The Roundtable Discussion (RTD) on Linking Agriculture and Food Systems to Non-Communicable diseases was held last November 20, 2014 at Hotel Jen Manila. The RTD was organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) through its Agricultural Sciences Division (ASD).
This RTD was conducted in preparation for the upcoming Annual Scientific meeting (ASM) on July 8-9, 2015 which will focus on Non-Communicable Diseases. National Scientist Dolores A. Ramirez, member of the ASD, provided the objectives of the RTD, which were to 1) discuss research-based information about the links between food habit and non-communicable diseases; 2) discuss research-based information about possibilities for intensification, integration and diversification in Philippine Agriculture to meet the needs for balanced human nutrition; and 3) propose ways to improve the eating habits of the Filipino masses to reduce incidence of non-communicable diseases.
Academician Eufemio T. Rasco Jr., focal person of the RTD and executive director of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), gave an overview of how agriculture and food systems can be linked to NCDs. According to Acd. Rasco, like communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases are also traceable to agriculture. They call these diseases the “diseases of civilization” because studies show that there is a relationship between the new food brought by agriculture and the new diseases that emerged. Similarly, the new food system, which is known as “Industrial farming” employed for cheap, fast, and convenient food, is also responsible for those diseases. Other factors affecting the health of Filipinos are the increasing rice consumption, which accounts for 119 kilos per capita, per year; and the preference for rice with high glycemic index or the white rice.
Dr. Wilma A. Hurtada, professor of the Institute of Food and Nutrition and College Secretary of the College of Human Ecology, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) discussed the linkage of Food Habits to Non-Communicable Diseases. Dr. Hurtada, explained how the changes in our diet and physical activity from hunter-gatherer to farmer resulted in different disease pattern and profiles. She also enumerated trends in the global diet, which include: increase in domestic production and imports that led to increased availability and affordability of oil seeds and vegetable oils; consumption towards high fat, refined carbohydrate, and low fiber; shift from traditional cereal and root staples to processed foods; and meals eaten outside homes.
Mr. Rizal G. Corales, senior science research specialist and program leader of Integrated Rice-Based Agri-Biosystem, PhilRice, presented “Agricultural Intensification, Integration, and Diversification as Strategies for supplying the Needs of a Highly-Diversified Diet". Mr. Corales discussed the Integrated Rice-Based Agri-Bio Systems (IRBAS) or “Palayamanan Plus”, an approach that aims to increase farmers’ income and to ensure food and nutrition security in a sustainable manner.  The “Palayamanan Plus” Production Framework includes diversification of crops, inclusion of food from animal origin and from mushroom species; Intensification through alteration of crop combinations for enhanced productivity, intensification of rice production by using early maturing varieties, and planting of short duration crops; and integration by planting of vegetables and cash crops, intercropping or relay cropping, and integration of duck, fish and vegetables with rice crops. Mr. Corales stated that the multi-functionality of “alamayanan Plus” can address the need for a highly-diversified diet.

Dr. Ma. Concepcion C. Lizada, professor emeritus of the College of Home Economics, University of the Philippines Diliman and Fellow of Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), shared about the “Globalization of the Food System, its Possible Impact on NCDs”. Dr. Lizada quoted Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-General of WHO when she said that “food is not only an agricultural and trade commodity but also an essential public health issue.” According to her, people should be protected from false claims on food nutritional value labels. She also recommended that diversification in consumption and production should be promoted, as well as the increase in food productivity to promote food sustainability.
Dr. Lizada said that because of the free movement of food caused by globalization, we are forced to apply science in safeguarding the health of populations.  Therefore, we have developed capacity on the science of risk analysis, particularly in risk-assessment of developing NCDs when it comes to nutrient deficiency.
Dr. Arvin C. Diesmos, Scientist III of the Scientific Career System gave the synthesis of the discussion. Acd. Evelyn Mae Tecson-Mendoza, chair of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Division formally closed the RTD. According to Acd. Tecson-Mendoza, the RTD has provided many insights and information regarding agriculture’s linkage with noncommunicable diseases  but there is a need to follow up the leads  and much more work to be done to identify relevant policy recommendations. (Aislynn Fabiola G. Manuel)