RALEIGH, North Carolina — Agriculture is an important sector in many developing countries. Improvements in agriculture can increase food security in developing countries, which in turn, aids people living in poverty. According to the World Bank, transforming the agricultural sector in the Philippines is essential to poverty reduction. Programs such as the Cacao Project play a large role in addressing food insecurity in the Philippines.
Addressing Food Insecurity
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “the lack of access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.” Several factors impact food insecurity across the globe. Individuals struggling with food insecurity often have “low levels of education, weak social networks, limited social capital, low household income” and are unemployed. According to findings from the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), about 50% of people in low-income countries face food insecurity. Working with communities to create access to job opportunities and create systems in farming and agriculture can help combat levels of food insecurity in developing countries like the Philippines.
According to data from 2018, almost 17% of individuals in the Philippines live below the poverty line. Furthermore, Filipino household hunger increased from 8.3% to 18.3% from 1999 to 2014. Individuals living in rural areas are the most prone to hunger and food insecurity in the Philippines. Due to the low income of farmers and lack of resources like education, training and sustainable agriculture methods, food insecurity is common among farmers. Rural areas in the Philippines are also more susceptible to food insecurity because of frequent natural disasters in areas like the Visayas. Natural disasters destroy staple crops, which not only decreases income for farmers but also leads to food insecurity due to less readily available crops as a food source.
The Cacao Project
The Cacao Project is an initiative created after typhoon Nock-Ten swept the Bicol region of the Philippines in 2016 and destroyed 80% of agricultural land within the area of San Fernando alone. Many homes were destroyed or damaged and the livelihoods of thousands of farmers were crushed. Louise Mabulo, entrepreneur and founder of the Cacao Project in the Philippines, told The Borgen Project, “The Cacao Project creates sustainable and resilient economic forests for our farmers using nature-based solutions to increase their resiliency, improve livelihoods and better support their families for sustainable success.”
The initiative aims to provide farmers with cacao seedlings and other short-term crops like bok choy in addition to resources and training to improve agriculture and restore the livelihoods of local farms. The Cacao Project also aims to improve youth engagement by educating youth in schools and universities about the importance of farming to prevent future food security crises in the Philippines.
Opportunities and Success
Cacao, a long-term and hardy crop that remains productive for 20-25 years, has the potential to become an important crop for ensuring food security in the Philippines. Mabulo explains that cacao forms part of just a small portion of the agricultural sector in the Philippines, but since it grows widespread in Philippine forests, “there is great potential in harnessing the power of our forests in rethinking Philippine food systems.”
With the expansion of cacao farming and the implementation of sustainable farming methods, food security will become attainable for many individuals living in the Philippines. So far, the Cacao Project has led to the training of more than 200 farmers and more than 80,000 trees have been planted. In addition to the success of the Cacao Project, the U.N. Environment Programme presented Mabulo with the Young Champions of the Earth Award in 2018 for creating the sustainable initiative.
In addition to the Cacao Project, other Philippine initiatives have formed to enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of agricultural systems. With more than 60% of 3.5 million Filipino farmers living in poverty, the Grameen Foundation launched FarmerLink in 2015 in order to aid impoverished coconut farmers who lost nearly 400 million coconut trees due to extreme weather and pests.
FarmerLink is a mobile-based service that provides farming advice, an early warning system against potential natural disasters, agricultural training, access to financial services and more. FarmerLink is effective in rural areas lacking strong connectivity and it has been able to reach more than 27,000 farmers with agricultural advice. FarmerLink outreach plays an important role in fighting food insecurity in the Philippines.
The SPICE Program
Another way food insecurity in the Philippines can be reduced is through innovation in agriculture. The Smart Plant Production in Controlled Environments (SPICE) program developed the Philippines’ first government-funded smart farm in 2018. The SPICE program was created to boost sustainable farming and increase crop yields. Implementing techniques like “vertical farming, micropropagation, cryopreservation and hydroponics” can improve productivity, reduce manual labor and create new business opportunities, reducing unemployment in the Philippines. In addition, the SPICE program raises awareness about the benefits of using technology in farming techniques and trains rural farmers accordingly. Sustainable farming techniques will lead to a decline in poverty rates and food insecurity in the Philippines.
In response to fighting food insecurity in the Philippines, Mabulo states that “There is much room for improvement in our food system to maximize our resources and ensure a food-secure, equitable and sustainable society.” With initiatives like the Cacao Project, the Philippines is one step closer to achieving food security for all.
– Simone Riggins