“An army marches on its stomach.” is one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s most popular quotes. Even with his prowess as a highly capable commander and strategist, the French emperor himself had recognized that a country’s military power projection greatly relies on its capacity to feed its armed forces. With France as the most significant great power in the European continent after the conclusion of the French revolution, possession of a strong military was paramount to a country’s survival. This importance is highlighted with Vienna, Berlin, London, and Saint Petersburg becoming uneasy with Paris’s ambitions at the time. Nevertheless, history has never failed in providing examples supporting Bonaparte’s words.
The history of human civilizations is blighted by hunger and famine. Whether these were caused by natural calamities or by man-made failures, such situations tested leaders, nation-states, and their corresponding institutions. Food scarcity equates to absolute poverty and a hungry society foments social discontent and disorder. As a result, political volatility and uncertainty blankets the whole country. If both the state and the society created formidable institutions to promptly respond at such junctures, its citizens would be left relatively unscathed. If not, people are left to fight hunger all by themselves. Luckily, international organizations consider famine a serious humanitarian crisis. This can be observed currently in Afghanistan and Yemen, for example, where attempts to alleviate those horrifying conditions are being made. However, there were numerous instances where millions of lives were wasted due to starvation, which was experienced in British India, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China.
During the colonial rule of the British, Raj Indians experienced a series of famines that famished millions of their residents, specially considering that the agricultural yields of India were highly dependent on weather patterns. Because of prolonged hunger, malnutrition was a perennial social problem and dented British Hindustan’s economic potential. With lowered financial yields due to these famines, British colonists were compelled to raise taxes on peoples who had virtually no means to feed themselves. In turn, this created a cycle of famine erupting from one place to another on the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the intense caste system, which disenfranchised the “dalits”, more popularly known as the “untouchables”, didn’t afford the strengthening of state powers. As what Acemoglu and Robinson had mentioned in their book The Narrow Corridor, the aforementioned system kept British India in its cage of norms.
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Another instance of severe food insecurity was observed in the Soviet Union. Before Nazi Germany started annexing its neighbors, Josef Stalin put into action a massive reformation of economic and political institutions. With Russia recovering from its civil war wounds, which witnessed the victory of the Bolsheviks over the White Russians, Stalin embarked on five-year plans to industrialize the country. The plans set lofty objectives, including a revamped agrarian policy of collectivization, which gave rise to “kolkhozes” and “sovkhozes”, specially that food redistribution was performed by the central government. As a result, famine in the fertile lands of Ukraine were experienced. The “Holodomor” led to a significant population decline in the Soviet Ukraine, while the state continued engaging in the confiscation of food from its people. To make matters worse, the communists’ failures in agriculture didn’t end there, as Mao Zedong too was keen on adopting such draconian policies.
For the People’s Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong spearheaded the execution of the Great Leap Forward. This government policy had the noble intention of rapidly industrializing the Chinese economy. However, the devil is always in the details. Peasants were compelled to surrender their ploughs, sickles, and other agricultural tools to manufacture steel in poorly-constructed backyard furnaces. In addition, sparrows were eradicated with the initial thought that these birds largely consume grains, which resulted in an ecological imbalance. Even with granaries running low, Beijing still engaged in exporting their grains in exchange for foreign currencies in the global market. These multiple whammies impacted the Chinese peasantry the most, with the crisis taking millions of lives.
Failing to address food security creates political, economic, and social repercussions. Thus, creating policies that provides food on the table in every household is of great importance. This dilemma can be addressed by improving two significant fronts vis-à-vis food security. They are food availability and accessibility.
Food availability can be addressed by increasing food supply, where the government can employ agricultural policies and land reforms that can make food production more efficient and cost-effective. Adopting newer technologies in the fields of animal husbandry and agronomy, and constructing extensive irrigation systems would enfranchise local farmers and ranchers. Also, securing their property rights will relieve these producers of uncertainty. Following the law of supply and demand, an increase in food supply would lead to lower prices, making food more affordable to ordinary people. On the other hand, food accessibility refers to the ease of obtaining such products. Promoting reliable infrastructure programs to construct roads, bridges, seaports, and airports that interconnect producers with consumers, and sellers with buyers will contribute significantly to eliminating the need for middlemen to manipulate the prices of basic commodities. Solid logistical operations in transporting fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock will ensure that no food goes to waste as they reach the marketplace.
However, the reality is highly discouraging since there are internal and external threats to Philippine food security. Internal threats, which are linked to the country’s frail sociopolitical structures, include the faulty agrarian reform program and businesses and oligarchs that engage in predatory methods to disenfranchise farmers. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is a land redistribution policy of the government that grants agricultural lands to its beneficiaries and ideally, land reform must be finished in a few years. However, with the landed gentry amassing power and wealth, these farmers end up as casualties of serfdom. Even if they are awarded with hectares of land, there are still limited means in incentivizing these farmers to become entrepreneurs of their own lands. This problem is further exacerbated when large businesses purchase these newly transferred agricultural lands and transform them to commercial, industrial, or residential lands. No wonder why many lowly farmers become gullible victims of “armed struggle” that these communist insurgents advocate. Aside from these threats, external threats present in the global market, where uncertainty of the Ukrainian crisis pushes the prices of agricultural commodities up, which includes fertilizers and livestock feeds in the form of corn and soybean, makes food security a daunting task. The actions of Beijing through COSCO also don’t look promising as they have been stockpiling various grains for many months.
Indeed, addressing food availability and accessibility in the Philippines is a confusing, multi-faceted challenge. Politicians advocating government involvement in these community pantries are only promoting band-aid solutions that produce limited output and are unsustainable. The country’s next chief executive must find methods in balancing economics and agriculture, and should have the political willpower in executing a better food security policy. It is on the hands of the electorate if we are to answer the challenges of food security, or not.
A no one who enjoys the fun things of life in private.
A believer of freedom, capitalism, and conservative brand of politics.
A no one who cares less about popular public opinion.
A believer that life can be better, if every one is a tad more responsible.