Food shortage looms in Philippines amid quarantine

PHILIPPINES (CAN/INQUIRER) – Faced with a looming food crisis, as the financial assistance promised by the Philippine government has yet to reach them, people in various parts of Luzon are left to their own devices to stave off hunger.

Some residents have started eating corn fungus, while others have planted vegetables in once-idle plots.

A local government plans to distribute repacked vegetable seeds to help households grow “survival gardens”.

These initiatives came while some 18 million low-income families have yet to receive cash subsidies of 5,000 to 8,000 pesos (SGD140 to SGD224) for two months under the newly passed “Bayanihan to Heal as One” law.

Elton Caranay, a permaculture expert, said residents in Aggasian and Fugu villages were harvesting “corn smut” as alternative food.

Volunteers and government workers prepare food to be distributed to families in Manila, the Philippines. PHOTO: AP

Caranay said he himself had gathered corn smut, or fungi on corn kernels, and prepared it as meal by frying and mixing it with bitter gourd and tomato.

“While this is a famous food in Mexico… we in the countryside consider this as pest (in the cornfield),” he told the Inquirer.

He said cooked corn smut tastes like a mix of corn and mushroom. “It’s enough to fill our stomachs during quarantine,” he said.

In Pangasinan province, the Bued village council in Calasiao town has started community-based projects to prepare for food scarcity should the Luzon lockdown drag on.

“We have borrowed idle lots in the village and planted vegetables like okra, tomatoes and eggplant,” said Carlito Dion, Bued village chief. Village officials also distributed vegetable seeds to households.

Rice farmers in Bued were encouraged to sell their harvest to village officials so rice distribution would remain unhampered in their community.

In Baguio City, the local government said it would distribute vegetable seeds to help households put up “survival gardens”.

The seeds would help ensure food in every home, said the Agricultural Services Division of the City Veterinary Office, which is tasked with spearheading the drive.

The delivery of fresh vegetables from La Trinidad, Benguet province, meanwhile, was temporarily halted after the capital town was placed on extreme enhanced community quarantine.

Mayor Romeo Salda last Saturday said trucks and cargoes would not be allowed to transport vegetables on Monday and Tuesday because local government and health workers were tracing people who may have interacted with two people infected with the coronavirus.