Sam Eaton on Food Security, Family Size, and Family Planning in the PhilippinesFebruary 13, 2013 By Graham Norwood
“We chose the Philippines because we really wanted to do a story that looked at population growth,” reporter Sam Eaton says of his two-part contribution to the Food for Nine Billion project, which aired last year on PBS’ NewsHour and American Public Media’s Marketplace. Eaton recently visited the Wilson Center to discuss his experiences in the Philippines, describing the heavy toll overcrowding and poor resource management is taking on the country’s ecosystems and highlighting how access to family planning may hold the key to a better future.
“Any time you have the word ‘population’ in a story, it’s going to be a hot-button issue,” Eaton acknowledges. “What I found, though, in the response to this story, is that it wasn’t as controversial as I had thought. What I really saw was more of a dialogue.”
For his report, Eaton traveled to the small village of Humayhumay, where community members have better access to contraceptives than most in the Philippines, thanks to a program initiated by the development NGO, PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc. In addition to health services, PATH also trains people to create sustainable livelihoods and manage natural resources.
“[This project] had all the elements of a story going in,” Eaton says. “[This] town…had taken family planning into its own hands and [was] training local people to be health practitioners, essentially.”
In the six years since the program began, family sizes in Humayhumay have fallen from a dozen or more children to a maximum of four today. This precipitous drop has had an immediate impact on local fisheries, which are beginning to show signs of recovery after years of overfishing. “[The emphasis on family planning] was fully integrated into the concept of conservation of…marine resources,” Eaton notes, underscoring the interactions between population, health, and environment issues.
“People are experiencing these problems of resource scarcity, of lack of access to family planning, of environmental collapse and decline in ways that are affecting their lives,” Eaton says. “And [the combination of] population, health, and environment – I think this is why it’s getting so much traction, and why so many people are beginning to talk about it and say, ‘Hey, maybe this is an alternate way’ or ‘maybe this makes sense, not to just focus on boosting yields here, or focus just on reproductive health here.’ All of these things are connected to the people; and this was especially true in Bohol for these fishermen. This is their life: It makes sense to them.”
Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.