Tarlac, the Philippines, 25 Feb 2011 -- Lea Salonga’s career has taken a new and very different course. The Broadway star now sings a different tune as Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, supporting the eradication of world hunger and poverty.
Today Lea Salonga visited a department of agriculture project implemented by FAO with funding provided from the European Union's Food Facility in La Paz, Tarlac.
The FAO Goodwill Ambassador took part in the demonstration of rice and vegetable production technology and organic farming, and she bewailed a global scenario of hunger and want.
“Today", she lamented, ”almost one in every six people on earth wakes up not knowing whether they will have enough to eat. These are the most vulnerable and voiceless people in the world—poor, hungry families suffering from the prolonged impact of high food prices, the global financial crisis, and the increased frequency of climate-related disasters, such as floods and typhoons."
The €1 billion food facility programme was launched by the European Union in 2008 to help developing countries move towards long-term food security. Total EU assistance to the Philippines under this programme is € 31 million covering eight projects nationwide. Of this amount, €4.2 million was granted to FAO to support poor farmers in rain-fed areas grow more food and adopt sound water management and farming practices.
The project supports 3 800 small-scale vulnerable farming households in Pangasinan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bulacan - areas which were affected by the floods in September and October 2009. The project likewise focuses on strengthening capacity at all levels, including the government’s institutional capacity to expand small-scale irrigation systems to more rice farmers in rain-fed areas.
“Food security is not only a matter of safety nets and food aid, and agricultural production, access and distribution; it is also a matter of availability and buffer stocks which promote stability and peace. Without food, people can riot, or they migrate or die. Hunger is the hidden development issue of our generation… we must galvanize all nations, all people and marshal all resources to understand and defeat hunger,” Lea Salonga further said.
“As Goodwill Ambassador,” she continued, “I am proud to say that FAO is helping to boost agricultural production by working with local communities and farmer organizations on quality agricultural inputs, seed and livestock production, extension, access to markets, storage, irrigation, and conservation agriculture.”
According to her, the threshold of one billion people hungry has already been reached since 2008 and that despite some improvements made based on the 2010 FAO report, today’s hungry still amount to 925 million.
“The world can and must secure food for all hungry people in the world,” she urged, adding that “citizens, and governments, must move forward to make food security for all not only a distant dream but a reality within our lifetime.”
When food prices hit record highs in 2007-2008, leading to unacceptable levels of hunger around the world, the European Union responded quickly and massively with the €1 billion Food Facility. Europe’s support came at the critical moment when one out of six persons on this planet was undernourished, more than ever before.
The EU Food Facility responds to FAO’s urgent calls for increased investment in agriculture after three decades of decline. It targets the transition period from emergency aid to longer-term development. The Facility focuses on programmes that will have a quick but lasting impact on food security with projects embedded in government policies for food security and poverty reduction. It is in line with government programmes to address the food price crisis.
“As a Filipino citizen, woman, artist and mother,” Lea stressed, “I am very proud that, in this framework, the Government of the Philippines launched a plan to boost rice productivity in both irrigated and rainfed areas throughout the country with a view to becoming self-sufficient in rice production by 2013.
“The goal is to help rainfed rice farming communities achieve higher yields through the use of small-scale irrigation systems and high quality seeds, better extension services and integrated crop management.
“Most of the country’s poorest farmers depend on the weather to grow their crops. To reduce their exposure to risk, many are unwilling to invest in quality seeds and fertilizers. As a result, productivity is lower in these areas than in irrigated areas, where farmers have generally benefited from more extension services and training."
Lea’s visit to Tarlac also coincided with the awarding of agriculture inputs to the participants of the Farmer Field School (FFS) in La Paz. The inputs included shredder-chippers for organic farming, engines and pump sets for small-scale irrigation system, and supplementary fertilizers. The FFS participants came from barangays Caut, Matayum-tayum, Paludpod and Lomboy of La Paz.
The Farmer Field School approach is used to deliver services and develop farmers’ skills in the application of new technologies, water-saving techniques and integrated crop management practices, including pest, disease and nutrient management. Farmers have also been receiving certified seeds and fertilizers.
Commending the farmer-awardees, Lea took pride in being part of the project which - she emphasized - brought her much pleasure particularly what she saw and observed duirng her visit to the demo farm. She also considered it an “honour to have the opportunity to meet the beneficiaries of this successful endeavour.”
She said that as FAO Goodwill Ambassador she would like to see people working together, making sure “that the hungry eat today—and are able to feed themselves tomorrow. The solutions exist, the technologies, the policies are available. Investing in agriculture in the rural areas of the developing countries where most of the poor live is an absolute priority. The Philippines receives a lot of inbound remittances from overseas but how much of this is being reinvested in agriculture?
“It’s time to act,” she urged everyone who came to the occasion, “for a more prosperous world, free of the deepest poverty; for a cleaner, greener and more sustainable world for our children.”
Salonga underlined the need for a united effort against hunger and poverty, to help poor farmers and others turn their hopes and dreams into realities.
“Since becoming FAO Goodwill Ambassador last year,” she said, “I have had the privilege to support a remarkable campaign known as ‘The 1billionhungry project.’ This is now a large and growing movement of people like you and me – people committed to ending hunger in our lifetime.
"I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of that! More than 37 000 Filipinos have already joined the movement, and I invite every one of you to do the same.”
Lea Salonga, pride of the Philippines and winner of numerous international awards, is joined by Canadian superstar Céline Dion, Oscar award-winning American actress Susan Sarandon and popular Italian actor Raoul Bova as United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors against world hunger.
They have been—since their official appointment as FAO Goodwill Ambassadors in October 2010 during the celebration of the World Food Day in Rome—tasked to "commit themselves personally and professionally to address the universal humanitarian goals that underpin the FAO mission of build a food-secure world for present and future generations.