Food Supply Chains
Despite immense stress due to COVID-19, food supply chains have demonstrated resilience by offering a potential avenue for long-term poverty alleviation. The pandemic has threatened food security around the globe, with Feeding America reporting that as many as 17 million people could experience food insecurity in its wake. As such, food supply chains play an important role in assuring individuals’ access to food.

The Resilience of Food Supply Chains Amidst COVID-19

Food supply chains are the mechanism by which raw food becomes consumer-ready. These supply chains consist of farm production, processing, transportation and consumption. There are two primary categories of food supply chains. Firstly, domestic chains, in which food is produced and consumed in the same country. Second, international chains, in which food is transported across borders. Both domestic and international chains have been severely affected by the pandemic. However, there are notable differences in the impact on the two systems. This is due to their unique types of labor, transportation, and consumer demand among other conditions.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) explained that food supply chain complications disproportionately affect low- and middle-income countries. Wealthier countries, which use large-scale international chains, have more capital- and knowledge-intensive structures. These international supply chains have shown greater resilience amidst the pandemic. The recovery of international chains helps explain why low-income countries are experiencing disproportionate effects of the pandemic on food security.

In comparison, low-income countries primarily rely on small and medium domestic chains. Small domestic chains are more labor-intensive and thus affected more heavily by pandemic labor restrictions. Furthermore, the labor-intensive components of food supply chains are the hardest-hit by COVID-19. This impact stems from mobility restrictions, reduced workplace capacities and illness that limits employees’ ability to complete their jobs.

The Potential to Fight Poverty

Ensuring logistical flexibility and employee health is imperative in mitigating harm to domestic food chains. Social innovations are emerging to address the labor needs created by the pandemic. These innovations aim to increase the “flexibility of labor sourcing and timing,” by improving access to transportation, decreasing reliance on physical labor in certain production zones and improving hygiene and health education to avoid outbreaks in densely populated work areas.

Far beyond social innovation in labor, though, many believe the COVID-induced threat to food supply chains could provide an incredible opportunity for long-term poverty alleviation. One contributor to the International Food Policy Research Institute wrote: “During COVID-19, the bureaucratic, financial, logistical and technological reasons that always seemed to make actions impossible or improbable have fallen away.”

Food supply chain innovations have also addressed financial, managerial and health complications. These issues affect supply chains both in the short and long terms. For instance, digital innovation and the growth of e-commerce have played significant roles in enabling supply chains to overcome previously existing complications in the face of the pandemic.

Every type of food supply chain has increased e-commerce use. E-commerce decreases contact between workers and consumers and allows for easier food access around the globe. Apps developed by governments and businesses in places like India and China have allowed consumers direct access to food providers. Overall, these changes simplify the transportation process for food producers in countries around the world.

Innovations in Food Supply Chains

Large-scale supply chains and companies have also supported small and medium domestic supply chains with kick-starter financial support for COVID-19. Aid has also been provided to families and communities through voucher programs. Additionally, the World Bank has been working to stabilize prices across the various supply chains. By investing in the infrastructure and labor flexibility of domestic supply chains, governments and development partners have the power to strengthen global food security.

The threats to food supply chains have considerable policy implications, the OECD explains, underscoring the importance of open borders for importing and exporting food items. The World Bank released a joint statement calling for the free international movement of food to prevent a food insecurity emergency, calling on countries to cooperate to ensure food accessibility around the world. The statement also emphasizes the importance of making every step of food logistics accessible to prevent all people from going hungry, especially during pandemic lockdowns and restrictions.

– Emily Rahhal
Photo: Flickr

hunger in lithuaniaLithuania is a fairly young country, having established independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Its successes and issues are new to the independent country but have existed for generations for local people. According to the World Bank, Lithuania’s hunger rate is about 2.5%, between that of Hungary and New Zealand. Though this may seem like a low number, 2.5% of Lithuania’s population is about 70,000 people: a large group of malnourished people.

The prevalence of severe food insecurity in Lithuania is less than 1%, affecting about 14,000 people. Lithuanian citizens receive a minimum salary of €607 monthly, or around $675, which is lower than most countries in the European Union. Lithuania is a largely developed country, meaning that a good portion of its economy relies on the service industry.

Income Inequality

Lithuania’s vulnerability to poverty ranks high in the European Union, close to Romania and Latvia. About 23% of Lithuanians are at risk of poverty, by the standard that their disposable (after-tax) income is 60% lower than the national average. Some have noted that as Lithuania is a fairly prosperous country, those with incomes 60% below the national average are not necessarily living in abject poverty. However, it does indicate income inequality in Lithuania, which has increased greatly in recent years. In fact, Lithuania has one of the largest wealth gaps in the European Union — in 2016, the income of Lithuania’s wealthiest 20% was seven times that of Lithuania’s poorest 20%, an indicator of a large and widening wealth gap.

Lithuanian Economy and Employment

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Lithuania faces unique challenges that could contribute to hunger in Lithuania. Lithuania produces large amounts of agricultural exports, but as a result of quarantine measures, surrounding countries have limited the amount of food they are importing. Exports to other countries in the European Union have nearly stopped altogether, and this could cause severe financial difficulties and a shortage of agricultural products. This is particularly important because one in four working Lithuanians are employed in the agricultural sector.

Another factor in food insecurity in Lithuania is the employment rate. Prior to COVID-19, in 2019, the employment rate was 73.2%. However, at present, that number has decreased to 73%. The unemployment rate has climbed to 12.1% as of April 2020, from 8% in October 2019. The increase in unemployment as a result of COVID-19 could likely result in an increase in food insecurity.

Food Waste and Food Banks

In Lithuania, food waste is a significant problem that, if rectified, could provide a solution to hunger in Lithuania. The average Lithuanian household wastes an estimated 19% of food. Food waste is also prevalent at the wholesale level. To combat this problem, food banks in Lithuania and other European Union countries work hard to prevent food from being wasted on the wholesale level and to distribute food to the hungry. The European Federation of Food Banks encapsulates 253 food banks in 21 countries aiming to fight hunger. Iki, a popular retail chain in Lithuania, distributes eight to 10 tons of nearly expired food products to charity each day. The practice of donating nearly expired food rather than wasting it could be encouraged through tax cuts for companies that choose to donate.

Though Lithuania is a fairly prosperous country, hunger in Lithuania still affects thousands of people every day. In the time of the COVID-19 crisis, this number will likely increase. Hunger in Lithuania could be reduced by eliminating preventable waste in grocery stores and by increasing the number of people with access to employment, so progress may ensue after policy changes.

Elise Ghitman
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in South AfricaSouth Africa is the southernmost country on the continent of Africa. The country has 11 official languages and more than 56 million people with ethnic and religious diversity. The country has struggled with several issues such as food insecurity, poverty and a poor healthcare system. Here are five facts to know about hunger in South Africa.

5 Facts About Hunger in South Africa

  1. More than 6 million people in South Africa experienced hunger in 2017. In the northern region of the country called Limpopo, 93% of households had stable access to food in 2017. On the other hand, only 66.5% of households in Northern Cape had adequate access to food. The number of people who experience hunger has decreased in the last decade because of efforts made by the government. However, this data still shows the severe situation of food insecurity in South Africa.
  2. Of these 6 million people, approximately 2.5 million were children. In 2017, the majority of young children who lived in an urban area experienced hunger. Moreover, Black children are more vulnerable to hunger and poverty compared to other racial groups. Along with hunger, these kids experience severe poverty and are unable to access education and healthcare.
  3. Food insecurity has a direct association with men’s violence against their partners. A study conducted in South Africa shows that men experiencing food insecurity are more likely to be violent toward their intimate partners. Hunger and financial hardship affect people’s mental health and behaviors and, subsequently, the quality of their relationships.
  4. Recurring drought affected about 37.44 % of rural regions in South Africa. Repeating drought and flooding have damaged the ability to produce food in South Africa. These climate conditions make it difficult for poor households to produce their own food to feed themselves when they do not have enough income to buy food.
  5. The effect of COVID-19 on hunger in South Africa: The country had more than 300,000 people test positive for COVID-19 by July 18, 2020. The national lockdown and decreasing income negatively affect people’s ability to purchase food. Besides, people have little to no access to food because of the lack of an effective system for food distribution during the lockdown. Despite the government’s support for unemployed and children, more people than before are in need of support to access food.

Actions Taken by Multiple Nonprofit Organizations

Several nonprofits are taking action to address the challenges of hunger in South Africa. Food Forward SA collects surplus food from farmers and distributes them to the people in need in six regions of South Africa. Since rural areas and children are more vulnerable to food insecurity, the organization carries out the programs to provide food. Moreover, the organization has launched a Youth Internship Program. In this program, young South Africans can gain practical experience and learn about logistics and food safety.

In addition, the EACH 1 FEED 1 project by the Nelson Mandela Foundation distributes grocery items purchased by donors and financial donations to communities in need. Also, the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign tackles the systematic issues of food insecurity in the country and provides a place for other food distributing organizations to increase effectiveness and communicate with each other.

 

Although multiple nonprofit organizations and the government are working to deal with hunger in South Africa, the country still has a severe situation that requires urgent help.

– Sayaka Ojima
Photo: Flickr

hunger in NigeriaYahabba Adam, 30, smiled in the Maiduguri city center in Nigeria. Her four children would eat that day. She searched the market, and the $47 (NGN 17,000) provided by the World Food Programme’s (WFP) cash assistance program filled her wallet and heart with hope. Adam is one of 5.1 million Nigerians who are food insecure and in need of assistance. Conflict in the Northeast has heightened food insecurity and hunger in Nigeria, with another 7.7 million people now in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Boko Haram Insurgency and Crisis in the Northeast

In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram insurgency attacks and other conflicts have displaced two million people. With assistance from Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the Nigerian military has expelled the group from several northeastern provinces. Boko Haram still holds control over villages and other small territories. It continues to launch deadly attacks, often against women and children.

These attacks have contributed to a decline in agricultural production through the destruction of productive equipment and the displacement of farmers. In 2017, two senior politicians in Nigeria’s Borno state, which is the epicenter of the insurgency, sent a message to Boko Haram. Kashim Shettima and Olusegun Obasanjo donated 36 metric tons of maize, cowpea and rice seed and hundreds of new tractors to farmers. The officials saw an opportunity for the region to move forward in agriculture despite the conflict.

The northeast region of the country has a history of chronic food insecurity. Unfortunately, it is now in what the Famine Early Warning System Network describes as the crisis or emergency stages of acute food insecurity. Almost three million people in the region are food insecure, according to the WFP.

In November 2019, Cadre Harmonisé, a regional group that aims to diminish hunger in Nigeria, released a monthly report. It estimated that 2.6 million people in the Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states were severely food insecure. Without continued humanitarian support, the report projected the number would rise to 3.6 million by mid-2020.

COVID-19 Impact

There have been 35,454 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria and 772 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic is affecting every aspect of Nigeria’s economy.

“Countries like Nigeria are large food importers but are now being doubly hit – by COVID-19 and by plunging oil prices, the country’s main source of revenue, decimating the government’s budget and making food and other imports even more expensive,” said Julie Howard, a senior adviser on global food security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 

COVID-19 is threatening the already fragile state of hunger in Nigeria. Citizens across the country are going against pandemic regulations to sell small items or beg for food on the streets. In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, the federal government and humanitarian organizations distribute free food to people whose food supply has been cut off by pandemic safety measures. However, many risk stampedes to get the food and some leave empty-handed. 

“We were scrambling for food when my sister with a young baby on her back was pushed away, and she had to give up,” said Folashade Samuel, a resident of the Lagos slums. “The situation is very, very tough. It is very dangerous to scramble for food because you can fall and get trampled on.”

Additionally, lockdowns and border closures within the nation pose a danger to the agricultural sector, which forms the base of the Nigerian economy. For most Nigerians, agriculture serves as the primary source of livelihood, with the sector employing 36.5% of the entire labor force. More than 30 million naira (about $77,500) had been lost as of May 2020 in the yam markets alone because of the pandemic lockdowns.

In order to combat the pandemic’s adverse effects on agriculture, the Nigerian government created a task force. This task force is creating ID cards to allow agricultural workers to move freely. The agriculture ministry and central bank are working to provide support through locally produced fertilizers and financial expansion for farmers.

What is Being Done?

This June, the Nigerian government launched a seed support initiative in partnership with a group of agricultural research institutes and programs. The initiative worked to deliver improved seeds to farmers in 13 states in order to lessen the harmful impact of the pandemic on hunger in Nigeria.

In Adam’s home city, Maiduguri, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) received presidential clearance to continue emergency operations, which include delivering food. The WFP manages the UNHAS. While its operations are limited, this humanitarian aid provides support similar to the $47 Adam carried that day in the market.

Along with managing UNHAS, the WFP distributed food and cash assistance to 1.2 million Nigerians in 2017 and 2018. During the pandemic, the WFP has continued its outreach and efforts to curb hunger in Nigeria, assisting 632,500 people with food and nutritional needs. Because schools often provide a much-needed source of food for children, the WFP is also supporting the government in adjusting the national home-grown school feeding programme to reach nine million children while schools are closed.

Many people in Nigeria face hunger and are in need of help. The Boko Haram Insurgency and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the problem of food insecurity in the country. As a result, the government and outside organizations are stepping in to help those in need and work to decrease hunger in Nigeria. 

– Olivia du Bois
Photo: Flickr

Nicaragua, although having made tremendous progress in recent years, is still one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America. According to the World Bank, 24.9% of Nicaraguans lived in poverty as of 2016. Of those people, 200,000 lived in extreme poverty making less than $1.90 a day. As a result of poverty and harsh climate conditions, hunger in Nicaragua is a prominent issue. Even though approximately 70% of the population works in agriculture, 300,000 people still require food aid. Located in what’s known as the Dry Corridor, Nicaragua faces erratic weather patterns prone to climate shocks that are consistent threats to stable food production. However, in spite of the unfavorable conditions, many organizations and programs are on the ground working to fight hunger in Nicaragua.

5 Initiatives to Fight Hunger in Nicaragua

  1. The World Food Program (WFP) offers various programs and services to alleviate hunger in Nicaragua. Since 1971, WFP has implemented strategies to improve food security. By supporting the National School Meal Program, the organization helped provide meals to more than 182,000 schoolchildren in April of 2020. Following a five-year plan that spans from 2019 to 2023, WFP aims to find long-term solutions to hunger in Nicaragua. Along with direct food assistance, WFP promotes creating efficient and sustainable agricultural practices by providing technical assistance in implementing weather-resilient farming methods, improving degraded ecosystems and developing technology for accurate climate information.
  2. The organization Food for the Hungry believes that chickens can be a catalyst for solving hunger. Food for the Hungry stated that chickens rank close to the top of its annual gift catalog because of their uses in decreasing hunger. The nonprofit sponsored a program in El Porvenir, Nicaragua called “Happy Chicks”. This initiative taught the locals skills related to running a poultry farm, which is a creative and sustainable way to provide daily meals to the community and, especially, children. These skills help communities learn to operate self-sufficiently.
  3. Indigenous women have a history of banding together to develop more sustainable agricultural practices. Slow Food is an organization that values the protection of food culture and understands the importance of responsible food production. The organization partnered with communities of indigenous women in Nicaragua to encourage cooperation in improving the quality of agricultural systems. Women in the organization shared ideas about planting and harvesting crops, while also promoting economic autonomy through marketing and commercializing excess products.
  4. The Caribbean Coast Food Security Project (PAIPSAN) is collaborating with communities on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua to fight hunger. The organization provides assistance to those who would normally not have access to adequate technology or resources to engage in sustainable agricultural practices. PAIPSAN encourages farmers to utilize climate-resistant seeds and organic fertilizers, while also promoting innovative and environmentally friendly pest and disease control practices. The program also provides educational services to increase awareness of improving nutrition.
  5. Food assistance programs are a popular way of directly fighting hunger in Nicaragua. Food assistance programs generally provide a stable source of food for those in need. Hope Road Nicaragua works alongside other organizations, such as the Orphan Network and Rise Against Hunger, to provide 3,000 children with meals that include vitamin-dense rice and soy packs, beans, vegetables, chicken and tortillas.  The Rainbow Network is another food assistance program. It has set up 489 feeding centers, reaching approximately 13,581 people. The Rainbow Network also works with The American Nicaraguan Foundation to train community members on how to cook and operate the feeding centers. The American Nicaraguan Foundation itself is an organization that has provided more than 297.3 million meals to Nicaragua’s most vulnerable in the past 25 years. Along with its network of more than 700 partners, the foundation coordinates a variety of programs and allocates resources dedicated to poverty relief.

Nicaragua has made progress in recent years. However, vulnerable groups still need assistance with fighting hunger, a direct result of poverty in the country. In order to address this, many organizations are working to foster the idea of food sovereignty and fight hunger in Nicaragua. 

Melanie McCrackin
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Finland
Despite enjoying one of the world’s most advanced social-democratic welfare systems and the lowest human insecurity rates, there are still major struggles with poverty and hunger in Finland.

First Signs

The first signs of hunger in Finland emerged following a financial crisis in the 1990s which resulted in roughly 100,000 Finnish people reportedly hungry during the years 1992 and 1993. As a result, the foundation for a network of charity-based food aid provisions proliferated in Finland during the 1990s. Several spikes occurred in CFA rates in the late 1990s, with the largest increase at the turn of the century.

What is interesting about this particular response to food insecurity in Finland is that, in principle, the Nordic welfare state “is assumed to provide universal social security against social risks, such as poverty, for all its citizens.” However, at-risk people in Finland have received support largely through charity-based food aid, indicating that the current welfare state falls short of feeding everyone.

Giving Back

In 2013, EVIRA, the Finish Food Safety Authority, improved food safety regulations by allowing food and retail industries to donate food to charity with greater ease. This new food waste redistribution project was part of a new wave of social innovations in the greater E.U. which operated in efforts to reduce food insecurity and ecological waste.

As of 2014, the CFA in Finland had 400 distributors “including parishes, FBOs, unemployment organizations and other NGOs.” It reached roughly 22,000 Finnish people every week.

At-Risk Populations

Statistics Finland’s research shows that the number of people at risk for severe poverty and homelessness was 890,000 in 2017, which is roughly 16.4% of the population. Findings from the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) Poverty in Finland Report from 2019 show that the number of people living on minimum income benefits and experiencing livelihood problems such as food shortages continues to be a growing problem. The share of Finns turning to food banks every week was roughly 20,000 in 2019. The risk of poverty and malnutrition is highest amongst single mothers and older women living alone, according to the National Council of Women in Finland. Finland is also among one of the most racist countries in the E.U., making it even harder for migrants, especially women, to achieve success in the current economic climate. As a result, many migrants in Finland are poor and at risk of food insecurity.

A Hopeful Horizon

Progressive social reform strategies such as Finland’s Housing First strategy with the extensive food aid provision network in the country have the power to eradicate hunger in Finland. In fact, Finland’s Housing First strategy already accomplished a lot in regard to shelter insecurity in the country. Perhaps a stronger state role in providing food aid could be the extra push necessary to completely tackle the stagnating food insecurity problem.

Jasmeen Bassi
Photo: Unsplash

Despite being a necessary precaution to avoiding life-threatening reactions, managing food allergies is still considerably more difficult for low-income families, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo. Although much progress has been made to increase awareness of food allergies, in Germany in particular, the high costs of allergen-free food products and medications leave Germany’s poor disproportionately affected by allergen-free food inaccessibility. With increases in both food sensitivities and poverty rates in recent years, Germany might encounter a growing issue of food inaccessibility — and it may not be the only country to do so.

Prevalence of Food Allergies in Germany

Globally, the prevalence of food allergies has been rising steadily over the past few decades, affecting nearly 10% of children in Australia and 2% of adults throughout Europe.

In Germany, a study conducted by the Environmental Medicine Commission of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) places the prevalence of food allergies in adults at 4.7%. While researchers note that there have been relatively no changes to the doctor-diagnosed prevalence of food allergies in Germany over the past 15 years, food sensitivities in Germany still remain higher than in most other European countries. Approximately 25.5% of adults were “sensitized” to at least one food in the RKI study, meaning that researchers detected IgE antibodies specific to at least one food allergen in their blood. That compares to a food sensitivity prevalence of only 11% of Spain’s population and 14% of the U.K.’s population.

Although researchers previously observed a greater prevalence of allergies in urban areas, research in Bavaria found that rural areas aren’t excluded from the allergy “epidemic” either. While several studies have associated living on farms with a decreased risk of food allergies in Germany, other research notes an increased prevalence of allergies (37.3%) in the Bavarian countryside as compared to the German national average (20.0%).

The Cost of Allergies

Such data suggests an increased demand for allergen-free foods in rural communities—a hard ask considering the disproportionate distribution of supermarkets. Although supermarkets and discounters are widely accessible by car throughout Germany, by foot their accessibility is considerably poorer in rural areas, especially for less mobile groups like the elderly.

Even if there are supermarkets nearby, however, that doesn’t mean they shelve allergen-free products. Despite the prevalence of food allergies in Germany, allergen-free food products are still considerably more expensive than their mainstream counterparts ($4.50 for a loaf of gluten-free bread compared to $2.50 for a whole grain loaf in the U.K.). The high costs of purchasing ingredient substitutes, preventing cross-contamination and ensuring compliance with strict government regulations contribute to these costs, according to BBC.

Like allergen-free food products, potentially life-saving diagnostics and medications remain a large expense for those with food allergies in Germany and across Europe. Between hospital visits, allergy treatments and travel costs, researchers at the University of Finland concluded that families with a child between 1-2 years of age spend an average of $3,600 on managing their child’s food allergy.

The high costs of allergen-free foods and treatments as well as the lack of accessibility to supermarkets, are not favorable for the food security of Germany’s poor. With 15.5% of the German population currently living in poverty, inaccessibility to expensive allergen-free products may become a more severe problem. However, across Germany, nonprofits and government agencies are taking action to tackle allergen-free food inaccessibility from as many angles as possible.

Increasing Supply of Allergen-Free Food Products

As a result of the increasing demand of allergen-free products (a robust 20% increase over the past 12 months in the case of EHL Ingredients), German food manufacturers are accelerating production of their “free-from” lines. In 2008, for example, only 6.4% of dairy products were lactose-free; by 2013, that number had nearly doubled to 12.1%.

However, nonprofits aren’t simply waiting for the increased demand for allergen-free foods to take down towering prices. Many, like the German Celiac Society (DZG), are also actively intervening to ensure accessibility to gluten-free foods for those with food allergies in Germany.

“Gluten-free food in Germany tend to be twice as expensive as gluten-containing food,” says Michael Mikolajczak, the DZG’s press office representative. “The DZG is talking to politicians about tax-free allowance for people with celiac disease in order to achieve financial compensation.”

Although Larissa Nitz, member of the DZG’s youth committee, said that such tax relief initiatives never were quite successful, both she and Mikolajczak point towards Germany’s strong welfare system as a source of financial assistance for those managing food allergies in Germany.

Accessibility of Food Banks

When it comes to supermarket accessibility, the norm of “buying local” combined with the high prevalence of food banks makes the long distance to supermarkets a less acute issue for those with food allergies in Germany. In fact, according to a 2015 paper examining the German food bank system, only 6.69% of all residents and 5.75% of all welfare recipients lacked access to at least one food bank in their district.

While the researchers did not examine whether these food banks offer allergen-free food products, they did mention that a majority of food donations (82.29%) were supplied by regular donors, most notably retailers. According to Nitz, this may be a reason for hope. As manufacturers of allergen-free food products experience heightened demand, their increased supply of products might allow them to lower prices, and perhaps even contribute more frequently to food bank donations. Food banks, in turn, might be able to contribute more frequently to schools, where the availability of gluten-free food options is oftentimes widely variable.

“In terms of lunch at universities and in-office canteens for those youths who already work, the experiences are very different,” said Nitz. “A concrete initiative we have as the youth committee, is that we on a yearly basis request the possibility of gluten-free breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as features like an exclusive toaster for gluten-free use only from German youth hostels.”

Physician Training and Health Insurance

National health insurance and increased allergy awareness have helped ensure more equitable access to treatments. Physician knowledge of food allergies in Germany is continuously enhanced by the research-based training of the Comprehensive Allergy Center Charite (CACC) in Berlin. The cost of doctor’s visits, on the other hand, are eased by the universal health insurance provided under German’s statutory healthcare system, to which 85% of Germany’s population have access as of 2014.

Allergen-free food accessibility has improved in accordance with increases in food allergies in Germany, as well as poverty rates. Allergy medications and allergen-free food products remain expensive. However, increased product demand combined with food banks and a national healthcare plan all point towards progress in the fight for global food security.

– Petra Dujmic
Photo: Pixabay

Hunger in Australia
Australia’s reputation as a wealthy country often shields underlying issues within the nation. A strikingly large portion of the population experiences hunger on a daily basis, while the federal government falls behind other affluent nations in helping its poor and starving citizens.

Food Insecurity in Australia

Although Australia reduced its poverty rate over the last few years — declining from 16.9% in 2017 to 13.2% in 2019 — the percentage of Australians experiencing hunger has not decreased. This is because food insecurity, rather than insufficient funds, lies at the root of hunger in Australia.

Kathy Radimer, a former CDC epidemiologist, defines food insecurity as the state occurring “whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable food in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain.” In Australia, sustenance is not necessarily unattainable; rather, food is unsafe and inadequately healthy for much of the nation’s underserved.

In 2019, Foodbank Australia’s hunger report revealed that 21% of Australians experienced food insecurity in the year prior to its survey. In other words, everyone within that 21% had at least one experience running out of food without the means to buy more, due to either circumstantial or financial restraints. More often than not, these are not standalone occurrences: the report also revealed that 30% of food-insecure people go at least one day per week with no food whatsoever.

For women, the numbers are even worse. A staggering 27% of Australian women experienced food insecurity throughout 2019 in comparison with only 18% of men. This difference may arise partly because men experiencing food insecurity typically blame their inability to find work; women, on the other hand, often cite domestic violence, financial abuse and having to raise their children on their own for their food insecurity. Brianna Casey, the CEO of Foodbank Australia, explains: “We hear so many heart-breaking stories from mothers skipping meals so their children can eat to elderly women left on their own feeling isolated because they can’t offer their neighbors or friends so much as a cup of tea or coffee.”

The Impact of COVID-19

Food insecurity was a problem in Australia even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the virus began to spread, Foodbank Australia reports that an unprecedented number of Australians — over 1 million — need emergency food. Many of these people now experiencing food insecurity are migrant workers and international students who have recently lost jobs in hospitality and retail.

The federal government has not matched countries of similar prominence and wealth in terms of supporting this upsurge in hunger and food insecurity. International students are not eligible for JobKeeper payments or federal welfare, contrary to a leaked government report that claimed countries like Great Britain, New Zealand and Ireland have given international students access to government resources during the pandemic.

Practical implications of the pandemic have brought other new challenges for food-insecure Australians. Approximately one-fifth of the charities that normally distribute food, such as Shepparton Foodshare and Footprints in the Park, have either closed or significantly decreased aid, thanks to stay-at-home orders and a lack of volunteers. This makes it even more difficult for Australians to receive food in a time of urgent need.

Charity and Aid

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted many organizations that address food insecurity and hunger in Australia, many continue to help. For example, the Friends of Nepal Organization in partnership with the Non-Resident Nepali Association currently provides food for more than 1,000 Nepalese students in Australia, who would currently be food insecure without their intervention.

Large-scale corporations have taken note of the problem as well, with brands such as Arnott’s and PepsiCo donating $350,000 and $400,000, respectively, as well as their products, to Foodbank Australia. The Australian federal government recently began to provide relief, announcing a $16 million bundle to support food relief charities in April 2020. The Australian Defence Force has even been helping pack food at a Foodbank Australia warehouse in Sydney, aiming to combat the upsurge of hunger in Australia.

Despite Australia’s status as a wealthy nation, food insecurity remains rampant. Women suffer the brunt of the problem, sacrificing their small shares of sustenance for their families. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened hunger in Australia overall, increasing unemployment and weakening food-related charities. Still, many Australian organizations recognize the need to end food insecurity, and they give time and money to try to combat the hardships that food-insecure Australians face.

–  Ava Roberts
Photo: Flickr

food safety in el salvadorThe ability to have access to safe and nutritious food is essential to maintaining life and good health. Unsafe food contains harmful parasites, viruses and bacteria that can lead to more than 200 diseases, from diarrhea to forms of cancer. Approximately 600 million people become ill after consuming contaminated food each year, which results in 420,000 deaths and the loss of thirty-three million healthy life hours. Food safety and nutrition are linked to cycles of health. Unsafe food causes disease and malnutrition, especially with at-risk groups.

Education on Food Safety in El Salvador

Women in El Salvador are participating in an educational program supported by the World Health Organization that teaches safe hygiene practices and food safety. The WHO works in collaboration with El Salvador’s government and other United Nations partner organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, UNWomen, and the World Food Program (WFP). The program aims to address foodborne illnesses and poor nutrition by educating local women who then pass on their knowledge to other women in the community.

In preparation for the village workshops, there are two ‘train the trainers’ workshops held to train health promoters who can then go on to educate women in other villages. The women teach others how to host their own educational workshops. Women are chosen as leaders since they play a vital role in food preparation and safety.

Teaching Subsistence Farming

In El Salvador 1 in 10 people live on less than $2 U.S. a day, which makes it hard to buy food.  A large sector of the population lacks the proper education about nutrition needed to grow food themselves. This program provides women with education about farming, specifically focusing on five keys to growing safer fruits and vegetables.

  1. Practice good personal hygiene. Good hygiene begins in the home with a clean body, face, and clothes. People must maintain cleanliness to curb the spread of pathogens and prevent food contamination. A toilet or latrine must be used for proper sanitation.
  2. Protect fields from animal fecal contamination. In areas where animals live in close proximity to humans and fields, it is imperative to control the risk of exposure to fecal matter. Exposure to animal feces is correlated with diarrhea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, trachoma, environmental enteric dysfunction and growth faltering.
  3. Use treated fecal waste. Waste may be reused as a fertilizer for agriculture, gardening or horticultural, but must be safely handled, treated, stored and utilized.
  4. Evaluate and manage risks from irrigation water. Be aware of all risks of microbial contamination at all water sources and protect water from fecal matter.
  5. Keep harvest and storage equipment clean and dry. Wash harvest equipment with clean water and store away from animals and children. Remove all visible dirt and debris from all products.

Results

After participating in the program, the women involved began to change their lifestyles and safety habits. Women use mesh to protect fields from contamination from animals and can grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables while practicing food safety. Foodborne illnesses decreased in households where safety measures were practiced. Families that utilized the five keys at home reduced their chances of getting diarrhea by 60% compared to families in communities where these hygiene and safety measures were not applied. Families that began to practice food safety also had a more diversified crop production that contributes to improved nutrition.

 

Many people in El Salvador live on less than $2 U.S. a day and education on nutrition needed to grow food independently is sometimes lacking. In order to address these issues, The WHO, and other organizations, partnered with El Salvador’s government to host workshops on food safety and hygiene practices. While food safety remains an important issue in El Salvador, the workshops positively impacted food safety in the country by decreasing foodborne illnesses in households that applied the safety measures.

– Anna Brewer
Photo: Flickr

 

Hunger in SamoaWith a population smaller than 200,000, Samoa is a small island in the south-central Pacific Ocean. Samoans gained their independence from New Zealand and Germany in 1962, and now inhabit the westernmost islands within the archipelago. Although the United Nations has not identified Samoa as a “Least Developed Nation” since 2014, food insecurity and hunger remain in Samoa as lingering consequences of poverty, natural disasters and foreign dependency.

Lack of Resources

Samoa lacks arable land and agricultural resources; almost three decades of devastating natural disasters, including the 1990 Ofa and 1991 Val cyclones, have flooded and destroyed much of the once arable land in Samoa. Samoan hunger rates rise following such incidents. However, in 2015, despite a cyclone hitting that same year, Samoa was declared one of the 40 countries that have cut hunger rates in half within thirty years. As of 2016, 81.9% of Samoans lived in rural areas, yet only 2.8% of the country’s 1,097 square miles of land was arable. For Samoans, barren land has made agricultural innovation one of the only, yet most complex, options. In 1994, 22.1% of the Samoan GDP was derived from agricultural sales and other food production. By 2019, agricultural contribution to GDP fell to 9.8% due to a lack of farming land, knowledge and financial incentive.

Lack of Quality Food

Imported foods provide increased caloric quantity, not quality; from 1961 to 2007, the surge of imported foods made 900 extra calories available per person per day, largely curbing hunger in Samoa. Overall calorie availability nearly doubled during that time, yet dietary fat availability rose at a disproportionately fast rate of 73%. Imported foods, like meats and vegetable oils, rose from 10 calories to 117 per Samoan per day. Yet, the caloric intake of traditionally consumed and locally produced food like coconuts, starchy vegetables and fruits rose negligibly. Overconsumption of calories and high-fat foods are linked to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, all of which are on the rise in Samoa.

Obesity, diabetes and malnutrition coexist. In 2013, 45.8% of Samoans had diabetes, compared to 22.3% in 2002. In 2017, an estimated 89.1% of Samoan adults were overweight and 63.1% obese. Yet, an estimated 4% of children aged five or less experienced acute malnutrition or wasting, and 5% experienced stunting in that same year. Such rates are related to tariff liberalization, which continues to increase accessibility to non-perishable, mass-produced foods. Samoan’s overconsumption of processed macronutrients and sodium has led to obesity, masking the underlying micronutrient deficiencies and severe undernourishment.

Lack of Financial Equality

Education, income and access to healthy foods are interconnected. The percentage of Samoans living below the food poverty line had dropped from 10.6% of the population in 2008 to 4.3% in 2014; incidences of extreme hunger and poverty have steadily declined due to heightened caloric availability. However, Samoan financial inequality continues to climb as a result of the globalization that also has nearly eliminated extreme hunger. Samoa imports goods at a much higher rate than they export goods, leading to a lack of cash in the economy as well as a lack of job opportunities for those not directly connected to the global trade market.

Those living at or below the food poverty line typically lack formal degrees and belong to the 8.7% of Samoans who are unemployed. Cultural and historical circumstances have made imported food, regardless of their quality, more desirable than traditionally consumed foods. Wealthy and impoverished Samoans alike have developed an appetite for imported foods. The most vulnerable in the population, however, do not have a choice in what they consume.

Initiatives Tackling Food Security in Samoa

An alarming uptake in cases of overnutrition and resulting chronic diseases have occurred in Samoa. As a result, strides have been taken in addressing the root causes of food insecurity and the remaining hunger issues. An example of this is the recently launched 2019 Agriculture and Fisheries Productivity and Marketing Project. This project aims to improve food production infrastructure and implement sustainable agricultural practices over the next several years. By improving data collection of food insecurity, chronic disease and poverty rates, this project will localize Samoan food production industries. The project’s emphasis is on creating a more interconnected food landscape; this will not only continue to eliminate hunger in Samoa but will also increase cash flow and decrease chronic disease rates in the country over time.

Until then, groups like Caritas will continue to serve as a lifeline. Caritas runs two programs that prepare Samoans for natural disasters by training locals and installing emergency supplies throughout the island for distribution. The group was able to help more than 1,476 Samoans in 2012 suffering from hunger after Cyclone Evan.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Flickr