BY IKE SEÑERES
WE will never achieve real food security in this country not unless we stop importing the foreign ingredients that go into the local production of our poultry, livestock and aquatic feeds.
Add to that our importation of foreign flour and milk. Based on unofficial estimates, we are probably importing about 90 percent of our feed ingredients, and we are also importing our flour and milk needs with that same excessive percentage. How ironic this situation really is, considering that we are supposed to be an agricultural country. And we are not yet even talking of rice yet.
As far as I could remember, our feed millers have always been importing corn, soybeans, fish and bone meal and fish meal as their ingredients, as if there is no other alternative. This has become the norm for them, a way of life so to speak.
I do not know how this came about, but perhaps it is like a bad habit that started long ago, and we could not even remember how it started. If you ask me, it is like a bad dream, a nightmare that we should snap out of. I really hope that we could do that, because whether we realize it or not, these imports are draining our economy and could be a factor in our worsening poverty rate.
It seems to be the same story in the case of flour. For so long a time now, we have been baking our breads, cakes and pastries with imported wheat flour, as if there is no other alternative.
Imagine an entire country depending on imported flour alone and imagine how much that is draining our economy in terms of dollar based imports. And we are not yet even talking of how many jobs we would have created if we were producing our own flour substitutes, or even eating other staple foods that could supplement our diets, other than baked goods.
It is a different story in the case of milk. I still remember not too long ago that we had large dairy farms and dairy plants, but apparently all those are gone now. And I am not just talking about milk itself for drinking, because milk is also the ingredient used to make ice creams, cheeses and other dairy products.
This is yet another irony, because we have an abundant supply of grass in this country on a year round basis, the only basic and simple food source that dairy cows need in order to grow and produce milk.
If I were to look for a culprit to blame for these grand ironies, I will blame the culture of over dependence on commercially produced food or mass produced food in other words.
Commercial food production is the domain of big corporations, and it is precisely these big corporations that have eased out the small time farmers in food production on one hand, and now in food importation on the other hand. Even if it could be said that the small time farmers are still producing one way or the other, they too are now dependent or over dependent in commercially produced and imported farm inputs.
In simple language, the solution to dependence is not other than independence, and that is precisely what we should do, to declare our independence from commercially produced and imported feeds, flours and milks. By doing so, we will in effect declare our economic independence so to speak, considering the impact of these food items on our local economy. It would be frivolous to even think about this declaration of independence if it is not technologically possible, but the fact is, we have the technology to do it.
Agriculturist Patrick Pineda says that today’s modern day pig varieties were originally bred from the native wild boars of Europe that were known to be grass eaters or vegetarian.
He adds that our own indigenous peoples are feeding their pigs with nothing but banana stalks and rice bran, and they grow just as well. Knowing this, it now seems to me that the commercial feed millers are importing and using corn, soybeans, fish and bone meal and fish meal as their ingredients, because that is their business, to produce and supply ready mixed feeds that could be fed instantly.
Agriculturist Vicente Domingo says that we could grow many crops that could be used as raw materials for producing flour substitutes, such as kadyos (pigeon peas). He adds that wheat flour actually has gluten that causes health problems such as memory loss.
As proof of what he is saying, cassava flour is now available in the local market, and some bakeries are already baking breads mixed with malunggay (moringa) flour.
As a matter of fact, our own Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) already has several documented researches about local flours, except that these have not been promoted yet.
Pineda further adds that aside from dairy cows, carabaos (water buffaloes) could be raised to produce milk. This is not a new idea, because this native milk is already being produced all over the country, and at least two local ice cream brands are using is as their main materials.
What are needed perhaps are more dairy plants all over the country, so that more farmers would have buyers for their raw milk production. These dairy plants could be owned by farmer cooperatives, an approach that has been proven to be very successful in Europe.
Aside from the need to become independent for the sake of our local food security, there is also an urgent need to become independent from foods and food ingredients that are utilizing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or any other variation of the same. By shifting to locally produced foods and food ingredients that are natural and organic, we will be reducing the health threats to our general population. This is actually a win-win solution, because our people could actually become richer as they become healthier, because they could make money from local food production./PN