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Addressing poverty where it counts, for those it impacts most


Photo: Honeyvie Samonte

A cacao farmer conducting a pruning and sanitation activity to rehabilitate his farm.


Nearly 50% of the Philippine population self-identify as poor, with around 10% experiencing involuntary hunger (SWS, 2023). According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), farmers and fishers are the groups most severely affected by extreme poverty, with a poverty incidence rate of 30%. This rate is almost double the national average (18.1%) and more than triple the global poverty rate (8.8%), as reported by the World Bank (Worldbank, 2023a).


The precarious situation of farmers and fishers highlights the urgent need to take immediate action to ensure food security and stability. Farmers confront a multitude of challenges, with the most critical barriers including limited access to capital, insufficient or scarce post-harvest and treatment facilities, the impact of extreme weather conditions due to climate change, restricted access to markets, and a lack of innovative practices. Addressing these barriers is crucial to improving the livelihoods of these key contributors to the nation's food supply.


A strategic focus should be centered on targeting farmers and fishers living in extreme poverty, particularly in Mindanao where 70% of those who self-identified as poor are located (SWS, 2023). With limited resources to address poverty, it is crucial to allocate efforts to enact ambitious interventions, particularly in areas where the potential for impact is significant. This need for developmental support in Mindanao is a persistent issue, reflecting broader challenges in the Southern Philippines. The area's enduring cultural, religious, and armed conflicts are largely attributed to a scarcity of economic opportunities, which fuels a relentless cycle of poverty (Asia Society Philippines, 2018). The most recent report by Asian Affairs highlights this issue, noting that among the Top 10 poorest provinces in the Philippines, seven are located in Mindanao (Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sarangani, Sulu, Zamboanga del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Agusan del Sur), and three are in the Visayas (Northern Samar, Siquijor, Western Samar).


Acknowledging the situation in Mindanao and pinpointing the groups most impacted by extreme poverty and channeling strategic efforts into this region can render an ambitious poverty reduction plan viable. This targeted approach has the potential to significantly influence the lives of farmers and fishers, particularly when resources are allocated efficiently, ensuring that the impact is both profound and sustainable.


The approach must be aimed at efficient resource allocation, optimizing limited resources and capacities to positively impact farmers and fishers socio-economic conditions. There's a crucial need for a fundamental shift in how poverty is addressed strategically, as the status quo has proven insufficient. This is evidenced by the continued struggles against hunger and malnutrition that are directly attributable to poverty. 


Poverty is a complex, multifaceted and multidimensional problem, and thus reducing it requires a holistic and ecosystem-based perspective. The approach to addressing poverty should be comprehensive, addressing the multiple dimensions of poverty, both physical and socio-economic, and seeking to tackle its root causes through integrated interventions (Acker et al., 2009; Cardona, 2013). The creation of an enabling environment is crucial, and the implementation of market-driven programs with farmers and fishers, along with complimentary programs such as on Health, Child Nutrition, Education, Entrepreneurship and Resiliency are core to its success. A key element as well is the ability to rally other development stakeholders and actors with relevant programs, resources or expertise to address the complex and multifaceted problem on poverty and contribute to the value creation process (Acs et al., 2017).


Interventions should also be grounded in co-creation, prioritizing the involvement of the community in planning and decision-making, and adhering to a bottom-up approach that empowers the farmers and fishers. This emphasizes grassroots participation and local leadership, enabling tailored solutions to community needs. As mentioned, the interventions should be market-driven, aligning agricultural production to what are the opportunities in the market in order to enhance profitability of farming initiatives which subsequently can create jobs and drive local economy (Prahalad et al., 2002).



Photo: Robert Ballon

Kapunungan sa Gagmay’ng Mangingisda sa Concepcion (KGMC) fishers harvesting live grouper.


Farmers and fishers, despite playing a critical role in ensuring food security, are among the most affected by poverty and have often been overlooked by broader segments of society. While numerous NGOs and CSR projects engage in development work and assistance to the impoverished, the war on poverty is far from won, as initiatives often fall short in ambition and scale. 


The deeply rooted poverty in the Philippines may appear insurmountable, yet there is hope for mitigating it through the introduction of well-designed and executed interventions that empower stakeholders to co-create solutions. Reducing poverty is an ambitious endeavor, but with a “depth of intention”, it is possible. 



This article is part 1/3 of a series on Poverty Alleviation, written by Josh Mahinay, a social entrepreneur involved in various enterprises and social impact initiatives in the Philippines. His interest in business for social good inspired him to pursue entrepreneurial and social innovation studies at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Manila and at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in London.


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