The mangoes that saved a village
As I walked the last few meters with a medical team organized by the Preda Fair Trade Development Foundation to the hillside village high in the Zambales mountains I was not greeted with the usual rush of excited smiling children curious at the arrival of visitors from the lowland. The Preda team entered a village of Indigenous people, known as the Aeta and we were greeted by the village chieftain and the elders who smiled a greeting as best they could. It was a village gripped by sadness at the death of several children caused by malnutrition. When they sent us a message asking for help we responded.
The medical team set up a portable clinic in a grass roofed hut and began to meet the villagers and weigh the children, take sputum tests, blood pressure and check the vital signs. I met a mother holding Epang, a small child seemingly five years old but in fact was ten. Her physical growth and brain development were severely impaired by that hidden killer malnutrition.
As many as 7.6 million children die needlessly every year as a result of the lack of nutritious food and access to clean drinking water. There has been progress in the past ten years, it was as high as 12 million child deaths each year. But it is still a terrible problem. Every hour of every day 300 children die because they are not getting enough healthy nutritious food.
In developing countries like the Philippines malnutrition is the secret crisis. There is an abundant source of food available but the isolated communities are too poor to buy food and do not have the fertile land or fertilizer to produce enough.
In the Philippines a survey showed that one in every four people experience hunger - that is 4.5 million people going hungry during the last quarter of 2011. This is the result of twenty years of corruption and neglect of the poor.
The new Aquino Government is boosting the economy by its anti-corruption campaign and is reducing hunger in areas of greatest poverty through the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). Small monthly payments are given to mothers to help provide schooling for their children, to get vaccinations and health checks and to buy nutritional food.
But this is not a tax on the rich given to the poor. It is the poor and middle class who pay through a 12% Value Added Tax (VAT) levied on every product and service. The middle class pay the most income tax.
The prices of basic food commodities are rising on the world markets like corn. For example, the production of ethanol (from corn) has led to a shortage of corn for food and price increases. Rising oil prices and typhoons and climate change are contributing to famines and rising prices.
The corrupt global financial industry and the over spending and borrowing non-stop by many developed nations has caused a world-wide recession. Most people have little money to buy imported products from developing countries. Economic stagnation and unemployment is the result and malnutrition the immediate outcome for millions of children. As I said 300 die every hour, every day.
What is needed is for a more just society and implementation of laws that give the poor opportunities for fair wages and good working conditions and quality education that leads directly to employment.
In the Aeta village the Preda medical team quickly discovered that the malnutrition was causing Tuberculosis, a painful killer. A treatment plan was implemented and medicines provided. The hillside land needed to be fertilized, planted with nutritious vegetables and root crops and they needed goats and chickens to up the protein intake. They also had many mango trees that were never harvested since the price was so low and they had to carry them ten kilometers. The Preda Fair Trade team responded and promised to buy and transport the harvest of mangoes at a Fair Trade price and turn them into dried mangos for export to Fair Trade shops in Europe. That then became a growth in income for the village. This village is now being saved by medicine and mangoes but there are many more villages needing our help. We all need to help and we can by buying Preda dried mangoes and doing our share to end malnutrition.
Fr Shay Cullen has been a missionary in the Philippines since 1969.