women–to end all forms of malnutrition.

After ensuring that there is enough accessible food, Nograles said that the government will have to make sure that the system in place will be sustainable especially at the time of “disruptions” like natural disasters, calamities, climate change, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dapat meron ding mechanisms in place ang government (The government should have mechanisms in place) to ensure that whatever disruption happens, agad tumutugon ang gobyerno para hindi ma-threaten ang food security ng ating mga kababayan (the government can immediately address the problem so our food security will not be threatened),” he said.

However, Nograles said all of the government’s plans will not be achieved if people will not cooperate.

“COVID-19 has taught us that government can only do so much. At the end of the day, kailangan din po natin ng (we need the) participation, cooperation, and support of people,” he said.

According to Nograles, the problem of hunger worldwide can worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing an estimate by the United Nations that the number of people experiencing hunger worldwide can skyrocket from 690 million to 820 million.

“That is the challenge that we are facing right now and even post-COVID, even with the vaccine, ang next nating (our next) challenge will be the problem of hunger,” he said.

In the Philippines, a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that 7.6 million Filipinos said they have experienced hunger during the pandemic. According to Nograles, they recognize this as a problem.

“We recognize that it’s a problem, we recognize that it’s a challenge,” he said.

“We take that as a challenge and that is also one of the challenges ng aming (of our) task force–to look for programs or solutions to these problems,” he added.

He explained that what their task force did was to map out all ongoing government programs, activities, and projects that have to do with addressing the multi-faceted problem of hunger.

“One of the gaps that we were able to find was yung (the) feeding [program] ng mga (for) stunted and wasted children under two years old; and for the nutritionally at-risk pregnant women,” Nograles said.

The Zero Hunger task force was created in January this year with the issuance of Executive Order No. 101. In creating the task force, President Duterte cited the “need to carefully coordinate, rationalize, monitor and assess the efforts of concerned government agencies and instrumentalities to ensure a whole-of-government approach to eradicating hunger and achieving food security.”

The Task Force is mandated to formulate the National Food Policy, which will outline national priorities based on a comprehensive understanding of the problems of hunger and related issues. It is also tasked to create a roadmap for achieving zero hunger.