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Monday, December 4, 2023

The hunger games

SUPPORTERS of former President Benigno Aquino III who carried placards expressing their thanks around his Times Street residence or who posted messages of gratitude for “a job well done” the day he left office should consider the poll released this week that showed more Filipinos went hungry as his administration came to a close.

The Social Weather Stations survey, which questioned 1,500 adults nationwide from March 30 to April 2, said more Filipinos experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the preceding three months, with their numbers growing to 3.1 million families from the 2.6 million families in the December survey, and bringing the hunger rate to 13.7 percent of the population, up from 11.7 percent.

Of the 3.1 million families, some 2.6 million said they experienced “moderate hunger” (going hungry only once or a few times in the last three months) while some 481,000 families said they suffered “severe hunger” (“often” or “always” hungry in the last three months).

The latest hunger statistics fly in the face of Mr. Aquino’s claims that his administration had managed to cut back poverty or that his 4Ps dole program had truly benefited millions of poor families.

That more people are going hungry is hardly surprising, given the previous administration’s dismal performance in supporting agricultural development.

Official data show that the 5.8-percent growth in gross domestic product for the full year of 2015 was unmatched by any improvement in agricultural output, despite early boasts that the country would attain self-sufficiency in rice during Mr. Aquino’s term. In fact, the sector actually shrank 0.2 percent in the absence of meaningful support from a government that opened fire on hungry farmers in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, who were demanding food aid in the face of a months-long drought.

The situation was so bad that the socio-economic planning secretary at the time described the agricultural sector as “the biggest roadblock” to the country’s goal of attaining higher and more inclusive growth.

The failure to address declining agricultural production was matched only by the previous administration’s half-hearted implementation of agrarian reforms, as exemplified by the circumvention of a Supreme Court order for the vast sugar estate belonging to the former president’s family to distribute land to tenant farmers.

As the Duterte administration takes over on the promise of change, it will need to address the pressing needs of the growing number of hungry Filipinos. The solution could well lie in a reversal of Mr. Aquino’s years of neglect of agriculture, and the adoption of genuine agrarian reform that improves farm incomes while boosting food production.

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