Collective action to combat food waste

THE LATEST Social Weather Stations survey conducted in November 2020 revealed a national hunger rate of 16%, equivalent to around 4 million families — an improvement from the 7.6 million families reported in the September 2020 survey. While this result shows that loosening quarantine restrictions and reopening the economy may have ameliorated hunger, it underscores the challenge we still face.

That there are families that experience hunger while tons of food go to waste each day is a painful irony that we must address. As I mentioned in my previous column, we have a significant food waste problem as we waste more than 900,000 metric tons of rice per year. According to the World Wildlife Fund–Philippines, an estimated 2,175 tons of food scraps in Metro Manila alone are thrown in the garbage every day. When the poorest of the poor are scrounging for recoverable food scraps in garbage bins, this level of waste is criminal.

(An example of food scraps being “recycled” and eaten — and, in some cases, sold — is pagpag. Pagpag is the term used for leftover food from restaurants scavenged from garbage sites and dumps. Pagpag literally means “to shake off,” and refers to the act of shaking off dirt from edible portions of restaurant leftovers. These are either eaten immediately after the scraps are found in the trash, or cooked in different ways after they are collected. The phenomena has been documented by news programs and clips are available on YouTube for those who wish to learn more.)

Food waste is inextricably tied to the problem of hunger; imagine the amount of food wasted that could have otherwise been used to feed hungry Filipinos. It is a problem we cannot and should not ignore — which is why efforts are being made to ensure that we minimize the amount of food waste that we produce.

One of the ways we are aiming to address the problem of food waste is by dovetailing the efforts of the private sector and that of the government; this is where a movement like Pilipinas Kontra Gutom (Philippines Against Hunger) comes in.

Pilipinas Kontra Gutom is a multi-sectoral initiative that addresses hunger on different fronts. We believe that a concerted and programmatic approach from the government, academe, non-profit groups, and corporations can help millions of hungry Filipinos and set the Philippines toward the path of food security.

Food waste is one of the initiative’s strategic pillars. Our country has a huge food surplus that can be repurposed for community kitchens, crisis assistance, or even composting.

MAKING STRIDES
Pilipinas Kontra Gutom — which invited multinational and local companies, as well as non-governmental organizations, to its private sector kick-off earlier this month — has formalized partnerships with more than 30 different groups, including NGOs, large corporations, and tech and media companies.

Seeing the existing efforts presented during the event made me feel confident about our direction and purpose. The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), the largest business-led social development foundation composed of more than 250 member companies, showed us their own initiative, The Hunger Project. This effort, done in partnership with the Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, provides us with a view of the private sector’s capabilities with regard to an undertaking of this nature.

Crucial to PBSP’s The Hunger Project are its aims to consolidate all private sector initiatives, monitor the results and outcomes of multi-sectoral programs, and ensure the sustainability of the advocacy against hunger.

Another one of our partners, Rise Against Hunger, is making strides in answering the food waste problem. The global hunger relief organization is focused on food banking by tapping manufacturers, restaurants, hotels, farms, and even individual consumers to donate their food surplus to food banks. The excess supply, after quality testing, then goes to Rise Against Hunger’s food assistance partners such as schools, orphanages, and emergency shelters.

Rise Against Hunger accepts food donations in the form of canned or processed food that are near their expiration date, discontinued products, seasonal items, and production overruns, among many others. The structure that they have in place has already resulted in a social enterprise project with the Good Food Grocer, which operates a free grocery in poverty-stricken barangays, while also providing vital nutritional requirements to children, mothers, and senior citizens who are most in need.

JOINING HANDS
In the next few weeks, we will be holding a series of consultations bringing together the private sector and concerned government agencies so we may coordinate our efforts to address the problem of food waste, to provide support for farmers, and ultimately, to address hunger. We are eager to see what our current team and potential partners can do. We are all here and ready to work: lahat kasali, lahat kasalo.

For more information on Pilipinas Kontra Gutom and how companies or organizations can support its efforts, send an e-mail to pkg@ph.mcd.com.

 

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles is the Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Zero Hunger. Prior to his appointment to the cabinet in November 2018, the former House Appropriations Chair served three consecutive terms in the House of Representatives representing the first district of Davao City.

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