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[Transcript] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO) Interview with Vice President Leni Robredo

10 November 2017
Asia-Pacific Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition
Bangkok, Thailand
Q: Madam Vice President, you had some very interesting things to say today in your speech. In a summary, what is your view of the nutrition needs for your country and the region?
VP LENI: Basically in the Philippines, since time immemorial, government has been doing a lot of feeding programs already. I don’t think we lack feeding programs. But there isn’t a lot of emphasis on livelihood for the parents of malnourished children, income for the poor, so feeding programs alone could not really solve the problem. They could solve it momentarily, but it’s not sustainable.
It is only recently that a lot of effort has been poured [into] making sure that our feeding programs are sustainable. We’re doing a Zero Hunger Program. This is replicated from the model of Brazil, because as we know, the Zero Hunger Program of Brazil brought them out of the hunger map in 10 years. And we think their program can work in the Philippines. What we’re doing now is we’ve gathered— We’re just in some pilot areas, but we’ve gathered the poorest of our farmers, and we found out that the poorest of the farmers are the ones who have malnourished children also. So that’s very ironic.
What we’re doing is we’re asking government—we’re forcing government—to buy a certain percentage of what they’re sourcing [for feeding programs] from outside sources from these very poor farmers. One such example is our Department of Social [Welfare] and Development is doing feeding programs in daycare centers. So we entered into a memorandum of agreement with them, where they agreed that at least 30 percent of their purchases will be bought from the very poor farmers that we’re taking care of.
One other problem in the Philippines is we also found out that our Department of Agriculture helps organized farmer groups, but not farmers individually. And these very poor farmers are the unorganized ones. They are the ones who do not have access to capital. They are the ones who do not have lands of their own, because they are just farm laborers. They are the ones who do not have access to crop insurance, and they are also the ones who do not have access to support services from our Department of Agriculture.
So the contribution of our office is we were the ones who organized them, we were the ones who helped them be accredited by the Department of Agriculture, so that they can officially receive help already, not just from the Department of Agriculture, but also from the Department of Agrarian Reform.
So now, the model is in several parts of the Philippines. It’s working. When we started, the average income of a farmer with five children—a family of five, I mean: a couple and three children—the average income was just 1,800 pesos. And now, more than two years into the program, we noticed marked improvements. We’re averaging 10,000 per farmer, so that’s a great deal. And we think this is the more sustainable model, than just concentrating all our resources on feeding. It’s actually attacking the root cause of malnutrition and hunger. And I think the program is working.
The second difficulty is we have a lot of government agencies doing work on nutrition and food security, and it’s been a challenge, you know, converging all their efforts also. So we formed a technical working group, composed of both government and private institutions doing work on nutrition and food security. And this technical working group is our attempt to converge all efforts of all the government agencies doing work on nutrition and food security.
Q: Let me just ask you one question, quickly, about the symposium: the idea is to try to connect better, link food systems to better nutrition. Sounds like a pretty difficult task. What is your sense [of this]?
VP LENI: You know, I think— The symposium is working on a particular theme. But I think the more important result of the symposium is that because this will be attended by so many representatives coming from many different countries in Asia and the Pacific, we can learn from the best practices of each other. You know, we have been doing a lot of research, we have been doing a lot of fora already on nutrition and food security in the past years, but without learning from the best practices of each other, it has not been working in the manner that we wanted it to work. But if it would be based on actual experiences, on best practices, I think it will be more attractive—more attractive not just to local government units who are represented here today, but to government agencies and private organizations doing work also [on nutrition and food security]. Because sometimes, the working themes that we have been pushing for for a long time do not really have heart and soul, unless we come across actual people who have benefited from it. Unless there are faces to every story that is being told. I think that’s the essence. That’s the essence of this symposium—to learn from each other.
Q: The ADG from FAO said it’s trying to move beyond the advocacy and toward action… If you can just tell us something in Tagalog that we can send for social media? Anything that you want to say about today, or nutrition?
VP LENI: Ito po, mapalad tayo na tayo ay naimbitahan sa symposium na dinadaluhan ng iba’t ibang kinatawan, galing sa iba’t ibang bansa galing sa Asya at saka sa Pacifico. Nagnanais po tayo na matuto sa mga aral na pinagdaanan nila. At dito sa mga aral na ito, mas mapapahusay pa natin iyong mga programa para sa ating bansa. Iyon pong lahat na nandito, nananaginip na pagkatapos ng ilang taon, mababawasan o mawawala na iyong lahat na nagugutom dito sa bansa natin.
Q: Thank you so much for your time!
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