More than 30 employees of the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) joined the technical secretariat of the 2021 National Food Systems Dialogue (NFSD) on July 13 and 14, which was participated in by international agencies, local government units, and partner national government agencies and other agriculture and fisheries key stakeholders through a blended approach via online and onsite.

PCAF led the sub-committee on virtual forum management and facilitation of related meetings and co-chaired the sub-committee on technical secretariat.

The NFSD serves as a culmination of all pre-national and subnational dialogues on food systems that will result in shaping of national pathways to sustainable food systems and expressions of intention to support the pathways through a broad range of stakeholders.

Since March 2021, there were 18 independent dialogues conducted and topics ranged from organic agriculture, equitable livelihood, education, and research, among others, and 12 sub-national dialogues led by the national government.

The event also supports the call of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for a unified and synergistic action to transform the country’s food system and meet the United Nations Food Security Summit in September 2021 which will initiate bold new actions to deliver progress towards the realization of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) by 2030. 

PCAF Acting Executive Director Dr. Liza Battad shared during the event that the breakout sessions were participated by selected representatives of all concerned stakeholder groups to ensure inclusivity and adherence to the principles of engagement. The sessions also ensure complete representation of the entire food value chain under each of the different Action Tracks.

One of the highlights of the activity was the breakout sessions where participants were grouped into five online action tracks which are the following: 1. Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all; 2. Shift to sustainable consumption patterns; 3. Boost nature-positive production; 4. Advance equitable livelihoods; 5. Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stresses. This activity paved the way to gather issues and recommendations on the action tracks.

Results of the breakout sessions reflected the common responses of the groups. For track one, which is ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all, it was raised that food safety and nutrition must also be underscored and not just satisfying hunger specially on the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the adverse effect of climate change. 

It was recommended that the full implementation of the food safety act particularly on areas of border control, packaging, and labeling requirements, and traceability. Policies on nutrition like food fortification and the milk code must also be implemented. 

Track one group also noted that massive quantities of food are lost due to spoilage and infestations on its way to consumers which is why food wastage should also be reduced and emphasized that food wastage occurs in the entire value chain from farm to plate.

For track two, which is shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, the group agreed that the shift to sustainable patterns should not only be on the consumption stage but also on the food production. It was discussed in this  session that rapid population growth,  changing demand for food and  continuous conversion of agricultural lands to other uses exerts pressure on scarce natural resources. The group recommended promoting nature-positive production technologies and practices through inclusion in the education system. Another recommendation from the group is to develop a robust database on the extent of degraded soils, farmlands and what remains available and promote widespread adoption of organic farming technologies.

Meanwhile, track three, which is boosting nature-positive production, the group provided three recommendations to reduce food wastage and post-harvest losses. First is to intensify consumer education on healthy food consumption and the reduction of food wastage, Second is the establishment of food banks and third is to establish more post-harvest facilities for storage, processing, and transport.

The fourth track, which touches on advancing equitable livelihoods, emphasized that the social protection and support systems for smallholder farmers and fisherfolk remains weak. The group also emphasized that fewer people are engaged in agriculture and its allied sectors because they lack access to agricultural assets and that agriculture in the country is marked by informal, vulnerable, and low productive labor. 

The group also pointed out that agriculture remains one of the most unattractive fields for young people that prefer white-collar jobs in the cities and that agriculture needs to be income attractive to engage the youth in the agriculture sector and eventually replace our aging farmers.

Group four also recommended extending social and labor protection to agriculture stakeholders and providing support in livelihood transition like interim funding and alternative livelihood recommendations. The group also suggested enhancing business management and sustainability training among farmers, promotion of farm consolidation and clustering, and the continuous engagement of stakeholders, and create avenues for multi-stakeholder participation.

The fifth group, which is building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stresses, agreed that investment must be poured into the food system if the country wants to achieve sustainable food systems that are also resistant to external forces such as natural and man-made calamities. 

The group recommended research and development of technologies that are adaptive to local conditions to increase yields and reduce risks of production failure,  adopt finance-based forecasting for early warning systems, institutionalize disaster risk reduction management units at all levels, climate information service at the community/municipal level and investment in sound infrastructures.

During the synthesis of the group outputs, DA Assistant Secretary-designate for Planning and Project Development Agnes Catherine Miranda stated that based on the group’s recommendations and outputs, DA will prepare a draft statement on the Philippine pathway for the United Nations Food Security Summit which will contain the following: 1. The Philippines will reiterate its commitment to achieve the United Nations social development goals for 2030 especially the goals of no poverty and zero hunger by the end of this decade; 2.existing initiatives in eradicating food insecurity and empowerment of those engaged in the food systems; 3. Inclusivity of all the activities leading to the national food systems summit thereby strengthening the Philippines’ pathways to food system sustainability that will serve as our contribution to the global food systems summit. | CCB