hunger crisis in the United KingdomThe United Kingdom has the fifth-largest economy in the world. However, the country continues to struggle with national hunger. Since the implementation of budget cuts and tax increases to combat the financial crisis of 2010, struggling families trying to feed their children have suffered. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the food shortage in the U.K. has gotten exponentially worse. Food insecurity stands at 47% among people without jobs. People who fall in the lowest income quartile also report high levels of food insecurity at 34%. Women are also more vulnerable to food insecurity and some ethnic groups are more affected than others. The efforts of food banks attempt to address the growing hunger crisis in the United Kingdom.

COVID-19 and the Hunger Crisis

COVID-19 has exposed the true extent of the hunger crisis in the United Kingdom. Many people have experienced wage cuts and unemployment since the onset of the pandemic. In addition, many rushed out to supermarkets to stock up on food, which only caused more damage. Families who were impoverished before COVID-19 struggled the hardest to compete with panic buyers. Lower-income families can only afford store brand products and discounted goods, but stockpilers left only the more expensive products on the shelves. School closures have also made feeding families more difficult. Many families relied on schools and childcare services to provide daily meals for their children. Despite this, the government refused to extend free meal packages for students into the holiday season.

Food Banks

Food banks have helped curb some of the hunger issues in the U.K. The largest food bank network in the U.K., the Trussell Trust, continues to make a huge impact. The Trussell Trust food banks make up two-thirds of all the food banks in the U.K. Between April 2018 and March 2019, the network delivered more than 1.6 million food parcels to families in need. This amounts to a need increase of 26 times more since 2010. Due to COVID-19, however, the Trussell Trust reported handing out 2.5 million food packages from January 2021 until the end of March 2021. These numbers reflect the dire hunger crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated hunger in the United Kingdom, but the efforts of food banks have promptly addressed the issue.

The Road Ahead

Although food banks have helped reduce the food shortage in the United Kingdom, food banks are not a permanent solution. Many have criticized the U.K. for not doing enough to address hunger. Some even think that the British Government itself has exacerbated hunger in the country. Considering that the U.K. is not a low-income country, it has the means to do more. The Department for Education and Minister for Children and Families has funded programs to address hunger in schools and the hunger children experience in the holidays when they are out of school.

Human Rights Watch has made suggestions about how the government should proceed. Most importantly, it has emphasized that the U.K. needs to first acknowledge the right to food as a fundamental human right and compensate people for violations of this right. The government also needs to monitor and survey food insecurity in the country to get an accurate reflection of the true extent of hunger in the U.K. Human Rights Watch also suggests that the U.K. devise a national anti-hunger strategy and reassess the impacts of its previous welfare cuts. Welfare benefits for low-income households should be lifted to ensure food security for impoverished households.

With commitment and dedication to addressing hunger in the United Kingdom, the government can turn the situation around and ensure the well-being of people in the country.

Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Zero-Waste SolutionsThai researcher Sorawut Kittibanthorn is looking into how to transform the nutrient component found in chicken feathers into a powder that can be turned into a protein-rich source of edible food that can be used in a variety of dishes. Prototypes including his version of chicken nuggets and a steak substitute have received some positive feedback. Kittibanthorn feels chicken feathers have the potential of becoming an alternative food substitute that can reduce poverty and food insecurity. Kittibanthorn and others are determined to promote zero-waste solutions in an effort to reduce global waste and promote sustainability while addressing global poverty and hunger.

Chicken Feather Waste

The poultry market is a booming industry. Chickens are one of the most commonly consumed meat products in the world and poultry is a cultural and economic staple in many countries. The bird feathers, however, produce mass waste. In the U.K. alone, chicken farms discard around 1,000 tons of feathers per week. Few companies have taken notice of the potential behind these unwanted goods. Feathers have a high source of keratin protein, making the feathers ideal sources of insulation, plastic or animal feed. The findings of Kittibanthorn are unique and shift the conversation toward a multi-pronged solution in combating global hunger using creative solutions.

On top of reducing waste, Kittibanthorn maintains the idea that chicken feathers can be repurposed for elegant, elevated dining. The destigmatization of food waste is not completely unprecedented in the culinary world. Michelin star chef, Massimo Bottura, utilized a trash-to-table dining model in 2018 by recovering surplus ingredients to make nutritious and delicious meals for a community. Food waste is a largely uncomfortable issue around the world and the U.S. alone generates 40 million tons per year. By utilizing solutions similar to Kittibanthorn and Bottura, many countries could work toward resolving the issue of world hunger through zero-waste solutions.

A Zero-Waste Future

Utilizing chicken feathers as a zero-waste solution to combat poverty would fall in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which include seeking to end hunger and improve nutrition. In the context of agricultural initiatives, chicken feathers open the conversation on the collaboration between innovations like feather-based foods and organizations that promote crop diversity.

The Borgen Project spoke with Rodrigo Barrios, strategic partnerships manager at the nonprofit organization, the Crop Trust. Barrios explains how crop diversity includes two elements of action: use and conservation. Barrios told The Borgen Project about the organization’s program called The Food Forever Initiative. The Food Forever Initiative seeks to enlighten the community with crop usability by connecting chefs to less popular crops and giving chefs the agency to promote agrobiodiversity. Barrios says that promoting crop diversity would also help reduce poverty. In a similar fashion, Barrios states “we identify all biodiversity, internationally, that is fundamental for food security and nutrition and agriculture and we ensure that the gene banks are funded in perpetuity, provided they are up to standard.” The Crop Trust’s goals align with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The organization seeks to build more funding to support long-term conservation initiatives as zero-waste solutions.

The Road Ahead

The practice of repurposing materials that are typically disposed of, such as chicken feathers, has great potential to reduce poverty and push for more sustainable market practices including zero-waste solutions. Trends and practices related to repurposing materials would promote ethical decisions in the private sector, help communities with nutrition security and connect agronomics to crop supporting initiatives.

Danielle Han
Photo: Flickr

Canadian Food BanksCanadian food banks have been providing meals for those in need across Canada for the past 40 years. The more than 11,000 food banks in Canada saw a spike in clients in 2020, with a report of more than 1.1 million people going to food banks in March alone. Additionally, in 2020, 20,000 people a week used food banks in Canada, up significantly from 15,000 a week in 2019. However, food banks and donators have doubled their efforts amid COVID-19 to address food insecurity in Canada.

Food Insecurity in Canada

The 2019 Food Insecurity Policy Research report states that in 2018 one in eight households was food insecure. Moreover, in 2018, 4.4 million people ranged between marginal food insecurity (with roughly 1.5 million people), moderate food insecurity (with roughly two million people) and severe food insecurity (with roughly 500,000 thousand people) in those tiers.

Within the provinces, Nunavut reported the worst level of food insecurity at 57%, and the Northwest territories at 27%. The rest of the provinces, such as Yukon, faired a bit better at 16.9%, with the Quebec province being the lowest at only 11.8%. Additionally, 84% of those who reported food insecurity live in either Ontario, Alberta, Quebec or British Columbia.

Compared to reports in 2015-2016, food insecurity in the province of Nunavut rose roughly by 6% between 2017-2018 from 51% to 57%. In the Northwest Territories food insecurity rose by 7% from 20% to 27%, Yukon remained the same, British Columbia remained the same at 12% and Quebec went down 1% from 12% to 11%.

Food Banks’ Donations

In 2020, donations rose by approximately 5% in food banks across Canada, and they received over 24 billion pounds of food. It went up more than a million dollars compared to 2019, with a total of $24 million in food donations. In 2019, food banks received a total of $64 million of donations of all varieties, which was an overall decline from $54 million in total donations in 2020.

These statistics indicate 2019 was a drastically more prosperous year. However, 2020 saw an outflow of $56 million back to the people through other donated goods, money to other food banks and money donated overall back to the community. In contrast, 2019 only saw a $9 million return to the community.

In 2020, food banks had a higher return of goods back to the public than monetary donations, with over a $2 million difference. The demand is so high it begs the question of what is being done to help support food banks and Canadians in need.

Alternative Solutions for the Hungry

Canadians who may need to use food banks fall into several categories: people lacking the skills necessary for labor jobs within the Canadian market, the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs, pensions not covering the basics, and inadequate programs to help those in serious need. Various reports have shown the several ways in which the Canadian government can better help those who are at risk of going hungry.

One way to address hunger insecurity is to increase investments in federal housing. Creating housing such as social housing that is controlled by the government results in capped rental prices, allowing vulnerable populations to pay rent each month at an affordable level. Addressing the higher levels of food security in the northern regions is another important goal. The Canadian Government should focus on areas such as Nunavut that have the highest rates of food insecurity.

Canada Child Benefit

Another way to provide more effective support to low-income families with children is to replace the current range of federal child benefits with a strengthened Canada Child Benefit. The Canada Child Benefit provides financial support to eligible families that have children under the age of 18. While the benefit does support households to a degree, it has not been seen as nearly enough. Moreover, the more funding given to families in need, the less likely they are to be food insufficient.

Thanks to the work of the Canadian food banks, thousands of people can enjoy hot meals. However, a sustainable solution to food insecurity must also include other solutions and government programs to eradicate hunger in Canada.

– Claire Olmstead
Photo: Flickr

Foodborne Illnesses in Africa
With approximately 41% of the African population experiencing poverty, access to food is a persistent struggle. Poor food quality often accompanies food scarcity and both can lead to foodborne illnesses. According to NPR, Africa has the highest per-capita rate of foodborne illnesses in the world. Here are five facts about foodborne illnesses in Africa.

5 Facts About Foodborne Illnesses in Africa

  1. Children are the most affected by foodborne illnesses. Children, especially under the age of five, are at an increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness.  Since their immune systems are not fully developed yet, it is also more difficult for children to fight off illnesses, particularly if they do not have access to high-quality health services.
  2. Lack of refrigeration is an underlying cause of foodborne illness. In rural villages in the Eastern Cape of Africa, many families do not have access to a refrigerator or electricity. As a result, they have to buy food daily to ensure that it does not perish. This becomes expensive, however, and is not sustainable for a low-income family. Therefore, many of these families resort to keeping food that would otherwise require refrigeration out in the open. Bacteria on food grows fastest in temperatures ranging from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, doubling about every 20 minutes. Given that average temperatures in Africa fall within that range, Africans who do not have the means to buy a refrigerator are more prone to developing foodborne illnesses.
  3. The transportation of food in Africa is also a significant factor. A majority of Africans get their food through informal markets. The food that arrives at these markets typically originates from smallholder farms, but the safety standards during transportation are not always strictly enforced. Food contamination can happen during food production, delivery and consumption. In Africa, where food often travels long distances in hot climates without adequate packaging, contamination is more likely.
  4. Many African governments do not possess the resources to regulate food safety risks. Since Africa suffers from hunger and malnutrition, governments place an emphasis on delivering as much food as possible to those lacking it. This sometimes leads to a greater focus on quantity than quality. During hunger crises, although governments deliver food in a widespread manner, it can cause more harm if the food is contaminated. Without the resources necessary to regulate food safety, many African governments rely on international organizations that provide policy guidance and training.
  5. Africa’s food system is becoming more industrialized. While diets in Africa used to be rich in grains, many diets now primarily contain vegetables, meat and dairy products. These foods are more likely to require refrigeration, increasing the likelihood of contamination. Additionally, as more diverse diets are incorporated, there is the threat of new illnesses emerging. Underfunded clinics often lack the knowledge and resources to adequately diagnose foodborne illnesses and the emergence of new illnesses may worsen the diagnosis process.

Looking Ahead

Despite having a high rate of foodborne illnesses, progress is being made in Africa. The African Union is working to implement a continent-wide food safety authority. The initiative is set to emerge in the next year and will focus on increasing food safety protocols in markets and factories.

An organization called Harvest Plus uses a food-based approach to tackle hunger and agricultural needs by adding micronutrients to food. Through a process called biofortification, farmers add vitamins and minerals to everyday crops to sustainably bridge the gap between agriculture and nutrition. By targeting vulnerable populations around the world, the organization ensures food security in a nutritious and safe manner. Harvest Plus is confident that with consistent efforts, 1 billion people can have access to biofortified foods by 2030.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Vertical FarmingThe new AI-run vertical farming plantation brings new possibilities to agriculture and efficient production, as Plenty, an ag-tech company, co-founded by Nate Storey, proves there is now more benefit than cost to vertical farming. By utilizing robots and artificial intelligence systems to regulate LED sunlight panels, watering systems and pest control, this futuristic method has surpassed its previous form of being too expensive and complex.

Vertical Farming

Through the current transitions made toward maximizing agricultural use of AI, farming today has already begun employing drones and smart robots to remove weeds or spread herbicides efficiently. Greenfield Robotics had already released different functional fleets active in certain farms. Now, Plenty utilizes similar technologies with robots harvesting and organizing plants in the vertical farming stations. Fundamentals such as water, temperature and light are systematically calculated and regulated through smart systems that prioritize a greater, faster and better crop turnout.

Benefits of AI-Run Vertical Farming

Through artificial intelligence, farmers are now able to adopt a more eco-friendly methodology. Robots and machine learning promote certain technologies such as tracking soil composition, moisture content, crop humidity and optimal crop temperatures. Despite the previous vertical farming history and cost-benefit analysis, modern-day AI-run vertical farming allows certain resources to be recycled, controlled and reused. This can be seen in AI-run water filtration systems that catch evaporated water from the farms or indoor energy renewal systems.

Alleviating Agricultural Issues

These innovations alleviate many issues that arise in agriculture and distribution. The most notable feat is the space that vertical farming saves in comparison to traditional farmland regions. Plenty’s vertical farm covers two acres and yields similar, if not better, harvest and product quality to that of a 750-acre flat farm. Plenty’s website expresses its greatest feat yet: “Imagine a 1,500-acre farm. Now imagine that fitting inside your favorite grocery store, growing up to 350 times more.”

Plenty also points out the freedom AI-run vertical farming brings to agriculture today. By being independent and self-sufficient with consistent sunlight, recycled water and a controlled environment, farming is no longer restricted to natural inconsistencies. Climate change and weather patterns do not determine the outcome of the produce, due to this new ability to control the necessary components to production. In light of COVID-19 and wildfires that breakdown supply chains, this factor prevents unprecedented shutdowns of essential services in agriculture.

AI-run vertical farming allows farms to exist within metropolitan sectors instead of weather-dependent regions. By having a closer source, distribution is more efficient leading to less CO2 emissions and dependency on preservatives. This method also allows cost reduction, since transportation, product cost and labor are reduced, which allows impoverished communities access to better produce.

The Future of AI-Run Vertical Farming

All things considered, this new innovative alternative brings a cleaner and more sustainable future for agriculture, whether it be in produce quality or carbon footprint. With Plenty’s ongoing environmental adjustments and technological updates, the organization continues to expand its service, with a $400 million investment capital from Softbank, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos and former Google chairman, Eric Schmidt. Plenty has also partnered with Albertsons to supply 430 stores in California.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in BurundiThe East African country of Burundi is one of the poorest in the world. Its meager economy relies heavily on rainfed agriculture, which employs approximately 90% of the people there. Burundi is Africa’s most population-dense country and nearly three out of every four people live below the poverty line. One of the lamentable realities of Burundi’s poverty is the effects it has on children. Child poverty is a serious issue in Burundi and the country has a current score of 5.46/10 on Humanium’s “Realization of Children’s Rights Index.”  Burundi is deemed a black level country by Humanium, meaning that the issue of children’s rights is very serious.

The State of Child Poverty in Burundi

In Burundi, 78% of children live in poverty. Poverty especially affects children in the rural parts of the country. Poverty also disproportionately affects children of the indigenous Batwa people. Additionally, child poverty in Burundi has seen an unfortunate and notable increase since 2015, when violent unrest occurred following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement of a third term, which was unconstitutional. The roots of the poverty problem in Burundi stem from a few different factors, the most predominant one being hunger.

Chronic Hunger in Burundi

Despite having an agriculture-centric economy, more than half of Burundians are chronically hungry.  The lack of food in the country is due to the fact that even at the peak of the harvesting season, food production is too low to sustain the population. Food production in Burundi can only cover a person for 55 days of the year. The lack of food also means prices are much higher. As a result, it is not uncommon for households to spend up to two-thirds of their incomes on food, even during harvesting season. One reason for Burundi’s difficulties in growing enough food has been frequent natural disasters that destroy crops and yields.

Hunger and Education

Hunger is so prevalent and intense in Burundi that despite having free and compulsory school for children between the ages of 7 and 13, the country faces growing dropout rates due to hunger. Another problematic issue for Burundian children facing poverty is schooling after the age of 13. After 13, school is neither free nor compulsory, making it exponentially less accessible and thus reducing opportunities for upward mobility. Much of Burundi’s education system has been negatively affected by Burundi’s civil war, as schools were destroyed and teachers were unable to teach.

Street Children in Burundi

Burundi has many “street children.” As the name suggests, these children live on the streets and are incredibly poor, left to fend for themselves. Street children have no humanitarian assistance from the government and consistently face police brutality, theft and arrests. Kids in Burundi become street children because families are sometimes too poor and hungry to stay together or they have to flee from child abuse or family conflict.

Organizations Addressing Child Poverty in Burundi

Although the reality of the child poverty situation in Burundi is dire, there are good things being done to improve the situation. While the government in Burundi is not providing adequate help, there are several humanitarian organizations providing assistance to those in need.

The NGO, Humanium, works on raising awareness, partnering with local projects to help children and providing legal assistance to victims of children’s rights abuses. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also been working in Burundi since 1968 by providing food such as school meals, malnutrition rehabilitation to starved children and helping to improve food production. Additionally, organizations like Street Child are working to build schools and eliminate as many barriers to education as possible for children in Burundi and elsewhere. Groups like the WFP, Humanarium and Street Child do substantial work to help children in Burundi. It is vital that the work continues and that more organizations participate in alleviating child poverty in Burundi.

– Sean Kenney
Photo: Flickr

Donated During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The year 2020 saw a rise in altruism with celebrities across the globe donating to charities of all shapes and sizes as a way to do their part and give to those that requiring extra support due to the pandemic. Food banks are a top priority for many celebrities, recognizing the large number of families that are going hungry across the globe, but that was far and away not the only charity celebrities donated to during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are seven celebrities who donated during the pandemic.

7 Celebrities Who Donated During the Pandemic

  1. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds: Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds donated $1 million which they split between food banks in Canada, Ryan Reynolds’ home country, and the United States. The couple urged the importance of donating to organizations such as Food Banks Canada as the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted organizations like it throughout 2020. Food Banks Canada saw a total donation of $28 million worth of food in 2020 and fed roughly 8 million families across Canada. Food Banks Canada fed over 1 million people in 2019, while roughly 3.2 million people accessed food banks across the country in 2020.
  2. Shakira: The singer donated ventilators and thousands of N95 masks to health care workers in her home town of Barranquilla, Colombia. The mayor thanked Shakira in a tweet saying, “One of the most beloved Barranquilleras in the world is Shakira, and she is also one of the people who most love this city. Huge thank you for your contribution of thousands of N95 masks for our health care workers and ventilators that will save lives.” Shakira’s donation will allow doctors to continue to treat COVID-19 patients, as well as continue to help get medicine to those in need safely.
  3. UB40: British reggae-pop group did a cover of “Lean on Me” to help raise funds for NHS Charities Together. The organization includes more than 250 charities across the U.K. NHS donates approximately £1 million a day in providing care for those who are in need across the United Kingdom. It also strives in making medical breakthroughs to better help keep at-risk communities across the globe healthy and safe. NHS started several studies to see how COVID-19 affected various communities by examining the effects it has on school-aged children, communities’ mental health and the health of health care workers, to better prepare for a pandemic of this scale in the future.
  4. Elton John: Elton John, the legendary singer and HIV/AIDS prevention advocate, pledged to donate over $1 million to help support marginalized communities across the globe during the pandemic. John discussed on Twitter how he still intends to focus on preventing HIV/AIDS across the globe, but pushed for awareness of the coronavirus and urged for those who can to donate to communities that are the most at risk across the globe. Elton John’s Aids Foundation has donated over $450 million worldwide, saved 5 million lives and supported over 3,000 projects to help end HIV/AIDS. In addition to the $1 million he donated, he also hosted a living room concert featuring Tim McGraw, the Backstreet Boys, Sam Smith, Dave Grohl, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes. The concert raised over $8 million for his foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund.
  5. Rihanna: The global superstar donated a total of $5 million to several different charities across the globe, one of the charities being the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The Committee focuses on helping refugees across 40 different countries by providing them with tools such as education, clean water, shelter, food and anything else that necessary for them to go back to a normal life. In 2019, the organization supplied over 1 million kids with education and provided a million more with clean water.
  6. Akshay Kumar: The Bollywood star donated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s CARES fund. Kumar donated Rs 25 crore, an amount that is equivalent to over $3 million USD. The PM-CARES fund emerged in direct response to India’s lockdown plans to support citizens that are the most at risk and strives to make India a healthier and cleaner country.
  7. Liam Payne: A former member of the band One Direction, Payne donated 360,000 meals through the Trussell Trust. The Trussell Trust is an organization in U.K. that works directly with food banks to directly donate/distribute food. The goal of the organization is to get food to the 14 million people including 4.5 million children who live at or below the poverty line, with the ultimate goal of there no longer being a need for food banks across the U.K.

The fact that these celebrities donated during the pandemic will continue to ensure that those in need across the globe get the food, health care and shelter they require to thrive. It is important that individuals continue to support groups that give back well past the end of this pandemic and continue to focus on ways to help those in need in 2021 and beyond.

– Claire Olmstead
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Cuba
Cuba’s geographic position in the Caribbean leaves it vulnerable to annual natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and heavy rain. Natural disasters have cost Cuba more than 20 billion USD since 2011, a cost that greatly impacts Cuba’s overall food security. Despite this, Cuba has consistently scored “low” (less than 5) on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) since 2005. A GHI score of <5 indicates that less than 10% of the population suffers from hunger, calculated by national rates of undernourishment, child wasting and stunting and child mortality. Hunger in Cuba has stabilized at 2.50% since 2002.

While still under the 10% line and decreasing, Cuba’s child stunting indicators are much higher than its other indicators. In 2005, child stunting was 4.8% higher than the next-highest indicator, child wasting, and still 2.7% higher in 2019. According to Cuba’s Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System, 31.6% of two-year-olds suffered from anemia in 2015.

Social Programs in Cuba

Many social programs in Cuba rely heavily on food importation and foreign aid from Venezuela and the U.S. Up to 80% of Cuba’s food is imported. The majority of food importation, about 67%, goes toward government social programs. This leads to long distribution lines for basic food products like rice, vegetables, eggs and meat. These lines for individual food products can last up to five hours as people wait to purchase groceries with government-issued ration books. Waiting for one ingredient at a time leads to some households choosing certain food products over others and reducing their nutrient diversity.

Fortunately, international and local organizations are also stepping in to help. Here are four organizations working to addressing hunger in Cuba.

  1. The World Food Programme: The World Food Programme (WFP) is working hard to improve nutrient diversity and reduce Cuban reliance on international imports. The WFP provides nutritional and food safety education programs for pregnant and nursing women, children and seniors. The organization also helps local producers and processors of beans improve the competitive pricing of their products. Additionally, the WFP collaborates with the Cuban government to develop a food security analysis program in conjunction with Cuba’s natural disaster response plan.
  2. The Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere: Smaller organizations strive to help Cuba improve its food security as well. The Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), for instance, helps Cuban farmers revive farmland and establish sustainable food production practices, which will improve crop returns and overall food security over time.
  3. The West India Committee: Similar to CARE, the West India Committee provides education and training to farmers to help keep farmland productive and efficient over a longer period of time.
  4. The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba: The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHR Cuba) has a different approach. FHR Cuba focuses on creating economic incentives to start and maintain small businesses, including livestock and agricultural farms. FHR Cuba gives out microcredit loans between $100 and $600 to applicants for business supplies. Participants are then required to file a monthly report. So far, the initiative has funded 70 entrepreneurs. All have been able to successfully repay their loan as their businesses take off.

Political and Economic Context

Recent political fighting and economic hardships have led to food shortages and new government-issued rations. These go beyond the already-existing food rations allotted per family. Since 2000, Cuba has relied on Venezuelan oil, but economic collapse in Venezuela caused the aid in oil exports from that region to be cut in half. Cuba relied on selling Venezuelan oil for hard currency to trade internationally for products like food.

Additionally, after Cuba affirmed diplomatic support for Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, the U.S. imposed strict sanctions. The U.S. sanctions have caused food prices to soar as Cuba seeks new, more expensive suppliers. Additionally, the national production of food fell in response to the economic crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19 and plummeting tourism.

Improving Food Security

Cuba is seeking to improve its future food security by asking citizens to grow their own gardens and produce their own food. Due to how much of food is imported from abroad, very little food is produced in Cuba itself. For example, Cuba missed the mark of 5.7 million domestic demand for eggs by 900,000 eggs in March 2019, while Cuba’s main homegrown agricultural exports are luxuries like sugar and tobacco. Havana reportedly already produces 18% of its agricultural consumption, while other areas are only starting to begin farming and gardening initiatives. As agricultural supplies are also largely imported, Cubans must rely on organic farming techniques like “worm composting, soil conservation and the use of biopesticides.”

In conclusion, while Cuba has a long track record of preventing widespread hunger, the country needs to find new solutions to combat hunger in Cuba in the face of recent challenges like COVID-19 and faltering foreign aid. With the help of economic creativity like microloans and improving competitive bean prices, sustainable farming techniques taught by WFP, CARE and others and measures already in place to reduce Cuba’s reliance on food imports, Cuba has shown that it already has the infrastructure in place to meet these challenges.

Elizabeth Broderick
Photo: Flickr

cause of hungerThe COVID-19 pandemic is deemed a global health crisis that has resulted in an economic crisis and a hunger crisis too. In the Dominican Republic, Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger.

Unemployment Due to COVID-19

Cabarete, Dominican Republic, prides itself on being one of the watersports capitals of the world. Nearly two-thirds of Cabarete’s population depends on the local tourism industry for work and income. These jobs mostly fall under the informal economy.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 60% of the world’s working population were employed in the informal economy. The informal economy is defined by hourly jobs that offer neither a salary nor employee benefits. The pandemic left many people without a regular source of income and without health insurance.

Compared with the bailout packages that the governments of wealthy nations were able to provide to their citizens, the governments of impoverished nations were unable to provide citizens with such economic support. Around the world, NGOs have attempted to assist in providing the support that impoverished governments are unable to provide.

Cabarete Sostenible Addresses the Root Cause of Hunger

Moraima Capellán Pichardo, a citizen of Cabarete, is a supporter of the concept of food sovereignty. The Borgen Project spoke with Capellán Pichardo about the origins of Cabarete Sostenible and the organization’s long-term goals. Food sovereignty, the principle that individual self-actualization is dependent on having enough to eat, is at the heart of Cabarete Sostenible’s mission.

Capellán Pichardo told The Borgen Project that individual NGOs in Cabarete were working independently of each other when the COVID-19 pandemic began. These separate organizations had a common goal so they came together to form a coalition and increase their impact. This coalition became the nonprofit organization, Cabarete Sostenible. Everyone who works with Cabarete Sostenible is a volunteer. The organization works with local food distributors and organic farms and distributes the foodstuff that it receives to struggling families and individuals in Cabarete. This forms the organization’s first response to the hunger crisis.

Although it began as a method to address an acute crisis, Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger. Capellán Pichardo indicated that food sovereignty has been on the minds of Cabarete Sostenible’s volunteers and organizers since its inception. “Very early on, we sat down to discuss where we thought Cabarete Sostenible was going in the future. For us, we wanted to make sure that we did not just stick to giving out food because that does not really address the root problem.”

The Concept of Food Sovereignty

Food insecurity means being without reliable access to sufficient and nutritious supplies of food at any given time and is a common reality for citizens of Cabarete. On the other hand, food sovereignty, organizing society in such a manner that every individual has access to producing his or her own food, is a possible solution to food insecurity. “Food sovereignty is tied to land access,” Capellán Pichardo says. “For us, it is important that the first mission that Cabarete Sostenible focuses on is food sovereignty: access to healthy and appropriate food and using the native agricultural land to provide that.”

Food Sovereignty Addresses Food Insecurity

Since COVID-19, many factors have contributed to a rise in food insecurity and extreme poverty worldwide. Mass rates of unemployment have threatened access to food as even the poorest households spend close to three-fourths of their income on food.

Widespread unemployment, combined with unexpected drops in agricultural production, has created an unprecedented crisis. Because of supply line disruptions and trade barriers, often the result of increased health precautions, citizens of the world’s poorest nations are left without access to food. Some of the suffering caused by such disruptions can be mitigated by food sovereignty policies. Perhaps, a societal approach may be modeled after Cabarete Sostenible’s efforts to address the root causes of hunger.

Sustainable Community Solutions to Hunger

Capellán Pichardo is optimistic about the road ahead as she details how the organization has worked with local landowners to collaborate on solutions. The organization has opened the first community garden and is working to partner up to create a community-style farm. All this is work toward creating a social business model. Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger by helping to create a sustainable way of living, where food shortages are less likely and future hunger crises are averted.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Fall ArmywormMachine learning, a variation of artificial intelligence that includes the development of algorithms that independently learn new information, has innumerable applications. An example of this can be found in Africa, where the fall armyworm pest in Uganda has ravaged crop yields. Amid the destruction, a new machine learning-based app created by a Ugandan developer has the potential to stop the spread of the crop-destroying pest.

Agriculture in Uganda and the Fall Armyworm

Approximately 22% of Uganda’s GDP comes from agriculture, with most Ugandans working in the agricultural sector, often engaging in subsistence farming. With the nation’s economic performance relying on successful agricultural harvests and the population’s everyday food source coming from their own crop yields, any invasion of pests in Uganda can have serious consequences.

In 2016, Uganda experienced its first invasion of the fall armyworm pest, the larva of the armyworm moth. A native of the tropical regions of the western hemisphere, the fall armyworm pest eats through crops for nourishment before its transformation into a moth. By mid-2017, the fall armyworm had been detected throughout Uganda and was estimated to have caused $192 million USD in maize crop losses alone. In some regions, up to 75% of crop yields were lost.

Despite the severe threat posed by the fall armyworm pest in Uganda, local developers have created a machine learning-based tool to assist Ugandan farmers with detecting the presence of the fall armyworm in their crops and preventing its spread.

Machine Learning to Protect Crops

In the aftermath of the arrival of the fall armyworm pest, Nazirini Siraji, a Ugandan woman from the city of Mbale, began work on a modern solution to the age-old problem of pest invasions. After attending one of Google’s Codelabs events, Siraji used Google’s TensorFlow platform to develop her Farmers Companion App. TensorFlow is an open-source machine learning tool that enables developers like Siraji to create digital solutions powered by artificial intelligence.

The Farmers Companion App enables farmers to use mobile technology to identify this specific pest on their crops and their lifecycle stage. Using this information, the app notifies the user about the threat level faced by their crops and the extent to which the fall armyworm has the potential to spread. The app also recommends specific pesticide treatments that can be used based on the situation of the farmer’s crops.

According to Google, the app has already been deployed in the agricultural lands surrounding Mbale, where Siraji partners with local farmers in utilizing her Farmers Companion App.

Big Tech Meets Local Developer

The global expansion of the internet has been accompanied by a rise in local innovation aimed at solving local issues. In Africa, pest invasions have been responsible for countless crop shortages and famines, which exacerbates problems of instability and poverty. While invasions from pests like the fall armyworm will inevitably occur in the future, they will not happen again without opposition from new technology.

John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr