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Food: Waste not, want not

WHEN I was a very young child, my parents would constantly remind me during meal time of the importance of finishing all the food on my plate.

Hutda na imong pagkaon, Karlo,” they would say. (Finish your food already, Karlo.) “Swerte ka; daghan kaayong bata nga gigutom diha.” (You are lucky; a lot of children elsewhere are hungry.)

I am certain that I am not the only person to experience this guilt-trip tactic to ensure that food in our household did not go to waste. I have to admit that where food waste in our home is concerned, sometimes I sound like my parents when I chide my children for not cleaning their plates when they eat.

My folks were not wrong; food waste is a problem that plagues not just our country, but the whole world. Globally, about 1.3 billion tons — or roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption — gets wasted, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. That is an enormously criminal amount of food waste given that the United Nations says that the global hunger figure is 690 million people — almost six times the population of the Philippines.

Here at home, we are guilty of contributing to unconscionable food waste. The latest reports from the Philippine Statistics Authority and Philippine Rice Research Institute highlight our own local food waste problem, as exemplified by the fact that we waste more than 900,000 metric tons of rice per year.

Think about it; in 2020, the Department of Agriculture (DA) reports that we produced a record 19.44 metric tons of palay (unhusked rice); the quantity of the rice we waste is 4.6% of the palay we produced last year. When you factor in the fact that in 2020, 21.1% of families in the country experienced involuntary hunger, it becomes clear that food waste is a problem that we can no longer set aside; it is one that we have to address — soon.

INSTITUTIONALIZING ACCOUNTABILITY
Acknowledging this issue is only the first step; addressing it will mean the consolidated effort of both the public and private sectors to ensure that we produce and consume food productively and efficiently.

A major initiative aimed at alleviating food waste has already been introduced in Congress. House Bill No. 3370 or the Food Waste Reduction Act was recently filed by AAMBIS-OWA Party-list representative and House Committee on Economic Affairs Chair Rep. Sharon Garin, and it aims to reduce our country’s food waste via donations and waste recycling. If passed, this will make the donation of edible food surplus for charitable purposes mandatory and will also facilitate the creation of food banks.

Under this proposed law, owners of restaurants, cafes, fast food chains, hotels, and supermarkets with at least 500 square meters of selling space, together with culinary schools, will be required to segregate their edible and inedible food surplus. The local government units will then inspect the food surplus based on standards set by the National Nutrition Council and the Food and Drug Administration, and  food surplus that is certified safe and edible will be sent to food banks and distributed among food-insecure Filipinos.

A similar bill was proposed by Senator Lito Lapid through Senate Bill No. 1242 or the Zero Food Waste Act. It expands on Rep. Garin’s bill by mandating different executive departments to work on addressing the issue. For example, the Department of Education will be required to add materials on the global and local food waste situation in the education curriculum, while the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is tasked to encourage the food industry to purchase lower-priced produce that pass food and health standards.

These proposals are crucial steps in addressing our national food waste problem while institutionalizing accountability for our food surplus through multi-sectoral collective action. Both bills are yet to be passed, but I am optimistic that my former colleagues in the Legislature will recognize the merits of the bill and work to pass it before the end of the 18th Congress.

GETTING OTHER SECTORS INVOLVED
Food waste, however, is a concern that not only the government alone should be tasked to tackle. All those who have a stake in reducing food waste should step up and do what is needed to address this problem. In this regard, a multi-sectoral approach is not only ideal — it is necessary.

Last year, photos of surplus vegetables being thrown away circulated online, shocking many of us. But it could not be helped, as farmers had produced harvests that no one wanted to buy; neither could they transport these vegetables to areas where they were in demand.

A potential solution can be found in an example of a strong multi-sectoral approach between the DA and DTI, in partnership with private sector partners and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Called Deliver-E, the program was developed by Insight Supply Chain Solutions (InsightSCS). This is a modern marketing process that connects food producers and consumers directly through a digital platform powered by blockchain technology, and brings together all stakeholders in the agricultural supply chain via the integration of e-commerce and logistics capabilities. In short, it reduces middlemen. By reducing the middlemen, efficiencies are achieved on both cost and quality for farmers and consumers.

While it was launched only in December, Deliver-E has already shown massive improvements in the overall delivery process. Transit time has been reduced to two days from five to seven days, and touch points are now down to four from the previous eight. Both refinements resulted in fresher, quality produce that arrived directly at consumers’ doorsteps.

The operational implications show a lot of promise, but the impact on our farmers and, potentially, our food waste problem, is striking: the pilot run alone recorded over 250 tons of produce moved, which means a 100% increase in farmer revenue and 45% reduction in post-harvest losses. The program was even utilized to donate 2,000 kilos of vegetables to frontliners and poor communities amid the pandemic.

Note that this is only the pilot run; with the many potentials of blockchain technology and the continued cooperation between our government, the private sector, and international aid agencies, Deliver-E is poised to become a long-term sustainable solution to benefit our national agriculture value chain while keeping our people fed and our farmers properly compensated.

BUILDING ON CURRENT MOMENTUM
Food waste is only one of the many complex themes surrounding our problem on hunger. We launched Pilipinas Kontra Gutom (Philippines Against Hunger) last year, understanding that food waste, along with other hunger-related problems, is something that must be tackled from a multi-sectoral perspective. Therefore, we made the movement a collective drive of ideas and action from the government, members of the academe, non-profit organizations, and private corporations to inspire a whole-of-nation approach towards resolving hunger.

Earlier this month, we hosted the private sector kick-off of Pilipinas Kontra Gutom in a bid to educate current and potential partners on our campaign’s aims. The reception and participation are encouraging, with organizations such as Philippine Business for Social Progress and Gawad Kalinga sharing their ongoing projects that are aligned with our own objectives. Seeing their work showed us the many possibilities for integration, and we look forward to forging partnerships that will help us realize our dream of a hunger-free, healthier Philippines.

Efforts from the private sector exemplify the richness of the knowledge and the momentum that is in place. Pilipinas Kontra Gutom will certainly rely on the input of our multi-sectoral partners as we approach our aims with strategic vision, heart, and vigor.

The fact is our country produces enough food to provide for its over 100 million people; it is up to us to ensure that efforts are made to maximize the food resources that we have, so that every kilo of food produced is utilized so that no Filipino suffers from hunger.

 

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles is the Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Zero Hunger. Prior to his appointment to the cabinet in November 2018, the former House Appropriations Chair served three consecutive terms in the House of Representatives representing the first district of Davao City.

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