MAP Insights


Food Security: The Other Paradigm

written by Ms. CHIT U. JUAN - April 16, 2024

Many economists think of scale and clustering as the only way to be food secure. Entrepreneurs tend to think differently.

I was recently in Batanes where they seem to have no issues about food security. It is because they learned to deal with the scarcity and seasonality of food long before climate change became a national or global issue. They have been a microcosm of what the country is now going through — unpredictable weather patterns, stormy seas, and only a few days of good weather — they eat these for breakfast as the saying goes.

So, can the solution to food security be the Ivatan way? They store food for the bad times. They learn how to use an animal from nose to tail, and not just using choice cuts or choice parts. They learn to dry fish and they observe marine sanctuaries, unlike our overfished municipal waters because of our consumer demand for canned fish products.

Sometimes the solution may be the exact opposite of what economists propose. Scale is sometimes just the reason to want much more than necessary and if we moderate our need, we learn to do small things in meaningful ways.

Other than the Ivatan way, we can also look at age-old practices of saving for the proverbial rainy day. Coffee farmers store their produce for the “rainy days” or when they need money for tuition, fiestas or medical emergencies. This practice of storing “black gold” — coffee beans not to be sold immediately — has been there for many years. It is our ancestors’ way of saving grains which can withstand being stored for long periods of time, be it palay, corn, or coffee.

Food security may also mean looking for food other than commercial varieties, like rice and corn, which consumers have been used to, and traders take advantage of. In Batanes, they use root crops, like taro (gabi), sweet potato (camote) and cassava. In fact, they even have a Rootcrop Processing and Training center established by the Department of Agriculture (DA). They use their root crops as alternatives to rice and corn, and they also add value by making them into chips or snacks called Wakay.

Another grain that has come back into the mainstream is adlai or Job’s tears. This grain, which I first came across with in Bukidnon, became popular a few years ago when chefs started using it for paella, champorado, salads and when the Slow Food Movement ( started promoting its use and made sure it was available in supermarkets and specialty stores. I remember chef Margarita Fores calling me for adlai because she would serve it as the carbohydrate for a wedding reception. Those moves brought adlai into the mainstream as an alternative grain to rice — and one with a lower glycemic index, too. This is good news for diabetics who avoid rice. Adlai is the better alternative, and this supports our local adlai farmers.

As far as vegetable supply is concerned, we now know of urban farming techniques, like plant towers (you can find them on YouTube), and other urban gardening styles, like using backyard plots. Condo dwellers may find community gardens in places like Bonifacio Global City (BGC) where local vegetables are within easy reach.

If you like local fish, do get familiar with dried and semi dried (lamayo, a technique of semi-drying fish after marination) versions of bangus (milkfish) and even small fish like dilis (anchovy). Instead of canned fish, look for tawilis (a freshwater sardine) and other sardines — the marine biologists tell me it is safer to eat the smallest fish as they have the least mercury content, having stayed in the sea water for just a limited time and are caught soon. Now that’s a tip for the salmon and cod eaters — eat small. That means respecting small fish like sardines, instead of small lapu-lapu (groupers, which can grow bigger if left longer at sea).

If you are a beef eater, look at local cattle to reduce your carbon footprint from imported meat cuts. But if you are able to shift to using meat only once or twice a week, that will already help curb our imports and give our local livestock industry a leg up.

If you like lechon (whole roasted pig), save it for special occasions. It will also help you manage your cholesterol numbers even without medication. Eat less processed meat and we will need less pork and imports of pork parts. Did you know that even most of our chicharon (pork crackling) is imported?

Methane — coming from livestock who expel the gas — is the biggest contributor to global warming and climate change. Less animals, less methane, lower temperatures. That is the simple explanation why our choice of food becomes the solution to both food security and climate change.

Ultimately, businesspeople will have to start thinking from the smallest unit of decision-making and that is home consumption. If we change our eating habits at home, we change what supermarkets will carry. We can change what public markets will carry. Because what is not bought by consumers like you will never be sold again.

Food security may be addressed on a small scale starting with our eating habits.

1.  Choose local whenever you can.

2. Follow Meatless Mondays and Fish Fridays to lessen meat consumption.

3. Choose small fish like fresh sardines to play safe and to lessen demand for canned fish.

4. Learn to eat “nose to tail” so producers can use all the parts of an animal without passing the cost to only choice cuts.

5. Grow your own vegetables.

6.  Eat local fruits. Stop looking for larger sizes which may turn out to be hybrid varieties that are imported.



Ultimately, the solution to food security is in our own very hands. It is not government alone that must change laws to ensure food security.

Start with your food habits and we can all be food secure.

Chit U. Juan is co-vice chair of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) Environment Committee. She was the chair of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) from 2016-2018 and is now a Philippine Women’s Economic Network trustee and member of AWEN’s Advisory Council. She is also 1st vice-president of the ASEAN Coffee Federation.