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

HGSF Programs
At 310 million, nearly half the world’s schoolchildren in low- and middle-income countries eat a daily meal at school. The benefits of school feeding include increasing enrollment and course completion, as well as promoting a nutritious diet for children. Governments have since evolved this model into Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF), which integrates local smallholder farmers and community members. This added step secures local food systems, encourages economies and delivers fresh, diverse food to schoolchildren. In all, Home-Grown School Feeding is an intertwined, multifaceted approach to the Zero Hunger Challenge.

Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers

Smallholders produce roughly 80% of the food consumed in low- and middle-income countries. Yet, farmers in these areas still lack the educational opportunities and resources to bring them out of complete poverty. Two major obstacles they face include price volatility and unpredictable markets, both of which Home-Grown School Feeding programs help to alleviate.

HGSF programs provide a stable market demand. This aids farmers with the unpredictability of growing seasons, amounts of food needed and the type of product that is likely to sell. Through careful organization and planning, smallholder farmers can fully understand the needs of each school and thoroughly prepare beforehand. This means less wastage, reduced risk of investments and more opportunity for farmers to expand their capacities. When farmers receive a stable income following their initial investment into Home-Grown School Feeding programs, they can produce quality and more diversified products. In turn, this gives them access to additional markets.

Structured markets resulting from HGSF programs also encourage cooperative associations between smallholder farmers. This has the potential to reduce farmers’ reliance on local traders who may hold bargaining power over them. By creating an organization together, smallholder farmers are able to share knowledge, monitor food for quality and value and get access to credit. Social protection and promotion through established organizations is thus a major benefit of Home-Grown School Feeding.

Local Community Benefits

A strong HGSF program encompasses a whole community and food production process, from growing to preparing and eating food. Replacing school meals with the HGSF model can support a whole group of people along with the students.

Job creation is one particular benefit for local communities, from delivery drivers to cooks. However, there are also chances for rural businesses to provide nutritious products to schools. In addition, more people than farmers profit from the added access to markets, which increases income and prevents economic stress.

With careful planning and implementation, governments can also use HGSF programs to promote gender equality and decrease discrimination against vulnerable groups. This model can support different groups’ participation in farming and cooking and generally promote skill training and self-confidence. At first, compensation for their work might be food or services, but their work will evolve into paid positions.

Kenya’s Successful Use of HGSF Programs

Kenya’s Home-Grown School Feeding model reaches 1.5 million children every school day. The model benefits students, whose hot lunches provide the nutrients needed to focus in school. However, it also benefits the agricultural sector, who benefit from the predictable market demand.

To maintain a transparent, flexible model, Kenya uses a decentralized HGSF approach and incorporates multiple members of the local community. Once the government sends funds to schools, school meal committees carry out a public tender process and procure food from local farmers and traders. The committee, made up of parents, teachers and community members, assure the ministry of health checks the food for quality. Once it is cleared, the committee employs community cooks to prepare the food.

Kenya’s HGSF model has experienced some problems, particularly in arid and semi-arid rural regions. Among other obstacles, lack of infrastructure and water scarcity in rural communities mean that smallholder farmers don’t necessarily have the capacity to meet the demands of schools. This leads school committees to procure food from traders, who may not be local. In this way, rural smallholder farmers aren’t always receiving sufficient benefits from HGSF intended to alleviate poverty and meet the Zero Hunger Challenge.

Nonetheless, necessary adaptions and policy implementation to the HGSF model can be made by the government to include more smallholder farmers. Rural agriculture incentives and rural development policies would provide support for farmers, but these often cost a lot of time and money. Less costly strategies include linking smallholder farmers to schools and informing them of program requirements or preparing in-depth documents for schools, which outline procedures and implementations.

The Potential of HGSF

Home-Grown School Feeding programs have the potential to combine benefits in health, education, agriculture, economic development and social well-being. The model acts as a catch-all solution for preventing poverty. By taking the investment in school meals further by investing in HGSF programs, local economies thrive and food systems become sustainable. Ultimately, HGSF’s intertwined nature becomes a viable strategy to achieve the Zero Hunger Challenge.

Anastasia Clausen
Photo: Flickr

Advocating for Developing Countries
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs commits itself to raising awareness on “global issues of the day” and advocating for developing countries. Founded in 1922, the organization has raised awareness for global poverty through social media, podcasts, articles and rallies. The organization has not only raised money and awareness to the cause of global poverty, but it has also educated the world on how individuals can shape the future of the earth without bias. It shows how a person has the ability to provide aid to another who is starving, undereducated, ill or impoverished. The organization exhibits how to turn people’s lives around through supporting global initiatives and programs that aid the world’s poor.

Raising Awareness

Weekly podcasts focusing on various international issues allow listeners to gain knowledge of the problems facing developing nations. The podcasts allow listeners to find out about service events happening near them, giving them the ability to act and support what is going on to help developing nations.

Listeners and supporters can also submit questions to the council on global issues. Following the same podcast format, the council educates the public on international problems, solutions to those problems and how the listeners have the chance to support the cause as well. This weekly podcast has an open submission throughout the week and tackles a new topic during each session.

As well as podcasts, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs also uses social media resources to educate people. For the last three years, the council has released public surveys, asking questions regarding the importance of global affairs. The organization allows those surveyed to state his/her opinion on why he/she thinks it is important to aid the world’s poor. Additionally, the survey also asks questions and public opinion on global, political issues facing countries.

As well as using social media sources, the council holds events globally to raise awareness of global issues. These events tackle problems such as immigration, hunger in developing countries, the need for education in developing nations, and various other topics. These events allow everyday individuals to serve people globally, whether that be through the donation of time or money. Furthermore, these events give the opportunity to make a difference and help the problem.

How the Council Fights Hunger Internationally

In addition to advocating for developing countries by reaching out to the public, the Council focuses on how its own efforts can benefit the poor. For example, in 2009, the council lent its voice in support of Feed the Future, the Obama Administration’s USAID’s food security initiative. This initiative focuses on solving food scarcity for 23.4 million people living under the poverty line, globally. This program set in motion a task force within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that examined how the application of technology to agriculture could facilitate “food system transformations,” that would potentially usher in a new agriculturally urbanized world.

Through the efforts of this task force and many others, over 900 innovations have emerged to feed the hungry and impoverished. These innovations have lifted approximately 5.2 million families out of hunger. Meanwhile, its efforts also raised over $3 billion to stunt food scarcity between 2011 and 2018. Additionally, agricultural sales have generated $12 billion across the globe. This program has economically supported countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Benin, Kenya and many others.

Looking Forward

While the Chicago Council on Global Affairs works on advocating for developing countries by highlighting the needs of those facing starvation, extreme dehydration, political misconduct and other debilitating circumstances, it goes a step further. It also provides solutions to fix those problems, supplying resources for those who want to help but do not know how to do so, such as by providing donations to those in need and utilizing social media to raise awareness. Through these efforts, the Council shows that an individual does not need wealth or pomp but a willing heart and some time to make a difference in this world.

– Alexis LeBaron 
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Food Policy
The U.S. produces around 38.7 percent of all corn grown globally and around 35 percent of all soybeans. With such a large stake in global markets, it is not surprising that when U.S. food policy changes occur, many and often poorer places feel their effects throughout the globe.

Over 1 billion people work in world agriculture, and in poorer regions, a majority of the workforce population works in agriculture. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, over 60 percent of the workforce is involved in agriculture. With such a dependence on agriculture, changes in global markets and farming policies can severely affect these poorer populations. U.S. food policy may impact foreign farmers negatively in four principal ways: restricting imports in which developing countries have a comparative advantage; stimulating an overproduction of commodities in the U.S., that when the U.S. exports lowers the international price of goods from which low-income country farmers derive their income; distorting food markets in developing countries by the provision of in-kind food aid; and reducing official development assistance for agricultural and rural development.

Subsidies

Subsidies are a long-standing agricultural policy in the United States. Originating during the Great Depression, farming subsidies are payments and other support that the U.S. federal government gives to certain farmers. Today, the U.S. distributes around $20 billion to farming businesses annually. In 1930, when the stock market crashed, around 25 percent of Americans lived on farms and ranches and the government intended subsidies to help support these smaller family-run farms. Today, the largest 15 percent of farm businesses receive 85 percent of government subsidies that protect them from price fluctuations and unexpected decreased crop production.

Because of the U.S. subsidy system, it is cheaper for U.S. farmers to produce certain crops and thus it is cheaper for many poor nations to import crops such as wheat, barley and corn, instead of buying and growing locally. As one of the world’s largest cotton producers, subsidies can cause severe global price depression. In 2004, Brazil challenged the U.S. cotton subsidies with the support of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO found that U.S. cotton subsidies were responsible for distorted international markets. In winning the dispute, Brazil could impose $830 million in product sanctions and the U.S. paid $300 million to the Brazil Cotton Institute as reparations.

Subsidies are also the main cause of more market distortion for corn, one of the U.S.’s most lucrative crops. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. exports highly subsidized crops that compete with Mexican products. The exported corn contributed to a 413 percent increase in U.S. exports and a 66 percent decline in Mexican producer prices from the 1990s to 2005.

Cargo Preference

Cargo preference is another policy interfering in international relations between the U.S. and its beneficiaries. The Cargo Preference Act of 1954 ensures that ships operated by U.S.-based companies must transport at least 50 percent of overseas-bound food aid. Because of this regulation, 35-40 cents of each dollar spent on food aid goes toward transportation rather than the food itself.

The United States established Cargo Preference to protect U.S.-flag maritime companies and unions from competing for foreign cargo ships. These companies may increase or decrease the cost of transportation. The disparity between foreign-flag and U.S.-flag ships is very costly to the food aid effort. U.S.-flag ships can cost around $100-135 per metric ton while foreign-flag ships cost around $65 per metric ton. By matching foreign pricing, the country could use the $23.8 million that the country that it would have spent on shipping towards feeding the poor.

If the U.S. were to eradicate cargo preference, there would be an additional $300 million to feed another 9.5 million people each year.

Biofuel Mandates

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) emerged with the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This federal policy requires transportation fuel to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuel, namely ethanol from corn or soybeans. This policy was to help American farmers and decrease dependency on foreign oil.

The policy has, however, had a negative effect on global food prices. According to the Resources for the Future, estimates determine that the RFS in the U.S. and the E.U.’s own biofuel mandate will increase global food prices by 15 percent by 2022. Because the RFS demands more corn for ethanol production and because the U.S. produces 40 percent of the world’s corn crops, the policy has had a critical impact on global corn markets. An Iowa State University study estimates that the RFS has diverted a third of U.S. corn crops (10.8 percent of the global corn market) towards production of ethanol and biofuel and has caused an increase in global corn prices from 8-34 percent.

Proactive Policy

The U.S. government has taken major steps toward improving the food security of poor nations. While many food policies focus on farmers and exporting goods, the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act (GSRA) targets farmers in developing countries. Signed into law in 2018, the GSRA ensures funding and support for the Feed the Future initiative. Feed the Future works with local agriculture sectors in developing countries to help build up strong farming techniques and give them the tools to ensure their food security. Thanks to Feed the Future, estimates state that 23.4 million people now live above the poverty line and that farmers have generated $12 billion in new agricultural sales from 2011 to 2017.

Due to the size and volume of exported crops and resources, the U.S. food policy has a strong pull on global markets. Developing and poor nations can feel the effects of rising and falling global food prices most keenly. Therefore, it is important for U.S. policymakers to assess the impact of these policies and others like them. Luckily, initiatives like Feed the Future are working hard to help build stable agricultural communities in developing countries. With such size and resources, the U.S. has the power to create positive change in global markets.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Flickr