Regional conference pushes greater emphasis on sustainable diets for food, nutrition security

  • 19 November 2015

regional conference pushes greater emphasis on sustainable diets for food nutrition security

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) Chancellor Fernando C. Sanchez Jr. has urged regional food and nutrition experts to work together to develop an agenda toward achieving sustainable diets for millions of people in Southeast Asia who are still undernourished.

Dr. Sanchez issued the call as he welcomed participants to the “Southeast Asian Conference on Econutrition: From Concepts to Practice in Achieving Sustainable Diets (SEAConE)” held at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) on 12–13 November 2015.

The conference was organized by the Institute of Human Nutrition and Food of the UPLB College of Human Ecology in cooperation with the Food Security Center (FSC) of the University of Hohenheim, Germany through SEARCA, with sponsorships from private firms and individuals.

Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr., SEARCA Director, welcomes the participants to the conference.Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr., SEARCA Director, said “Econutrition looks into the broad spectrum of factors affecting food and nutrition including the interrelationship of human health, agriculture, environment, and economic development. For SEARCA, we are particularly working toward the development of the agriculture sector which remains to be the backbone of the global economy and on which the region’s growing population depend for food and sustenance.”

As the regional center for agriculture,” Dr. Saguiguit said, “SEARCA has always been supportive of efforts that increase food production while ensuring the safety and health of a growing population confronted with hunger and malnutrition. These efforts to arrest food insecurity not just in the Philippines but in the whole of Southeast Asia, has now become more challenging because of a host of environmental concerns that continue to cripple our dwindling natural resource base.

The organizers said the urgency for addressing the theme of the conference cannot be overemphasized, noting that “in spite of the current efforts and achievements of halving hunger by this year in view of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), millions globally continue to be afflicted with undernutrition… Even as signs of increased food production abound, so do testimonies along the challenges of accessibility and acceptability.

With a fresh look at how people interact with the environment, SEAConE sought to address gaps in understanding econutrition and its role in food and nutrition security; build on evidences from the region; and develop an agenda aimed at achieving sustainable diets.

Dr. Fernando C. Sanchez Jr., UPLB Chancellor, delivers his keynote speech.In his keynote address, Dr. Sanchez acknowledged the strides made in halving the number of undernourished people since the 1990s, but noted that “one out of nine people in the world today remains undernourished. Moreover, 66.6 percent of the world’s hungriest people live in Asia, with Southeast Asia most afflicted with malnutrition—281 million people to be exact.

Experts from Monash University in Australia, UPLB and Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT) in the Philippines, and Columbia University in the US talked about translating econutrition knowledge to action, and how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal No. 2, which is “End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”

Dr. Sanchez and Dr. Saguiguit both said the conference gives emphasis to building agro-ecosystem resilience. The speakers from the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA), and UPLB talked about ways to build up said resilience through geographic information systems (GIS), enhancing food production, and implementing early warning systems.

The UPLB Chancellor also told conference participants that another significant problem for farmers and consumers is the huge postharvest losses worldwide. He quoted a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that one-third of the food produced, which is about 1.3 billion tons each year, “is either lost or wasted along the food chain. Such quantity of nutrient losses negatively impact on nutrition.” The implications of reduced postharvest loss were elaborated by Dr. Ma. Concepcion C. Lizada, UP Professor Emeritus.

On a different note, Dr. Sanchez said agriculture is a very hazardous industry that exposes agricultural workers to risks such as work-related injuries, lung disease, skin diseases, and cancer in their day-to-day affairs. Promoting safe and sustainable agricultural workplaces was discussed by Dr. Matthew Morell, Deputy Director General for Research at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The session on socioeconomic dimension of econutrition tackled societal behavioral change for food and nutrition security in the presentation of an expert from University of Georgia and the role of corporate social responsibility in the food system among many firms, particularly the case of Jollibee as discussed by Ms. Ma. Gisela H. Tiongson, Executive Director of Jollibee Group Foundation.

The four technical sessions and a panel discussion on promoting sustainable diets in the 21st century moderated by Dr. Maria Cristeta N. Cuaresma, SEARCA Program Head for Graduate Education and Institutional Development, provided inputs to an action plan and agenda for econutrition in Southeast Asia. (Leah Lyn D. Domingo)