Davao region was alarmed recently by the inflow of fake rice in the market and subsequently with fake bihon. Concerns on food safety were raised. The sad part about this is the paranoia, which I believe was rooted from misinformation and shallow understanding. On the other hand, the good thing is that this can be an opportunity to discuss not just food safety, but also food sovereignty.
I carefully observed the various reactions of the common people who I interacted with recently, including those in social media. Most of them are in a state of panic. They do not want to buy or consume the said fake rice and fake bihon. Part of me was disappointed with how people understand the issue by overly reacting along the bandwagon, while part of me took it seriously to sort things to further understand and try to simplify the issue.
I do agree that food safety is equally important among other components of food security. There are three basic aspects to consider when we say food security: availability, accessibility and safety.
Food safety means that the quality of the food is good, in technical terms, its biochemical composition can be safely consumed, free from contaminants. In short, safe means it can be consumed free from the threat of poisoning.
Food accessibility refers to the capacity of the consumers to access food. In simple terms, the capacity of the consumer to buy, which translates to opportunities such as employment among other sources of income.
Food availability can be attributed to the sufficiency of food in terms of supply in the market.
In the context of Philippine society, food security is as elusive as democracy. All of the three requisites on food security remains problematic.
We cannot consider the food available in the market as safe, the fake rice and fake bihon fiasco is a good example. Prior to the fake foods, we already know that the food available for the general public contains a lot of toxic components from GMO feeds for livestock, hormones, and of course pesticides. Though among the three, food safety will be the least priority of the common people.
The Philippines as an agricultural country is confronted by low productivity providing smaller supply in the local market. In particular there is a decline on rice productivity in the country, when our agricultural lands were converted to real-estates, golf courses, or crops were converted destroying the subsistence character of farming. These trends in globalizing Philippine agriculture was dramatically observed after our membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Decrease in subsistence and semi-subsistence agricultural lands translate to lower agricultural production leaving the consumer with less available food that is locally produced.
For the government, the solution is importation. Yet, we need to recognize that importation is actually a symptom of the problem. Importation cannot address food security. For one, the “global market” a.k.a monopoly capitalism dictates the price of goods. Since we do not have sufficient supply locally, they can easily demand for a higher price.
The import dependent and export-oriented agricultural economy paved the way for the inflow of fake rice, fake bihon, among other globalization junks in the local market, making our people vulnerable to unsafe foods for those who can purchase, while depriving the poor from access due to surging prices. In 2005, progressive youth group Anakbayan noted that 9 million Filipino youth sleep in hunger.
We must transcend the discourse from food security to food sovereignty for the ills of the Philippine food industry can be traced through the dictates of globalization, leaving our agricultural economy severely powerless.
Agricultural policies are very reflective of the kind of democracy that we have. There is nominal freedom in terms of policy making in agriculture. Democracy is said to be fake and it remains an illusion because we are not free from the impositions of World Bank, WTO, among other imperialist apparatuses. Clearly, this is a third world dilemma.
The Aquino government keeps on promising to provide food security for our people, yet those promises were broken by impractical solutions of a puppet regime. Remember last year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) of Aquino? He promised to provide food security, specifically in the rice industry. It has been a year now, and the rice industry remains bankrupt and highly dependent on import leaving our people victimized by fake rice sold in the market.
Tomorrow Aquino will be delivering his last SONA as his six-year term is about to end. I am not expecting anything from Aquino, not out of pessimism, but because I had enough of his promises and illusions.
If you want to hear the real SONA join the protest action outside the Batasan Complex (more likely at the Commonwealth Avenue) or in the streets of Davao among other urban centers. There you will hear the true state of our nation far different from the poorly written speech of Aquino’s empty rhetoric.
As long as the government is subservient to the unfair trade of imperialist globalization, food sovereignty will remain elusive and the lives of our people will always be at risk. As risky as eating fake rice which is as fake as the government’s concept of democracy.