Recovering A “Lost Bounty”

by Juan L. Mercado


“No. You can’t  go  and  play  until you  finish everything on your plate”. That  firm edict, from parents  long gone, still resounds  in our  ears. “Other  children have nothing to eat,”  they’d  drill into us  four kids. “Waste not, want not.”

We’re  grandparents now. One out of  eight  today,  the world  over,   don’t  get enough to eat,”  we tell  Krsitin, 9 and Katarina 6.  Here, 4.3 million households suffer “involuntary hunger”  Social Weather Stations reported  this October.  “Hunger knows no master than it’s feeder”.

Yearly,  the Philippines loses a million metric tons of already-harvested rice, from slipshod  processing to shabby storage,. Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala  told Inquirer. That’s double what  we  bought   abroad this year. The  country imported  860,000 tons in 2011.

Losses  in cabbage  can exceed a third of the harvest,  research by  University of the Philippines at  Los Banos  reveals. Spoilage for bananas spirals to  35  percent.  In fisheries, losses amounted  to  40 percent. Worldwide, fish spoilage exceeds 11 million tons yearly.

“To the ruler, the people are heaven;” an Asian proverb says. “To the people, food is heaven.”  In Jakarta this July, an Asean and UN Industrial Organization workshop presented data  documenting  that rodents crunched through “the equivalent of  food that 225 million Asians consume in a year.”  The price-tag for annual  post-harvest losses is $5 billion.

“People have started to equate  throwing food away with throwing away cash” , Sarah Nassauer wrote in Wall Street Journal. “With food prices high, there’s guilt about waste  but dread of the reheated dinner, But there is life with leftovers” —-  which she details.

Each American  “throws  away about 400 pounds of food  a year — about the “weight of an adult male gorilla.”   An average U.S. family of four spends $500  to $2,000 each year on food that ends up in the garbage. In 2010, discarded food — 33 million tons —  made up the largest component in landfills and incinerators,  reports, US  Environmental Protection Agency.

“Food waste worldwide accounts for a third of all food production”, British Broadcasting  Corporation notes. Recovering what is frittered away is essential . But a  huge increase in  agricultural  investment is also  needed. “If these fail to materialize, the consequences will be devastating.

We  have  little  wiggle room. Food reserves have been drawn down: rice by more than  40 percent, wheat by almost a third and corn by a half. “Even in a good year,  we just about produce enough food to meet consumption needs”.

India  had a “dry” monsoon. The US is emerging from the worst drought  in half a century. Vast stretches of Russia  are still parched.  So was much of  South America .” The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” as Eliza Doolittle crooned  in the Broadway play “My Fair Lady.”

Harvests shriveled as a result,  stalling  the welcome  easing of  food prices.  “The situation does not look as bad as 2008 when food riots erupted in 12 countries,” FAO‘s  Abdolreza Abbassian notes. That  turmoil  did leave    “people a little over sensitive.”

Still, prices  remain at historically high levels  Nor will they dip anytime soon.  High energy costs. prop up prices.  “We will need to  produce 70 percent  more food, by 2050,  to feed the world’s expanding population.”  Worldwatch Institute projects.

Overall population growth continues from momentum of earlier rapid growth, although  fertility has slumped. The 1940  census tallied 19 million Filipinos. Come 2020, population will  surge to 111.7 million,  National Statistical Coordination Board  projects.

That’s a five-fold increase.  Every one, however,  is entitled to adequate food. “To the hungry child, you can not say tomorrow. His name is today.”

The world, meanwhile, is warming.  Artic ice sheets are thinning even as Antartic snow thickens.  Severe droughts carom into severe floods, then  back, affecting rainfall — and harvests.

Factor in  what is  lost after reaping.   Rodents, insects to sheer carelessness take a toll  along the chain — drying  processing, storage to packaging  for grocery shelves  and dinner plates.  Losses  oscillate  anywhere between  10  to as high as 40 percent.

Up to 16 percent of rice is lost in cutting, handling, threshing, and cleaning, mostly  by hand,  International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos estimates. Another  5 to 21 percent disappears in drying, storage, milling and processing.

FAO crunches  out similar estimates of rice loss in Southeast Asian countries. Vietnam, for example, can lose 25 percent under typical conditions.

“For now, I ask no more than the justice of eating,” wrote Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda . So more can eat,  Secretary Alcala urged the private sector to  Invest in dryers, mills, and silos to reduce waste. Is anybody listening?

In 2011, the pork barrel crested at P19.5 billion.  Each senator got P200 million and P70 million was ladled to every congressman (Senators Joker and Panfilo Lacson refused pork slabs over the last decade).  How much of  that went to tamp down post harvest losses? 

Local governments are the closest  to artisanal fishermen. Any province sponsor innovative  projects like wooden barrels, for brine treatment. developed by College of Fisheries, UP Visayas?

Five thousand ate and were filled from five loaves and two fish, shared by a young boy, and  multiplied by the Galilean. ”Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost”,   the  Master  told his  disciples. And  they “filled twelve baskets”.


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