UN World Food Program recommends review of gov’t initiatives for poor


By  Katherine Adraneda
Saturday, June 7, 2008

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The United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP) yesterday recommended a review of programs to assist the so-called poorest of the poor by the Philippine government in the wake of continuing increases in food prices.

UNWFP-Philippines country director and representative Valerie Guarnieri noted the “centralized” distribution of subsidized sales of the P18.25 National Food Authority (NFA) rice in Metro Manila even as food prices increase across the country, affecting mostly the poor in the provinces.

In an interview during her visit to the NFA warehouse on Visayas Avenue, Quezon City where the queue of people buying NFA rice appeared to be getting longer by the hour, Guarnieri stressed that the government must ensure that its food programs reach the widest portion of the poor like those in Mindanao, considered the “most vulnerable” region in the country.

She emphasized that the Philippine government must look into whether or not the subsidized sale of NFA rice is being implemented properly and effectively, and if it is really reaching the “poorest of the poor.”

“We meet regularly with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Food Authority regarding the high prices situation,” Guarnieri told reporters.

“Making rice for sale at an affordable price seems to make sense but the subsidized sale (of NFA rice) appears to be only focused in Manila… there seems to be no significant way to expand the program outside Manila.”

“I have not seen this in Mindanao, which is the most hunger-prone area as many communities there are affected by conflicts,” she added.

“And the high prices of food today makes Mindanao more vulnerable.”

UNWFP currently conducts its work in the Mindanao region, notably in conflict areas where massive displacement of communities has led to widespread hunger.

UNWFP was also invited by the Philippine government to Mindanao to assist in the peace process, Guarnieri said.

At the same time, Guarnieri stressed that aside from reviewing the implementation of the subsidized sale of cheap NFA rice, the Philippine government should also evaluate other programs aimed at reducing hunger and poverty, which were implemented by the government even before the rice crisis occured.

Guarnieri was referring to government programs like the food-for-school project and conditional cash transfer scheme, among others, which could be expanded to reach more identified “poor areas” nationwide.

She noted that the two areas most affected by high prices are the urban centers, which are dependent exclusively on the market; and poor districts in the country.

“The government could look into ways on how to increase the income of families, for example. Or expand its food-for-school (program) in order to feed more,” she enumerated.

“It is not enough for (the government to just) announce what it intends to do,” she also said. “We suggest that the government look carefully at the implementation of its activities.”

During her visit to the NFA warehouse, Guarnieri spoke with some first-timers in the line, who claimed they are now compelled to buy the cheap rice because of the fresh round of increases in the price of commodities last week.

The UNWFP observed that people lining up at NFA warehouses to buy cheap rice consist not only of the poor but also the middle-class.

At this point, the UNWFP official recommended that the government begin to formulate a program of action to help other levels of society which are also likely to be affected by the seemingly unflagging increase in food prices.

“The government should look into the possibility of addressing the needs of the next level because they are likely to also suffer because of the continuing high prices (of food)… The government has to have some kind of a gradation support to be able to assist different levels,” Guarnieri said.

Three-pronged approach

Guarnieri said that the UNWFP has offered “three prongs of intervention” to the government, aimed at ensuring adequate food at affordable price to the people.

She said the subsidized sale of NFA rice is a “valid step” that governments around the world adopt in the immediate term, but emphasized that the government should not stop finding ways to permanently address the issue.

The UNWFP official said that in the medium-term, the government must look into ways to increase agricultural productivity, including measures to improve irrigation as well as investment in seed varieties.

In the long-term, Guarnieri said that the government should closely look into policies that were already put in place to ensure the free flow of food in and out of the country.

She noted that the government could assess the import tariffs it imposes on food commodities as well as the role of the NFA in the nation’s food security.

She assured the government that the UNWFP is ready to help in every stage towards the achievement of food security for its people.

“It (the system involved in the subsidized sale of NFA rice) doesn’t seem ideal, but it doesn’t seem bad as well,” Guarnieri said.

She stressed that no matter what programs or actions the government decides to take, “it has to make sure that the poorest of the poor are not left out or excluded.”(PStar)

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My Take: This story strengthened my belief that this “program” is actually politically-motivated, a desperate attempt to deodorize Malacañan-personalities in preparation for the fast-coming presidential elections.

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