MANILA’S HUNGER PANGS


Erle Frayne Argonza

In a previous article about obesity, I already touched on the hunger issue. It is particularly interesting to study nutrition issues in Manila today, nutrition patterns render the Philippines among the ‘transitional populations’ that characterize emerging markets.

Needless to say, in a transitional population as defined in demographic theory, both problems of hunger and overweight co-exist, with obesity rising at faster paces than hunger. Depending on current circumstance, hunger could fluctuate from low to high. The difference between the two problems is that while hunger fluctuates or varies in occurrence, obesity steadily rises.

When I did an intensive study on fair trade & food security in 2005 for a national center entrusted with addressing fair trade & food matters, I did stumble upon the reports of the Social Weather Stations or SWS about hunger. I also got updated about under-nutrition problems reported by experts of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute or FNRI, which indicated very serious nutrition gaps among children and women, and those for fisherfolks too.

What surprises me till now is that food producers themselves, fisherfolks most especially, suffer from under-nutrition problems. Food producers are abundant with food resources, and so expectedly they should show the least signs of under-nutrition. But this isn’t the case, and in a very informative manner, our nutrition experts led by Dr. Cecilio Florencio have used satisfactory factor analysis to unlock the causes and correlates of the problem.

From the late 1990s till 2004, the hunger incidence fluctuated from 8% to 12%, going up and down as data indicated. However, from 2005 through mid-2008, the pattern shifted to the 12% to 16% range, which surely makes the problem alarming.

As early as 2005, I already raised the alarm bell for hunger, recommended policy measures and the launching of a Hunger Fund as executor of the hunger mission. Unfortunately, state officials were not in the mood to listen to such problems then, and it seems that the FNRI’s own alarm bells to the Office of the President and to the Legislative fell on deft ears. Only when economist Dr. Mahar Mangahas and the SWS experts began raising the alarm bells over media did government respond.

To my own dismay, government response has been re-active. Nary can one find a new, fresh solution to the problem. It’s the same old fogey ‘give-the-poor-porridge’ solution, the same solution that one offers to folks during wars and calamities when people have to line up for scarce food preparations. Porridge & food stumps remain, till these days, as the intervention tool of state.

How to solve hunger in the long run, which our very own nutrition experts are adept at but which continue to fall on deft ears among top state officials and our own people who refuse to change lifestyles, isn’t anywhere in the Presidents’ nor Congress’ list of strategic solutions to the problem.

Let our state officials be reminded of the last years of the monarchy in Old France. When asked for a solution to hunger, Marie Antonette replied “offer the poor cake.” Whether the cake or porridge solution leads to food security is no longer an issue in fact. One need not be reminded that the French monarchy then, too immersed in its own vanity as to be so out of touch with reality, was decapitated.

[Writ 28 July 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]   

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2 Comments on “MANILA’S HUNGER PANGS”

  1. Linda Says:

    I found your blog randomly from searching “hunger” on Google.

    To my own dismay, government response has been re-active. Nary can one find a new, fresh solution to the problem. It’s the same old fogey ‘give-the-poor-porridge’ solution, the same solution that one offers to folks during wars and calamities when people have to line up for scarce food preparations.

    I’m not too sure about how significant a presence NGOs have in the Phillippines, but I’m guessing that anti-hunger incentives besides the “give-the-poor-porridge” solution must exist… I’m thinking of an organization called “Freedom from Hunger.” Have you heard of it?

    http://www.freedomfromhunger.org/landing/uncommon_sense_0807.php

    One of their primary strategies for fighting hunger is microfinance, I believe, and they also have a site in the Phillipines. How large do you think is their impact?

  2. erleargonza Says:

    Hi Linda! NGOs or civil society broadly, kept democracy alive for decades here. We have a model civil society that is the subject of significant studies across the globe, a civil society that engages the state very dynamically. SIGNIFICANCE is not even the significant question about NGOs here… The question is how significant is NGO response itself to hunger and the emerging problem of obesity. NGOs themselves are mired in old mindsets, many of them Marxist-Maoist-Leninist and all those old fogey staff. Look at that NGO you cited, it cannot register a name in public because its solutions if ever are not as innovative or provocative as expected. Its tough to get the attention of media, and if a NGO’s ideas are cranky they don’t get media attention. What’s the name of that NGO? Did you say “freedom” from what? It doesnt ring a bell.


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