As troops arrived in the devastated areas of the Philippines earlier this month, two key international meetings were taking place elsewhere in the world: the UN Climate Change summit in Warsaw, and an evaluation of the laws governing US food aid in Washington. The timing of events, although coincidental, provided context for both discussions, and raised a number of questions on how to manage the pressing emergency – including food provision.
Since Typhoon Haiyan hit, huge volumes of food have been destined for the Philippines. This includes two million dollars worth of USAID rice. Although a staple food in the region, grown in many neighboring countries, as well as still being available in many areas of the Philippines that were not affected by the typhoon; the rice being provided by the US has been grown in North America. The supply of international alternatives has put a number of food aid issues back on the table; from the origin and delivery time of supplies, to their suitability and sustainability for local communities.
In recent weeks, the Slow Food and Terra Madre network in the Philippines has been keeping us up to date with developments on the ground, reporting on their work with different fishing and farming communities. In the badly hit municipality of Coron, in northern Palawan, for example, the Slow Food network has been helping coordinate a relief program to deliver solar lanterns, carpentry tools and medicine. In partnership with other NGOs, they have also been working to source local (good, clean and fair) food, in particular rice; ensuring that the role of local producers – able to provide food that costs less, is often quicker to access, and more suitable to the diet of those who have been affected – is not overlooked.
The main conversation in Washington concerns the form that aid should take: food versus money, and the relative amounts of both. In the case of the Philippines, the argument in favor of greater financial support for the local food system seems strong. Local producers are not only crucial to immediate relief efforts; they will also have a vital role to play in rebuilding the country. As Slow Food members Georie Pitong and Ruth Fe Salditos based in Panay state: “The damage caused by the super-typhoon to the region’s biodiversity, especially to mangroves, fishing communities, diversified food crops and trees, is simply adding to concerns.” Many NGOs are calling for urgent cash donations to support local farming. Highlighting the December deadline for planting rice for example, Oxfam USA last week urged donors to provide more money for agriculture to “prevent an even greater food emergency down the line.”
With international decisions out of the hands of the local people, for now the Slow Food network in the Philippines will continue supporting the relief efforts of affected communities, working together with local producers and NGOs. On 10 December, as part of Terra Madre Day – the global celebration of local food – two events will be held in the Philippines. The first, coordinated by Georie Pitong of the Panay convivium, will distribute healthy food, organic seeds and seedlings of vegetables and fruit trees to typhoon-stricken farming communities. The second, organized by Northern Luzon Mangted Biag Convivium, under the guidance and inspiration of the convivium leader Vickee Padilla, will highlight the importance of sharing food in the midst of the disaster. It will be a simple celebration of life and kindness shown by every Filipino, and the citizens of the world.
For more information about Slow Food in the Philippines please contact:
Photo credit: Georie Pitong