Keynote Message: The Future of Food 2024

March 8, 2024

Message of Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda
The Future of Food 2024
March 8, 2024

It is my privilege to stand before you today, not just as a Senator but as a steward of culinary heritage and an advocate for sustainable food systems.

In recent years, climate change has posed a threat to our agricultural landscape, endangering the foundation of our food system. The impact of climate on agricultural output, soil quality, and water supply has been significant, affecting not only our fisheries and agricultural output but also the livelihoods of millions who depend on them.

The economic viability and sustainability of our food production system are at risk as we confront the challenges of a shifting climate landscape. The implications are dire—economic losses, productivity disruptions, and food insecurity. All these will drive people further into poverty and cause setbacks for those who have managed to lift themselves out of it.

According to the 2023 report of the United Nations on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, the Philippines had the highest number of moderately or severely food-insecure in Southeast Asia, with 50.9 million people who did not have constant access to adequate food in the Philippines in 2022.  This statistic underscores the urgency of our efforts to take the measures to transition from systems that are losing viability to more diverse and natural methods that are more resilient to ensure that no Filipino goes hungry.

Recognizing the intricate web that connects climate, food, water, biodiversity, and heritage, we’ve pursued a multifaceted approach to addressing the challenges facing our food systems. I introduced the Senate bill, Zero Food Waste Act as part of our commitment to combating food wastage. Countries across the globe committed in October 2022 under the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to reduce food wastage to half by 2030. In a world where an estimated 691 to 783 million people faced hunger in 2022, while vast amounts of food are needlessly discarded, this legislation seeks to promote food waste reduction through systematized and data-driven crop planning, redistribution, and recycling.

For a couple of years now, in celebration of my birthday, I have been initiating a Bayong-All-You-Can event for Senate employees, where they can fill their bayongs with vegetables rescued from distressed farmers, directly contributing to reducing food waste while providing support to farmers who would otherwise lose income. I have also purchased several tons of rescue vegetables and distributed them to urban communities, such as Tatalon in Quezon City.

I also filed the Food Forest Gardening Act, which aims to embrace agroforestry and empower farmers to cultivate low-maintenance food forests; the Buy Local Act, which seeks to green public procurement; and the Seed Libraries Act, which aims to make localities and institutions holders of seed diversity.

I’ve been actively supporting the Slow Food movement, recognizing food’s significance beyond mere sustenance, as a way to embrace a low-carbon lifestyle and sustainable culture. In 2023, I ensured funding for the Slow Food Biodiversity and Cultural Mapping project in Negros Occidental and Oriental, Antique, Aklan, and Cebu under the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) budget, aiming to document and celebrate the culinary heritage and biodiversity of these provinces. The project is still ongoing, and we are looking forward to the valuable insights it will yield. For this year, I also provided support to the Slow Food Community to secure a booth in Terra Madre 2024 in Turin, Italy, underscoring our commitment to fostering sustainability and promoting our local and indigenous food, culinary traditions, and conscientious consumption practices on the global stage.

I also introduced the Philippine Culinary Heritage Act to preserve and promote our traditional culinary practices. Our dynamic culinary story as a people inherently includes the reduction of waste. For instance, when a village slaughters a pig, all parts are used, often leading to culinary creations from what would typically be discarded. We have a great Tagalog term for this, panghihinayang. Consider sisig, an original Kapampangan dish made from a pig’s head and innards. A humble dish from less commonly used ingredients eventually became an international culinary sensation.

The bill also promotes traditional cooking methods using heirloom ingredients through food heritage mapping. In my home province, Antique, we have a dessert called Lasaw, which is melted muscovado sugar fermented in bamboo.  I also enjoy Binabak, which is freshwater shrimps with coconut; Porbida, native chicken with alupidan leaves and coconut milk; and Tinuom nga makul, a medley of wild mushrooms with tomatoes, onions, ginger, and garlic intricately wrapped in a banana leaf purse. 

These unique recipes have been passed down through generations, carrying with them the stories of our ancestors. The ingredients used are ancient heirloom varieties and heritage breeds, preserving our culinary heritage and honoring past traditions.

I believe that we can draw hope from the wisdom passed down by our ancestors, the resilience of indigenous food systems, and the innovativeness of our people. Across the archipelago, indigenous communities have sustained themselves for generations through traditional knowledge and practices that prioritize harmony with nature and stewardship of the land.

Their agroecological approaches to farming demonstrate resilience, innovation, and adaptability in light of formidable challenges, such as climate change. After years of lobbying, farmers are celebrating this year with the inclusion of funding in the Department of Agriculture budget for agroecology and climate-friendly rice farming called System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method aimed at increasing rice yields while using fewer resources and minimizing environmental impacts. This is aside from the budget of the organic agriculture program. 

These food traditions were invented and creatively designed over generations based on what is available in the ecosystems. By tapping into our traditional knowledge and practices, we can enhance the resilience of our food systems, mitigate hunger, and ensure food security.

The future of food is not just about what we eat but what it went through and how we consume it. It is about recognizing the intrinsic connections that have brought these foods to our table – the link between the past and present, culture and environment.

Thank you at isang luntiang Pilipinas sa lahat!