The typical dinner plate in 2050 should be diverse and mostly plant-based, with less rice and highly processed grains, according to academician Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., chair of the Agricultural Sciences Division of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Philippines.

To ensure that the Philippines is adequately fed 30 years down the road, NAST envisions a system, dubbed “Feeding Metro Manila 2050,” that nurtures the health of the people and the planet, adapts to the changing climate, and is sensitive to the diversity of food culture. 

The country’s current linear food system of food production, marketing, and consumption, is unsustainable. Waste management, underpinned by responsible consumption, is key to a nourishing and regenerative food system. 

Metro Manila was targeted specifically because of its role as a cultural trendsetter in the country. The team believes that if the food system is fixed in the capital, the rest of the Philippines will follow. 

Solutions to support this vision include aquaculture (the cultivation of marine or freshwater organisms under controlled conditions), aquaponics (a system that combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment), mixed crop-livestock systems (the management of animals and crops on the same land with most of the crops fed to the animals), biotechnology applications, nutrient-fortified food products, and a change in consumer behavior.

Fisheries is key to sustainability, said academician Mudjekeewis D. Santos, a member of NAST’s Agricultural Sciences Division. He pointed out that Metro Manila is bounded by Manila Bay, Laguna de Bay, and Taal Lake. 

“The bodies of water can be a source of sustainable fish supply—but only if we’re able to manage and reap the benefits from the ecosystem services these offer.” he said.  

Aquaculture and aquaponics both hold opportunities in this regard. Technology such as algorithm-based forecasting of fish kills and toxic blooms is a way forward for the former, as is addressing nitrogen use efficiency and nutrient limitations for the latter. 

The livestock industry, meanwhile, should shift to a mixed crop-livestock system, said fellow Agricultural Sciences Division member and academician Arnel N. del Barrio.

An example of such would be the rice-dairy production model where rice straw is enriched and utilized as animal feed instead of just burned. “We need to consolidate farmers so business will become sustainable and profitable,” said Mr. del Barrio. 

He added that animal production needs to be improved. “Hindi pa ayos breeding program natin [Our breeding program has not been optimized yet]. Buffalos, for instance, only produce four to five liters of milk. More animals means more land and more needed feed. We want to produce animals that are more productive and efficient, with less feed needed to produce a kilogram of milk, so carbon footprint is reduced.”

Biotechnology applications such as breeding animals for thermotolerance was also cited as a way to improve productivity and efficiency, and to make farming resilient against climate change. 

Consumption plays a central role in shaping the food system. The Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), which promotes its mandate in part through innovations such as optimized brown rice (with a 9–12 month shelf life) and calabasa (squash) pancit canton, noted that malnutrition still persists among all age groups.

“Fruit and vegetable consumption is declining over the years,” said Imelda A. Agdeppa, FNRI director. “Despite the insufficiency, we still encounter plate waste. The total plate waste is 66.8 grams, or about 15% of the total dietary requirement of a person.”

Among the FNRI’s suggestions are packing sari-sari stores (local neighborhood stores) with fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and partnering this action with simple messages at the grassroots level. Sari-sari stores were found to be the main source of food, as per the institute’s food environment survey.

“Dietary patterns can cause epigenetic changes that can be passed to offspring for several generations,” Mr. Rasco Jr. said. “If our grandchildren are sickly, they will blame our eating habits.”

Support will be needed from various sectors and government offices for the proposed system to be realized. Food system education has to be integrated in the school curriculum, coupled with research and development support on the food delivery system. The diet must also be incorporated as a component of universal health care.

“This will require a carefully calibrated response from the agriculture sector, because any change in diet will change the demand aspect of agricultural crops,” said Mr. Rasco — Patricia B. Mirasol