28 March 2007

Hunger, rice subsidy and a feeding program

THE GOVERNMENT'S decision to push through with its feeding program as a belated response to the hunger issue, widely rebuked by the opposition as a political stunt, clouds its modest beginnings, insofar as Naga and 24 other Philippine cities are concerned.

Our first encounter with providing rice subsidy to school children came through the Street and Urban Working Children Project (SUWCP), an AusAid-funded initiative that the DILG implemented early in the decade. But it needs to be underscored that the incentive is aimed at improving school attendance and minimizing dropout; the hunger part is merely secondary.

When AusAid discontinued funding for the SUWCP after its project life expired, only Naga of the 25 original pilot cities continued with the initiative. Our City Social Welfare and Development Office, under its head Jimmy Reblando, rebranded it as Sanggawadan, a Bikol word which loosely means "helping raise up." Because of its strong educational orientation, the Naga City School Board adopted the program two years ago by providing regular funding support under its annual budget. Even then, addressing hunger is not a stated objective of the program.

Last year, however, we moved beyond Sanggawadan by introducing a focused feeding program called Nutri-Dunong, impelled by results of an Operation Timbang survey which showed that 20% of those enrolled in public schools have "below normal" weight.

Nutri-Dunong tapped the City Nutrition unit headed by Teresita "Baby" del Castillo, who worked with public schools in holding feeding sessions for the affected school children, using a variety of menus it specially developed for the purpose. Similar to Sanggawadan, it was supported by funds allocated by the School Board. Clearly, this initiative have strong anti-hunger dimensions, unlike Sanggawadan.

When we were deliberating on the proposed 2007 School Board budget -- which provided extended funding for Nutri-Dunong -- Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado, who pushed for the feeding program after validating the need for it during our series of school-based consultations last year, reported that improvements were made in around 60% of the beneficiaries during the pilot stage.

Why did I bring this up? For a number of reasons. One, the national government has clearly lifted off its response to the hunger issue from from a successful localization initiative, straight from a local government playbook. While on one hand, it affirms the correctness of what we had been doing all along, it also demonstrates the center's oh-so-slow reactive response to a lingering problem.

Two, rice subsidy must be differentiated from a feeding program. Our experience shows they have related, but clearly different objectives. The latter is a decidedly more congruent response to the hunger problem. In a way, therefore, the senators are correct in specifying milk, coco-pan de sal and vegetable-based noodles, instead of rice, as a response to malnutrition among school children.

Finally, one has to question the timing of all of these. If hunger has been at the 19% record levels since 2004, why did it took the national government three years to put this issue on the table, and only after that damning SWS survey came out?


mschumey07 said...

The problem is this administration has always been reactive than proactive. When the people are hungry, its the peoples fault. When the people are jobless, they are being choosy. When they quality of education drops, its the teachers' fault. State of denial, no ineptness is the word.

I wish success on your programs for the youth.