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PHILIPPINES – On 27 February, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) convened food security and nutrition experts at IIRR’s headquarters in the Philippines to discuss the potential of improved food systems in addressing food security and malnutrition in the country.

Experts highlighted the alarming malnutrition rates in the Philippines, where one out of three children under five years old is stunted. Micronutrient deficiencies also continue to be problematic, with food availability and accessibility (mainly affordability and food choices) being the major driving forces of malnutrition. Experts underline the multisectoral nature of food systems, thus the need for a comprehensive plan that will show how different agencies and sectors can work together to achieve a sustainable, inclusive, and healthy food systems.

The meeting gathered experts from national government agencies (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Bureau of Plant Industry, Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, National Nutrition Council), academe (Asian Institute of Management, De La Salle University, UPLB, SEARCA, Visayas State University), international organizations (FAO, World Food Program, International Potato Center, International Rice Research Institute), and non-government organizations (World Wildlife Fund – Philippines, Alcanz International LLC) to describe the country’s food systems; share documented and analyzed concepts and experiences on food systems; and collectively identify opportunities for food systems research and development.

From this meeting, experts identified action points to improve the country’s food system, such as improved production practices (e.g. diversification); reduce food loss and food waste; shift to less animal-based foods and more plant-based foods; improve policy on regulation of energy dense food products, including advertisements; strengthen advocacy and coordination with the private sector; support for subsistence/community-based and small/medium enterprise; inclusion and prioritization of food and nutrition; security in the Comprehensive Local Plans; intensify communication campaigns for social and culture sensitive behavioral change; and broaden food security and nutrition research agenda.

Stakeholders engage in food systems discussion and research

Following the meeting, the research and innovation opportunities identified to enhance Philippine food systems were presented to key stakeholders involved in the Philippines’ food systems. These stakeholders were convened on 1 March to explore potential areas for collaboration towards building a healthy, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable food systems in the country. This was held at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Taft Avenue, Manila and was hosted by the Food and Water Institute of DLSU.

In this meeting, experts emphasized that majority of Filipino households in the country remain food insecure and inequities continue to exist in both urban and rural areas. The Philippines is still challenged with policy incoherence, unresponsive food systems, climate shocks, unfilled gaps in planning, implementation and service delivery, weak accountability, and lack of resources. In addition, the country’s current unsustainable food systems are posing negative impacts on the environment and people’s health, thus the urgent need to create a demand for healthier foods through positive reinforcement, taxation of unhealthy food, and promotion of healthier food options. It is also integral to mainstream nutrition in value chain investments where products, processes, people, and policies deliver valuable nutrients to vulnerable consumers.

The meeting gathered representatives from private companies and corporations (Unilever, Jollibee Group Foundation, and Philippine Business for Social Progress), international organizations (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Food Programme), non profit organizations (Forest Foundation Philippines and World Wildlife Fund), and foreign embassy (Netherlands embassy). Key stakeholders expressed interest in supporting IIRR and CIAT on nutrition-sensitive value chain and consumer behavior research and innovations. Other opportunities include dietary practices, food supply chain, food environment, climate change, and tariffs and trade agreements.

Food systems in the Philippines

Fast food, urbanization, supermaketization, and climate change are changing the country’s food system. As a consequence, the Filipino diet changed drastically. In the last 50 years, there is an increase in the consumption of fats and energy dense food and a decrease in the intake of fruits, vegetables, and roots and tuber crops. As a result, child stunting remains high at 30% while overweight (23.6%) and obesity (5.1%) are on the rise. Furthermore, the Philippine food system is unsustainable and causes increased inequity, public health costs, and environmental degradation.

IIRR has experience in the Philippines linking school gardens with improved child nutrition. Together with the Department of Education and the Food and Nutrition Institute of the Department of Science and Technology, a network of lighthouse schools has been set up. These schools are local innovation spaces to connect nutrition, education, and behavioral change. There is a strong influence to use existing network of schools and youth engagement as a basis to initiate food systems research and development.

CIAT embarked on a Sustainable Food System’s Research with an initial focus on Vietnam. Since 2017, it has set up a network of stakeholders transecting rural-peri urban to urban. CIAT aims to use science and co-innovation to nudge food systems and actors towards better outcomes through insights, incentives, influence, and engagement. There is a strong interest to extend this research to the Philippines in order to apply a common framework for cross-country comparison.