BGMIn March 2020, the world entered a time of pause. For some people, the earth seemed to echo a sigh of relief. But stomachs continued to grumble, rain steadily beat down upon roofs made of mud or junkyard scraps and pill bottles drained empty. Galette Chambon and Thoman, two Haitian communities, were no exception to the landslide caused by COVID-19. Thankfully, these two poverty-ridden places’ retaining wall halted the landslide. For nearly ten years, But God Ministries (BGM) has provided Galette Chambon and Thoman with sustainable resources. These resources include water wells, medical and dental clinics, schools, housing and various job opportunities to support the local community. Unfortunately, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these resources have not been readily available.

Food Insecurity in Haiti

One of the major needs plaguing the six million Haitians who live below the poverty line is a lack of food. During the school year, BGM feeds 16,000 children each day. Once schools shut down, food was no longer accessible to these children. Additionally, the country was in a state of civil unrest and facing a drought, worsening the situation. Since 2015, Haiti has faced the onset of economic blows including a decrease in foreign aid, depreciation of the national currency and the natural disaster of Hurricane Matthew. However, the cherry on top was the closure of local markets due to the pandemic, which heightened the crisis. Rather than sit back and watch the nation plummet, BGM took action by conducting a Food For Life campaign. Stan Buckley, the founder of But God Ministries, spoke with The Borgen Project about the campaign’s success. He said, “We raised $90,000 in a week. So far, we have given away $75,000 in food distributions.”

But God Ministries’ Response to the Pandemic

A major source of revenue for But God Ministries came from American teams who partnered with the ministry. Without funding from visiting groups, BGM had to cut back on the salaries of their Haitian employees. A positive outcome, according to Buckley, is the number of houses BGM has the opportunity to build in the community during this time. A portion of the people who planned on spending part of their summer in Haiti chose to donate the money they would have spent on travel to the organization’s housing fund. Buckley said, “We have the funds in place for 16 houses, and we have built around five so far.” He also noted that the civil unrest has died down due to the coronavirus. If this trend continues, the country will be on an uphill climb toward a successful economic and sustainable future.

Haitian Economy

Self-sufficiency is contingent upon the physical state of the nation. Unfortunately, over 96% of Haitians experience natural disasters. In 2010, Haiti’s economic and concrete landscape was shaken to the ground by an earthquake. Many countries forgave Haiti of its debt. However, the country’s clean slate quickly became tainted. By 2017, Haiti had accumulated $2.6 billion in debt. In concordance with the national debt, Haiti’s clothing export rose to new heights. As of 2016, the apparel register accounted for more than 90% of Haiti’s exports, further sustaining the nation.

Sustainability is But God Ministries’ overarching goal. “One of our goals is to have Haitians leading in every area …, and that’s a process. We have a Haitian preacher, Haitian principals and teachers, Haitian builders …, and the list goes on,” said Buckley. Right now, Thoman produces electricity through sustainable solar panels, which happened through a partnership with Georgia Tech. Hopefully, Galette Chambon will follow this precedent. Electricity is a major barrier standing in the way of Haiti’s progression. According to the CIA, investing in Haiti is difficult due to the lack of electrical reliability and weak infrastructure.

Without financial and resourceful investment from neighboring countries, it will be exceedingly difficult for Haiti to enter a state of self-sufficiency. However, the work of organizations like But God Ministries provides an example for others who wish to help the country emerge from the pandemic better than it was before.

Chatham Rayne Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

Gleaning Can End World Hunger
World hunger is one of the largest obstacles facing this generation. More and more people every day are struggling to feed their children and themselves, in a world that generates a surplus of food. According to the Food Aid Foundation, one in nine people go to bed hungry and one in three people experience malnutrition. It has a goal to create a world without hunger by 2030. While progress is slowly happening, there is still so much that people can do, especially when one considers how much food goes to waste. Luckily, the technique of gleaning can end world hunger.

What is Gleaning?

Gleaning is the act of harvesting or collecting grain or other crops that are still in the fields after farmers have harvested. Gleaning first showed up many years ago in the Old Testament of the Bible. Hebrew farmers would leave part of the crops unharvested for individuals who had no other resources to come and gather what they could. Throughout history, governments in countries such as France and England conserved this process for those in need. It was common up until World War II when more private property laws and technology began to evolve.

The Reality of Food Waste

Since then, food waste has skyrocketed. About one-third of the food produced in the world goes to waste. That is equivalent to 1.3 billion tons of food. Of that, a large proportion of food waste comes from fruits and vegetables. Gleaning would greatly reduce this. People often discard a large number of fruits and vegetables due to appearance standards; in fact, grocery stores frequently throw food away if it is not aesthetically pleasing. However, if one-fourth of the food wasted globally was not discarded, it could feed 870 million people in need. Not only could gleaning end world hunger, but saving food from waste also may help save resources such as water, labor and the production of gas emissions.

How Can Gleaning End World Hunger?

In 1987, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Hunger raised awareness for gleaning organizations. In 1996, it signed the Good Samaritan Act, urging people to donate surplus food rather than letting it go to waste. Since then, gleaning organizations have popped up across the country and world, with over 20 gleaning nonprofits in California. These organizations save surplus food from farms, restaurants, markets, stores and even backyards. Food Forward, a company based in Southern California, is helping to fight this. It wants to end hunger and food waste by saving surplus produce and donating to people in need.

A study in Nigeria shows the popularity of gleaning amongst different populations. The study found that the majority of individuals gleaning in Delta State, Nigeria were either females, widows, had little education or were over 50 years of age. However, individual gleaners faced discrimination and had a hard time finding left-over crops that were still edible. Regardless, gleaning is a necessary survival tool for those living in harsh conditions.

Gleaning has evolved since biblical times but still retains the same urgency to help those in need and prevent waste. Today, field harvesting is not a common practice for a myriad of reasons. However, modern machinery and mechanical harvesting miss a lot of produce. In the U.S. alone, these techniques lose or waste 96 billion pounds of food. Organizations like FoodForward can go into fields and rescue thousands of pounds of nutritious food which they then feeds right back into the community.

Hannah Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

Food Waste Around the World
As the global population continues to grow, the demand for food also grows. The solution to this problem is not to produce more food but rather to waste less food. Globally, about one-third of food that people produce for human consumption goes to waste, which is about 1.3 billion tons. This number includes 45% of all fruits and vegetables, 35% of seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat. Unsurprisingly, studies have repeatedly shown that developed countries, on average, waste more food than developing ones. Read on to learn about food waste around the world.

Food Waste Culprits in the Developed World

The United States and Australia are the two countries that produce the most food waste in the world. In 2010, around 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in the U.S., which is $161 billion worth of food. In 2015, the USDA and EPA joined together to set a goal of cutting food waste by 50% by 2050. Despite that goal, the U.S. continues to waste about 30% to 40% of its food supply each year.

Every year in Australia, about 7.3 million tons of food goes to waste. Australia’s food waste per person is around 300 kg. Australia’s food waste costs the country’s economy an estimated $20 billion each year. As a result, the Australian government set a goal to halve its food waste by 2030.

These two countries contribute massive amounts of food waste around the world despite having the wealth to address the issue.

Food Waste Champions in the Developed World

Greece and China are the most efficient countries when it comes to limiting food waste around the world. Columbia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and France are not far behind them in terms of how other developed countries rank. The scale and reach of governmental actions to address the issue separate these countries from the U.S. and Australia in the fight against food waste.

In 2017, the Sustainable Food Movement emerged out of Athens. Greece’s immense success today results from people taking this initiative seriously and enforcing it with fervor. The country went from producing an average amount of food waste to being the most food efficient country in the world. It accomplished this feat in just three years.

Greece sets an example for the rest of the world. It proves other places could implement similar initiatives to diminish food waste around the world.

Food Waste in the Developing World

Affluent countries have the means to significantly lower their food waste. However, developing countries tend to outperform many developed countries in this particular arena. India and Brazil are two examples of developing countries displaying some of the lowest food waste levels in the world. Each year, Brazil produces almost 15 million kg of waste nationally and 71 kg per person.

Meanwhile, India wastes up to 40% of its food each year. India has one of the highest rates of food waste nationally at nearly 68 million kg. Yet, its food waste per person is quite low at 51 kg per year. To note, India’s population is nearly 1.4 billion people, showing that a gap exists between its national and personal food waste statistics.

An important distinction between developed and developing countries is the stage that people are most likely to waste food. In developed countries, the individual consumer level is where most food waste occurs. This is due to the average citizen’s ability to buy more than enough food for their family. In developing countries, the most wasteful stage of food production happens in the earliest stages of distribution. Poor infrastructure and inadequate food storage vessels contribute to the most food waste in these countries. In fact, much of the food is wasted before it ever reaches the consumer.

Food for Thought

The global population is about 7.6 billion, and 925 million of those people are starving. The amount of food wasted globally each year is enough food to feed 3 billion people. In other words, the world has more than enough food to feed the planet, but there is a huge issue of food distribution.

By 2050, estimates have determined that the global population will become around 9 billion. This means that food production will have to increase by 70% to keep up with the world’s current path. That is a near-impossible task to accomplish. It would be more efficient to refocus efforts on limiting food waste overall.

Food waste around the world is an issue that some countries have chosen to tackle with great success while other countries falter. The future of the world population depends on all countries working to decrease food waste.

A Helping Hand

Hands for Hunger, an NGO based in the Bahamas, is making significant progress in the pervasive issue of worldwide food waste. A group of students realized that restaurants and hotels throw an immense amount of unspoiled food away every day. As a result, they set out to change that.

Hands for Hunger focuses on obtaining this typically discarded food and redistributing it to the less fortunate. In addition, it educates the public on the issue itself and solutions. The organization serves around 15,000 meals to Bahamians each week by redistributing restaurant and hotel food to its 17 outreach agencies. It delivers around 4,530 pounds of food to Bahamians in need every week.

Hands for Hunger has rescued over 1 million pounds of fresh food. Through its recovery efforts, the organization is able to donate quality food to those in need. Almost 50% of all food donations in 2017 were high-need items such as dairy, proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables. Hands for Hunger is just one of many NGOs doing fantastic work to decrease food waste around the world. While food waste is a problem, it has an attainable and feasible solution.

Natalie Tarbox
Photo: Pixabay

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 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