Global Food Security
The Borgen Project has published this article and podcast episode, “COVID-19 and the 5 Major Threats it Poses to Global Food Security,” with permission from The World Food Program (WFP) USA. “Hacking Hunger” is the organization’s podcast that features stories of people around the world who are struggling with hunger and thought-provoking conversations with humanitarians who are working to solve it.

 

Entering 2020, the number of hungry and malnourished people around the world was already on the rise due to an increase in violent conflict and climate change impacts. Today, over 800 million people face chronic undernourishment and over 100 million people are in need of lifesaving food assistance. The novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, risks undermining the efforts of humanitarian and food security organizations seeking to reverse these trends.

As former International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Director General Shenggan Fan, writes, “COVID-19 is a health crisis. But it could also lead to a food security crisis if proper measures are not taken.”

Every major outbreak in recent memory—Ebola, SARS, MERS—has had both direct and indirect negative impacts on food security. On this episode of Hacking Hunger, Dr. Chase Sova, WFP USA senior director of public policy and research, tells us what the experts are saying about the likelihood and nature of such impacts from COVID-19.

Click below to listen to what Dr. Chase Sova has to say about the threat COVID-19 poses to global food security.

 

 

Photo: Flickr

 

 

Poverty in TuvaluTuvalu (pronounced two-vah-loo) is a tiny island nation in the South Pacific. It is home to just around 11,500 people. They are the only ones in the world to speak their native language, and their way of life is very remote. The small island nation relies primarily on subsistence living. This completely redefines what poverty means in this setting. Tuvalu is considered the fourth most impoverished nation in the world, but it is important to look at this South Pacific island nation with a different perspective. If one measures poverty in terms of income level, then Tuvalu will be measured in a much bleaker light than what is appropriate.

Facts About Poverty in Tuvalu

  1. Not much data is available, considering the remoteness of the country. However, the Asian Development Bank reports a 2.5 percent under-5 mortality rate, and only 6.3 percent of the population had safely managed sanitation services in 2015.  
  2. Factors like overpopulation affect poverty in Tuvalu because they exacerbate food scarcity. Saltwater intrusion affects the soil in Tuvalu and kills crops in the process. Saltwater intrusion can be detrimental to the crops growing in the region. For example, pulaka is a native fruit that is a symbol of Tuvalu culture. As saltwater infiltrates the limited soil, the pulaka pits die. That is why many families have turned to imported rice instead.
  3. According to the Asian Development Bank, Tuvalu lacks many of the resources for sustainable growth and poverty reduction. Limited private business causes a huge reliance on the public sector. Considering the climate impact as well, storms are commonplace and can have a devastating effect on livelihood but also revenue and fiscal security.
  4. Tuvalu only has one hospital on the capital island, Funafuti. However, there are two more health clinics and eight health centers distributed across the islands. So far, they have not had any cases of COVID-19.

Food Scarcity in Tuvalu

Although the country is made up of just nine islands and numerous small islets, it has seen tremendous population growth. According to the Food and Agriculture Association, Tuvalu had 10,600 people as of 2017. In one year, this number increased by almost 1,000 people. More people means more mouths to feed.  Despite food scarcity, “everybody helps everybody,” according to John Goheen, director of the upcoming documentary, “We Are Tuvalu.” Goheen spoke to The Borgen Project in an interview. “Nobody goes hungry. It’s a country that’s very small, very close-knit.”

Tuvaluans spend just under $2 on food per day. Ironically, many in Tuvalu are overweight. The population eats about one-fourth of the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables per day. When it comes to food scarcity, it all comes down to what is easily accessible. Rice and sugary foods are imported and cheap to buy while vegetables are hard to grow and fish are getting scarce. 

Only recently has Tuvalu had to rely on imports. Before, they lived a subsistence lifestyle. Most families own pigs, many own chickens or roosters, but fish remains their main source of protein. However, fish surrounding the islands are becoming scarce. Imported rice makes up 34% of the food consumed, coconuts make up 19%, white sugar makes up 17%, and fish make up 7%. Unfortunately, rice and sugar are imported. 

A decline in Tuvalu’s Fishing Industry

It is getting harder and harder for Tuvalu’s fishermen to come home with a good catch, said Jake Pieczynski, executive producer of “We Are Tuvalu,” when speaking with The Borgen Project. “And that’s primarily caused by climate change, specifically, the warming of the ocean. As the temperatures rise, the reefs that surround Tuvalu die. Fish lose their homes; they migrate to other areas.” 

Another factor in coral reefs dying is waste from pigs. Pig sites are close to the shoreline, so feces washes into the ocean and kills off some of the coral by the coast. Of course, without coral, fish cannot breed. One solution the government has been putting in place is planting thick, dense grass imported from Fiji to shield much of the pig waste from washing into the water. 

Unemployment in Tuvalu

Tuvalu is a young nation. In 2017, youth between the ages of 15 to 35 made up 35% of the population, 39% of whom were unemployed. Culturally, the children are supposed to take care of their parents once they hit the proper age, which makes that statistic a bit more alarming. The retirement age in Tuvalu is 55. 

Pieczynski talked to the Minister for Labour during his time in Funafuti. He reported that the minister estimated probably more than half of the population was unemployed. However, Pieczynski also noted that he never observed anyone living on the streets; no one goes homeless. “You don’t really need to have everyone in your household working a full-time job in order to survive and live a good lifestyle in Tuvalu,” Pieczynski said. 

Improvements to Poverty in Tuvalu

There is so much being done to improve the livelihoods of the people in Tuvalu. Now that Tuvalu is joining the global economy and relies on imported goods, money is much more of a commodity than it once was. Tuvalu uses the Australian dollar. Many people take advantage of overseas jobs in order to send money back to their families in Tuvalu.

To address food scarcity, many non-government organizations (NGOs) travel to Tuvalu to re-educate Tuvaluans and help them adapt to changing climate conditions. For example, the agricultural center of the capital uses raised garden beds, so that saltwater will not disrupt the crops. Climate-resilient crops are a must as well, according to Goheen. A breadfruit tree can weather a storm much better than pulaka. One such organization is Live and Learn Environmental Education. Its “Tuvalu Food Futures” program aims to increase local food consumption and decrease reliance on imported goods.

While poverty in Tuvalu may not seem as big of a threat as local food scarcity, it is still relevant. Many live without making much money and rely instead on their families. Luckily, there seems to be a strong sense of community on the islands. Hopefully, with the help of NGOs, food scarcity can be alleviated through more sustainable agriculture.

Annie Kate Raglow
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in the DesertThe desert is an ecosystem that does not have adequate moisture and nutrients to grow food. People living in these areas often rely heavily on food imports because of this lack of fertile soil. Approximately 5 percent of land in the Middle East and North Africa regions has sufficient amounts of water. That small amount of viable land has suffered mismanagement, resulting in shortages and limitations in agricultural regrowth after natural disasters and war. Fortunately, scientists and organizations around the world are developing ways to boost food security in the desert. Luckily, there are two programs in Syria and the United Arab Emirates that are attempting to feed people in arid regions.

Hydroponics in Syria

The prolonged war in Syria has destroyed the once-booming agricultural industry, diminishing food security in the desert. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated the loss of the agricultural exports sector to be around $16 billion. This number does not include the destruction of fertile land and crops that fed the people of Syria.

British scientists brought green technologies to Syrian refugee camps to promote food security in the desert. Through these programs, refugees learn how to grow crops where fertilized soil is not available. This process uses recycled materials like mattresses; another process uses an indoor planting technique called hydroponics. Hydroponics is a growing technique that uses nutrient-rich water mixtures instead of soil to grow fruits and vegetables.

These projects allow people in refugee camps to become self-sufficient in terms of agriculture. Individuals can use these skills for future gardening and farming once resettled. The project has taught almost 1,000 people sustainable agriculture practices such as growing tomatoes, eggplants and peppers in refugee camps. Using technologies to grow vegetables in places with infertile land will help individuals and countries develop sustainability.

Pure Harvest in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The United Arab Emirates has a climate of severe heat. The high temperatures and harsh conditions present serious issues for conventional farming methods. Due to this extreme climate, the country imports roughly 80 percent of the total amount of food consumed. The emergence of sustainable and innovative agriculture occurred from the need for alternative farming methods.

Pure Harvest began the pursuit of climate-controlled hydroponic greenhouses in 2016. This company aims to help the UAE become more self-sufficient in the government’s efforts to improve food security in the desert. In 2018, the company’s soccer field-sized facility in the Abu Dhabi desert produced its first tomato plants. Since then, it has produced approximately two tons of tomatoes per day.

The success of the first greenhouse has gained positive attention around the world. More desert communities are interested in building greenhouses to increase food security in the desert. Not only do these greenhouses allow crops to grow in arid parts of the world, but they are also producing enough of a surplus to create an agricultural market economy to the desert.

The war-torn areas and severe climates pose threats to food security in the desert, and technology is a crucial tool for mitigating these threats. Innovative methods such as hydroponics in refugee camps and building greenhouses on infertile land are just the start of a transformation that will provide more self-sufficiency and food security in the desert.

Ashleigh Litcofsky
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Hunger in Thailand
Many nations in the Global South face famine and hunger, prohibiting much of the population from meeting appropriate nutritional needs. In addition to the ongoing crisis of COVID-19, many food security reports are seeing increased malnourishment. Major inequalities have compromised proper access to food—of the 815 million people around the world who suffer from poverty, 6.5 million of those are from Thailand. Despite being a major food exporter that meets both global and domestic demands, hunger in Thailand is prevalent and there is still a worrying amount of households facing abject poverty.

Thailand’s Malnourished Population

Compared to other poorer nations such as Myanmar and Malaysia, Thailand’s malnourished population is considerably high. With ample food production in the country, much of the country’s problems reside in the food being readily available to its people. An estimated 17 percent of Thailand’s population suffers from malnourishment. This could be a direct result of a number of social inequalities, ultimately increasing the people who experience hunger in Thailand. While experts often cite frequent natural disasters and wars as reasons for high food insecurity, there are many other underlying factors, including economic instability and disproportionate ratios of distribution.

Rice in Thailand

Rice, which is the staple export in Thailand, has increased in demand and production over the years, especially during the COVID-19 spread. Thailand had maintained a level of self-sufficiency through its hefty supply of various meats (i.e. beef and pork) and the large scale production of grains. The domestic demand for rice production has increased at a rapid rate that has fueled much of the country’s economy. The number of rice exports increased from 1.3 million tons in 1971-1975 to just about 8.14 million tons in 2006 and 2007. With this in mind, however, a majority of people experience hunger in Thailand, making the nation unable to meet its own nutritional needs.

Battling Hunger in Thailand

In 2017, the government instituted preventative measures to combat food insecurity and hunger in Thailand. The nation announced a social assistance program that would serve as a safety net for poor families. This move aims to improve Thailand’s food insecurity to land amongst the ranks of middle-income countries. The program provides cash allowances and other subsidies for an estimated 12 million low-income families.

To be eligible, families must meet five criteria: being at least 18 years of age; a Thai citizen; unemployed or having an annual income below $3,055; no financial assets worth more than 100,000 Bahts; and no real estate. Once families meet these qualifications, they receive welfare cards that they can use to purchase goods at registered shops and transportation systems, costing approximately $1.4 million. There have been many faults since the program’s implementation; for example, the program does not count some people eligible despite meeting the five criteria.

The social systems in the nation are shifting consistently, meaning that the struggle of hunger in Thailand is evolving rapidly. The economic state that COVID-19 has caused is likely to impact Thailand’s ongoing battle with hunger. There is no certain answer to the issues that will arise among the ongoing crisis. Hunger in Thailand, as well as many other nations, is a lengthy battle.

Brittany Adames
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in HondurasHonduras is the second-poorest country in Central America, and although its economy relies heavily on agriculture, about 1.5 million Hondurans are still food insecure. Barriers like natural disasters and unpredictable weather continue to threaten the country’s food production, but recently, advancements in agroforestry are restoring the faith in farming nationwide. Alley cropping, a new method of agroforestry, is steadily showing how it is improving food security in Honduras.

Alley Cropping

For years, agroforestry has been transforming the lives of farming families by increasing food security in Honduras. However, before the introduction of alley cropping to farms in the country, crop failure continued to devastate farmers. While other agroforestry techniques have minimized the damage resulting from flooding, erosion and drought, alley cropping has proven to be a more successful method of crop farming. Alley cropping involves planting rows of crops between trees. This methodology creates an integrated ecosystem that improves and nourishes soil that supports both crop quality and quantity, thus increasing the amount the farmers are paid so that they can afford to support their families.

The Inga Foundation was the first to introduce and teach alley cropping techniques to Honduran farmers through demonstrational farming. These farmers also had the opportunity to obtain seeds from the demonstration and start their own alley cropping systems. According to the Inga Foundation, more than 300 farming families have been able to achieve food security through the new alley cropping method, and this number is only increasing as alley cropping starts to catch on.

Benefits of Alley Cropping

  1. Alley cropping regenerates degraded land, which helps crops grow.

  2. Alley cropping increases the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables.

  3. Unpredictable weather can be withstood, meaning crops are more resilient.

  4. Alley cropping is sustainable and benefits the natural environment.

  5. Families can stay on one plot of land without having to migrate to others due to soil degradation.

Inga Trees in Alley Cropping

In Honduras, Inga trees are among one of the most popular and successful trees used in alley cropping systems. The Inga Foundation’s demonstration farm showcased hedgerows of Inga trees, which are known to revitalize the soil and support crop growth. Here are a few reasons why the Inga tree was chosen as the model for alley cropping.

  1. Inga trees grow fast. This allows farmers to quick-start their alley cropping without much of a waiting period.

  2. Not only do Inga trees tolerate poor soil, but they nourish it.

  3. Inga trees reduce weeds.

  4. Seasonal pruning of Inga trees generates firewood and fuelwood for families.

  5. Inga trees produce edible fruit.

Because the Inga tree is both incredibly resilient and easy to grow, more and more farmers are seeking out their seeds in order to better provide for their families. This tree, when paired with agroforestry, is playing a huge role in improving food security in Honduras.

The benefits that come from agroforestry methods like alley cropping can mean the difference between life and death for some families in Honduras. Thankfully, the Inga Foundation has allowed for the breakthrough of improved farming which has saved hundreds of Hondurans from the burden of food insecurity.

– Hadley West

Photo: Flickr

How Desert Locusts Impact Global Poverty
With the rainy season falling upon Africa, a number of countries are rushing to take action against a catastrophic swarm of desert locusts currently in several regions. This swarm might be the most destructive of its kind in 25 years for Ethiopia and Somalia and the worst that has hit Kenya in over 70 years. People can predominantly find the insects in regions across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They have the ability to eat their own weight in food, which poses a challenge to crop production in arid climates. Rain and planting seasons begin in March, meaning that efforts to contain infestation must happen quickly before the situation becomes too drastic and the locusts impact global poverty too severely.

Read more below for information on what desert locusts are, their impact on global poverty and the preventative measures that affected countries must take in order to address the destruction that will cut across these regions in 2020.

Desert Locusts

Desert locusts are the oldest and most dangerous migratory pests. They are short-horned insects that are part of the grasshopper species, but they differ in that they have the ability to alter their behavior in order to migrate across large distances. These migrations can easily become highly concentrated and mobile.

These locusts usually travel in swarms, containing up to 40 million insects that can consume enough food for 34 million people in a short period of time. They are able to stay in the air for a long time, meaning that they can regularly cross the Red Sea at a distance of 300 kilometers.

These swarms have already crossed into areas like Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan. They typically form under heavy rain conditions, where they travel in search of food. Desert locusts are among the most destructive migratory pests because they not only threaten food security but economic and environmental development as well.

People can spray them with pesticides as a control measure, but it is not always preventative. Both humans and birds regularly eat them, but not enough to reduce swarms of a large size. Current environmental conditions that cause frequent droughts, cyclones in the Indian Ocean and floods have created the perfect atmosphere for locusts to breed.

Locusts’ Contribution to Global Poverty

Desert locusts primarily reside in the arid deserts of Africa and near east and southwest Asia and the Middle East. This poses a severe challenge to herders and may potentially cause communal conflict as herders move in search of pastures and other grazing lands.

Desert locusts consume as much food as 20 camels, six elephants or 350,000 people in a day. It is in this way that locusts impact global poverty because with large invasions in east Africa, where 2.5 million people are already facing severe hunger, there is a clear challenge in regards to the global poverty epidemic. The food crisis will deepen and grazing lands will no longer be able to sustain sufficient crop production, which will lead to an even more economic downturn for several African countries.

Solutions

The quickest vehicle for prevention is spraying pesticides or biopesticides in the air. Natural predators exist, but desert locusts can escape pretty quickly due to their mobility.

The United Nations (U.N.) has publicly called for international aid in alleviating the destruction that will inevitably arise from these swarms. Desert locusts will compromise food security all over Africa, which will, in turn, lead to higher poverty rates as people scramble for food. Its office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has allocated about $10 million from its Central Emergency Relief Fund. This will help fund aerial operations that can enforce infestation control better.

The Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations (FAO) is currently calling to raise about $76 million from donors and other organizations in order to limit how desert locusts impact global poverty. So far, it has raised approximately $20 million, which is largely from the U.N.’s emergency fund. The numbers should increase as the locusts travel larger distances and spread to more areas.

Desert locust swarms are growing at an exponential rate. Projections determine that they will increase by 500 times in East Africa by June 2020, which invokes even more of a humanitarian crisis as food shortage will impact millions of people.

– Brittany Adames
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Africa
World hunger has been on the rise for the third year in a row, with nearly 10 million more people without enough food to survive on. Hunger in Africa is especially prevalent, where over 25 percent of the population suffers from some form of food insecurity.

There are many factors that play a role in why some areas of Africa suffer from food insecurity. While poverty is a key factor, environmental issues such as drought, desertification, overpopulation and ongoing conflicts are all contributing issues. These issues inhibit the creation of a stable food source. Therefore, the lack of food stability is a key contributor to hunger in Africa. However, a new and innovative digital solution is joining the fight against hunger in Africa.

Jumia in Africa

Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec founded Jumia in 2012, which is an online marketplace for clothes, technology and other commodities. The website has quickly gained the reputation of being the Amazon of Africa, because of its similarity to Amazon in operation and magnitude.

The website created a service, Jumia Food, that delivers fresh food to citizens and businesses alike in 11 African countries. The service aims to reduce food scarcity in Africa by offering a reliable source of food to select countries.

Services like Jumia Food are common in the United States. For example, the services Imperfect Produce and Farm Box Direct, offer the delivery of fresh produce to people’s homes. These companies act as a way to promote sustainability and lower food waste in America; however, Jumia Foods also offers a way to maintain a healthy diet from a safe and reliable source of food.

Jumia Food offers basic food necessities that people can normally find in supermarkets, as well as the delivery of restaurant foods, alcoholic beverages and an assortment of commodities, such as electronics and beauty products. Jumia employed delivery drivers to deliver all orders by bike.

Internet Access

While not a continent-wide solution to food insecurity, Jumia Foods has great potential for those with an internet connection in Africa. The ongoing conflicts in a number of African countries and the fact that the majority of Africans live without a car make trips to a local supermarket a difficult endeavor. This is especially the case for those who live in rural regions far away from a supermarket or grocery store.

Despite this, most of Africa is still without connection to the internet. This difficulty currently hinders the impact of the service. Less than 12 percent of the world’s internet users are located in an African country and only around 13.5 percent of Africans have internet access. However, telecommunication in Africa is growing at a rapid rate. In 2018 alone, the number of internet users in Africa increased by 20 percent.

Bridging the Gap

The internet is a great solution to help reduce hunger in Africa because of the potential to connect remote parts of any country to a reliable food source. As internet usage in Africa continues to rise, this will hopefully reduce food insecurity. With services like Jumia Foods and the potential to connect thousands of customers to their local supermarket, enormous progress is in the future.

Jumia Foods cannot provide food to the most impoverished corners of Africa yet, but the business is nonetheless a futuristic solution that will help provide food to many African consumers. With every additional country that the service expands into, it will create more delivery driver jobs. Further, food insecurity may reduce through this innovative new solution to hunger in Africa.

Andrew Lueker
Photo: Flickr

Video Games Support the World Food Programme
In today’s society, the popularity of video games has steadily increased. With that popularity comes opportunities to support a nonprofit cause, spreading awareness to gamers and fans worldwide. Video games support the World Food Programme in a way. In fact, there are three video games supporting the World Food Programme in particular.

What is the World Food Programme?

The World Food Programme (WFP) is a United Nations agency with the goal of ending world hunger. It is the world’s leading humanitarian organization in this endeavor, delivering food to countries in crisis and working with communities to improve the situation. The agency arrives in the wake of war, natural disasters or famine, providing food to the victims or those caught in the conflict. When the crisis ebbs, WFP helps rebuild shattered livelihoods and lives. Its development projects focus on nutrition, especially for mothers and their children. WFP has also been implementing school feeding programs worldwide for over 50 years. Here are three video games that support WFP.

Food Force

In 2011, the World Food Programme collaborated with Konami Digital, a Japanese electronic entertainment company, to create an online game to support the fight against world hunger. Food Force immersed players in the virtual experience of planting, harvesting and distributing food across the world while responding to food emergencies. The game prompted players to logistically solve food shortages and keep countries from experiencing hunger. The money that players have spent through this game has helped fund the World Food Programme’s school meals projects in real life, providing meals to 20 million children per year.

PUBG

One of the most popular games of 2017, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) had a gaming community of over 3 million players worldwide. With the success of this game, a famous Korean YouTuber, known as The Great Library (GL), created a live-action PUBG video in support of WFP’s fight against world hunger.

In PUBG, players search for food and weapons while competing against each other in a last-one-standing battle royale. GL’s video replaced the energy drinks and food pickups that people normally find in the game with energy biscuits and bags of rice, the very same that the World Food Programme distributes to the world’s hungry. Additionally, rather than battling to be the lone survivor, GL and his opponents had an alternate objective: beat world hunger by sharing a meal with a hungry child via WFP’s ShareTheMeal phone app.

Hunger Heroes

In July 2019, YOOZOO games hosted a charity gaming marathon, GTarcade’s Hunger Heroes, that invited gamers from across the globe to turn their on-screen efforts into meals for the world’s hungry, supporting the World Food Programme in the fight against hunger. The goal was straightforward; the more gamers that played, the more YOOZOO Games donated to WFP. Hours of playing turned into dollars, which YOOZOO Games donated via WFP’s ShareTheMeal app. During the week-long event, players received exclusive gameplay features and in-game prizes as a reward for joining and contributing to the cause.

The fact that these video games support the World Food Programme is a positive accomplishment for the gaming community. People can even implement games like PUBG as a positive influence, which supposedly has a negative influence on today’s society due to violent gameplay, and are a solid example of how popular entertainment can contribute to spreading awareness of global crises.

Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Flickr

 

Hunger in Russia
Although coverage on Russia often dominates the American news cycle, people give little attention to the prevalence of poverty in the country. Many Russians live in unacceptably impoverished conditions and face food insecurity. Hunger in Russia is on a downward trend and both NGOs and the government are undergoing concerted efforts to address both poverty and food insecurity in the country.

10 Facts About Hunger in Russia

  1. Poverty Rate: Although the rate of extreme poverty in Russia—those living under the international poverty line of $1.90 a day—is at zero percent, 13.2 percent or 19 million Russians live in poverty under the national definition of $12.80 a day. This is a contested figure, however, as some claim that the poverty rate is as high as 14.3 percent.

  2. Poverty and Hunger: Poverty is the primary factor behind hunger in Russia. Other than those living in dire poverty, most of the population consumes over 2,100 calories daily—well above the 1,900 calories a day guideline that the Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations (FAO) set. Those with higher incomes in Russia ingest over 3,000 calories a day, similar to those living in developed nations.

  3. Food Insecurity: People with disabilities, older people with little sources of income and families with children are some of the populations who face the most food insecurity in Russia. Another population that often faces food insecurity is people with HIV and those who inject drugs (PWIJ) and these make up an estimated 2.3 percent of the population. The irregular schedule and often low socioeconomic status of PWIJ means they often face hunger and malnutrition.

  4. Rising Food Costs: In 2016, the average Russian consumer spent 50.1 percent of their income on food—the highest percentage in almost a decade. This was due to the Russian government introducing embargos on many food exports from Western countries as retaliation for sanctions in 2014. Consequently, food costs spiked for consumers. Since 2014, the price of frozen fish has increased by 68 percent and the prices of butter and white cabbage have respectively risen by 79 percent and 62 percent.

  5. Global Hunger Index Rate: Despite these increases, in 2019, the Global Hunger Index gave Russia a score of 5.8, which qualifies as a low level of hunger. This number is representative of statistics which reveal that less than 2.5 percent of the overall population suffers from undernourishment. This is a dramatic decrease from 2000 when the nation had a GHI score of 10.3 or a moderate level of hunger: 5.1 percent of the population lacked nourishment. This level of undernourishment was the result of a struggling economy still reeling from the demise of the Soviet Union. In fact, from 1999-2000, more global food aid went to Russia than Africa. Since then, however, the macroeconomic conditions in Russia have largely improved resulting in higher incomes that allow consumers to afford food. This trend is also evident in the statistics for wasting and stunting in children under 5: in 2000, those percentages were 4.6 and 16.1 percent respectively, whereas in 2019 they are 3.9 and 10.7 percent.

  6. Growing Food: While the skyrocketing high food costs do pose a risk to Russia’s future GHI index score, both urban and rural Russian families are turning to their own backyards to produce their food. In 2016, approximately 25 percent of Russians relied on fruits and vegetables harvested in their own backyards. This is a continuation of a tradition dating back to the mid-20th century where Russians would combat food shortages under a communist regime by quietly supplying their own food.

  7. Obesity: While the rates of hunger in Russia decreased over the past two decades, the percentage of obese people increased. In 2015, almost 60 percent of the adult population was overweight and 26.5 percent obese. These numbers strongly correlate with socioeconomic status and education levels. Studies suggest that this is the result of a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in dairy, meat, sugar and alcohol. Experts suggest that just decreasing food prices for healthier foods—such as fruits and vegetables—will not be enough to combat obesity. Instead, there must also be a robust public health program.

  8. Declaration to Halve Poverty: However, there is also good news. As previously mentioned, poverty is the primary cause of hunger in Russia and, on May 7, 2018, a Decree of the President declared an initiative to halve poverty by 2024. Russia plans on achieving this goal through a stimulus plan worth $400 billion that builds new infrastructure and invests in research. While some are pessimistic about Russia’s ability to meet this target, economists at the Brookings Institute believe that even with an annual GDP growth rate of 1.5 percent—a conservative target—through increasing the efficiency of existing social assistance programs and dedicating slightly more funds towards poverty reduction, this ambitious goal is possible.

  9. Investing in Agriculture: Furthermore, over the past decade, the Russian government has also heavily invested in promoting nationwide agricultural self-sufficiency. The Russian government is committing itself to eventually self-supplying 80 to 90 percent of most foods. In order to achieve this target, the country is now subsidizing large farms. The agricultural sector grew by 5 percent in 2016 and 2.4 percent in 2017. People will eventually see the long term impact of these policies on hunger in Russia and whether this investment can lower the costs of food for everyday people and lower the rates of hunger in Russia.

  10. SOS Children’s Village: There are also a variety of organizations working towards preventing hunger in Russia. One such organization is the SOS Children’s Village which specifically helps children whose families can no longer support them. The organization, which started working in Russia in the late 1980s,  also engages in advocacy work with the government to ensure the utmost protection of these children and their nutritional needs.

In conclusion, while hunger in Russia remains a serious problem, there is a reason for cautious optimism. As displayed by the remarkable decrease in rates of undernourishment in the population over the past 20 years, the government, the global community and NGOs are working to end hunger in Russia.

– Chace Pulley
Photo: Flickr

Aquaponics in South Africa

Aquaponics is an emerging, innovative and resilient method to raise both fish and vegetables concurrently without soil and with little water. Aquaponics combines conventional aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). The system imitates a natural wetland. The fish waste acts as a natural nutrient source for the plants and the plants filter the water. The water continues to cycle between both as the crops grow.

Aquaponics in South Africa

South Africa is currently experiencing drought conditions. Though aquaponics is new in South Africa, it has the potential of addressing food insecurity on a larger scale. It may serve as an alternative to traditional methods that are less environmentally sustainable. Growing crops traditionally requires fertile soil and large, consistent amounts of water. Traditional fishing leads to the depletion of fish in the ocean. With aquaponics, once the initial water supply enters the system, there is no need for additional water. The plants do not require soil. Climate conditions have little effect on the aquaponics system, though the fish may need a sustained warm temperature.

The installation of aquaponics can be on a large scale for market sale, or a small scale to feed a village. Even a small system can provide a surplus to sell for income beneficial to families living in poverty. Small-scale systems can be set up in a limited space, such as a backyard or a village common area. By 2018, 190 freshwater farms and 30 saltwater farms were in production in South Africa. Many farmers start small because of the start-up costs and may move to a larger system after developing their practice.

What Are the Benefits of Aquaponics?

Tilapia is the most common fish raised via aquaponics in South Africa. Leafy greens (lettuces) are the most common vegetables. Seventy-five percent of the aquaponics systems in South Africa serve the purpose of hobby farming or producing food for subsistence or human consumption, as opposed to producing for market sale.

Goals for those interested in expanding sustainability and food security with aquaponics in South Africa include raising awareness of the benefits and advancing the technology of small systems to improve production. Farmers practicing aquaponics need to develop an understanding of managing water quality, including pH, nitrogen and oxygen levels. Systems can be fully automated or semi-automated requiring more maintenance effort. Moreover, farmers may purchase fish food or use natural manure sources at no cost.

Aquaponics can grow other vegetables including tomatoes, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, peas and beans. Farmers can harvest plants after one to three months while the fish take 9-10 months to mature. Proponents state that the vegetables flourish and grow more quickly than a traditional garden.

Aquaponics in South Africa Could Help Solve Malnutrition

Aquaponics offers an essential option for those who are at risk of malnutrition, who experience poverty and those who do not have access to sufficient water for traditional farming or gardening practices. An aquaponics system can be set up in rural or urban areas. A basic setup may begin with two repurposed bathtub basins, a water pump and piping or gravel to hold the plants and a properly plumbed system for drainage and recycling of water.

The highly nutritious and organically raised fish and leafy green vegetables provide protein, vitamins and fiber. These high-value crops create a much better alternative to high-starch, low-nutrition foods which may be more readily available when food is scarce. As an added benefit, with a closed water system, no run-off pollutes the environment.

A Need for Funding

In order to continue to boost sustainability and food security goals via aquaponics in South Africa on a larger scale, farmers will need funding to develop the technologies. Scientists are currently studying which systems (tunnels and greenhouses) provide preferable temperatures for different types of fish considering the climate in South Africa.

Though South Africa’s agricultural department plays a role in aquaponics education, proponents ask that the government of South Africa include aquaponics in their agricultural policies so that they may assist with funding. In addition, there is a need for aquaponics education in secondary and tertiary schools to increase knowledge and understanding.

Farmers and entrepreneurs will continue to develop sustainability and food security with aquaponics in South Africa. Aquaponics may provide the solution to climatic variables such as drought. The potential of aquaponics draws fishermen who recognize the decline in fish as a wild resource. In addition, aquaponics eliminates reliance on soil, which becomes depleted of nutrients from overuse. Aquaponics provides highly nutritious food sources that will combat malnourishment in impoverished areas.

Susan Niz
Photo: Flickr