I was listening to outgoing Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) President and incoming Trade and Industry Secretary Fred Pascual on TV the other day and was pleasantly surprised that he believed in managing demand to address the current challenges of a high import food bill.
He spoke about our rice situation and how we could “massage” demand so as to import less of the staple. He suggested using corn as a substitute, especially for those who grew up eating corn grits — and the host agreed as he grew up in Negros Island. I was waiting for Mr. Pascual to mention adlai, a grain not known to many, especially here in the Metro. Adlai is a grain also called Job’s tears (it is grown also in China and in ASEAN countries) and is now a good substitute to the famous quinoa of South America. It is also touted to be lower in the glycemic index and is healthier for diabetics.
Chefs have used adlai as an alternative to rice in rice-based dishes like paella, risotto, and arroz caldo (congee) — or maybe it should now be called adlai caldo. It can also be used, of course in champorado (chocolate rice porridge), too. More importantly, it can be used steamed as a substitute for everyday rice.
The other important commodity is flour, more specifically, wheat flour. As a tropical country, we do not grow wheat so all of the wheat we consume in our pan de sal (a bread roll) is imported. Mr. Pascual mentioned using some substitutes like coconut flour for even 10% of our wheat recipes to manage demand. And 10% for Filipinos who eat pan de sal and “tasty” or American-style loaf bread every day is a lot. Imagine the burgers and spaghetti we consume every day in fast food chains! But substitutions like this need the approval of franchisors in changing recipes and we hope that our very own Filipino fast-food chains lead the way. That could really change the import demand, one burger at a time.
I have seen mango flour, camote flour, and coconut flour. Many food trendsetters have also used these for gluten-free recipes, as wheat (along with barley and rye) contains gluten which triggers Celiac disease or gluten intolerance in those sensitive to it. Our substitute flours do not contain gluten. Now, we only have to develop the industries of mango and camote flour, and we will need less wheat in the years to come.
Mr. Pascual mentioned coffee, but I will now offer the substitute to instant coffee — and that is brewing your own cup. Besides soluble coffee, a big part of our imports also is importing coffee in capsules, the trendier imported brand of ready-to-brew with the push of a button. While the machines are affordable, the capsules are expensive given that they are filled abroad and also create much waste via their disposable single-use aluminum canisters. We produce coffee in the Philippines, albeit short for our demand, but shifting demand to roast and ground coffee can make a difference. Imagine how much coffee you can buy with each capsule you stop using. And you will be supporting the local coffee industry in a more sustainable manner.
Besides rice, flour, and coffee, we can also manage the amount of instant noodles we consume. These wheat-based convenience food packs contribute to wheat imports and may soon be priced beyond the common man’s budget. Instead, we can shift to our own convenience food like boiled bananas and camote (sweet potato) — definitely healthier but just as filling. Convenience stores have started to sell ripe bananas (export seconds but just as good) and they can now offer boiled bananas, camote, and hard boiled eggs as a healthier snack alternative to instant noodles.
I may be sounding like or thinking of Utopia, but demand is shaped by information and trends on social media and traditional ones like this column. In our humble farm, we get a regular supply of saba bananas (perfect for boiling or frying) and coconut (for meat, juice, and more). If we get more people to eat less imported food, we can definitely shape demand and manage it, like Mr. Pascual suggested.
And finally, let’s manage our dependence on palm oil because we have coconut oil. Palm oil is imported, even if it is cheaper. The manner in which it is produced is also not eco-friendly as it has destroyed many forests and fertile land. It may be a generalization, but if we have coconut oil in our backyards (meaning our country), let us prefer coconut oil. Did you know that even the scraps of grated coconut in the market can be dried and still produce 30% more coconut oil like olive oil’s pomace? This can be good for frying — if only industrious “waste champions” collect them and process them to make more oil. But we choose to buy imported palm oil rather than squeeze the last bit from our coconuts. The same with waste like the coconut shell. Did you know we could gather them and sell them to be made into charcoal briquets?
Let us manage our demand for imports and think of ways to substitute what we have on hand. Let’s start in our homes, and our businesses, and soon we can heave a sigh of relief as we develop more local industries, instead of just pressing a button to make another order for imports.
Think about it when you eat or drink today. Think of your bread, your rice, and your coffee. And, of course, your cooking oil. You are a co-producer. What you eat or drink is what farmers will grow.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.
Chit U. Juan is a member of the MAP Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and the MAP Agribusiness Committee. She is chair of the Philippine Coffee Board, councilor of Slow Food for Southeast Asia, and is an advocate for organic agriculture.