Information and stories about food security news.

Olive Trees
Olive trees hold symbolic, agricultural and economic meanings for Palestinian farmers. In a nation where almost one-third or 1.6 million people face food insecurity and do not have access to “nutritious food,” essential crops, like olives, are vital for many communities’ survival. Here is some information about the importance of olive trees in Palestine.

Harvesting Crops Despite Denial of Access

The rise of Israeli forces and conflict on Palestinian lands in May 2021 forced Palestinian farmers from their olive tree harvesting grounds. However, after the olive harvest season started earlier in 2021, a cohort of Palestinian olive farmers decided to take the risk of returning to their farmlands despite the armed Israeli guards in their path.

Residents and landowners from the small Palestinian town in the Northern West Bank of Palestine returned to Jabal Sabih, Mount Sabih, to handpick olives from their trees. Israeli guards are still present at the site. However, the Palestinian farmers successfully harvested their trees despite the Israeli presence.

Impact of Growing Tensions

Tensions between Israeli and Palestinian communities have remained high throughout history, but escalated tensions between the two occurred in May 2021. Israeli settlers attempted to take over Palestinian lands, and 50 Israeli families set up camp on the Palestinian olive farming grounds in May. Israeli families then evacuated in July. Palestinian farmers said these farming lands have passed through generations of family members and the trees are “part of their souls and more.”

The farmers emphasized that olive trees are one of only a few arbors that can grow in their mountainous farming areas. The trees do not need water, which means they can grow in drought conditions. Farmers said that transporting water into the region would be extremely difficult due to the terrain.

The Many Uses of Olives

The production of olives is a main source of income for more than 80,000 families in Palestine, showing the importance of olive trees to the country. More than 90% of the oil that farmers harvest from olive trees goes toward making olive oil, with them allocating the remainder to making olive soap, table olives and pickles. In the West Bank, farmers have planted more than 12 million olive trees. The nation exports some of the olives to Jordan but the rest are for local consumption.

Following the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, the Israeli army began destroying or uprooting olive trees in farmlands. The army stated that it needed to use the grounds for military operations and to provide pathways between villages. However, later reports suggested that the military specifically targeted the farmers to make it difficult for them to earn a living.

Foundations Wanting to Help

Some local organizations are helping olive tree farmers. The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature started a campaign after the severe removal of the olive trees. In 2011, AP Nature replaced 1 million olive and fruit trees. To date, the campaign has planted more than 2.5 million trees.

The Near East Foundation, an organization with a focus on building more sustainable communities in the Middle East and Africa through education, community organizing and economic development, directly supports Palestinian communities through three programs. These include early childhood education and school feeding, support for the olive oil groups and support for women’s economics.

The Near East Foundation renovated and upgraded 18 olive oil mills in Palestine and Israel due to the importance of olive trees and olive oil production to the Palestinian economy. The organization also facilitated training for oil producers to increase their production and quality of olive oils.

The ongoing tension between Israel and Palestine has extreme effects on Palestinians’ ability to access their crops to provide food for themselves and earn a living. Though permits for Palestinian farmers are available to access the lands that the Israeli army now dominates, these permits are hard to obtain and there is still no guarantee Palestinian farmers can access their land even with a permit. A group of Palestinian olive farmers had the bravery to enter into Israeli military grounds to harvest their olives, but tensions between the two nations must subside before Palestinian farmers can have full access to their own lands once again.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

UN Food Systems Summit
The U.N. Food Systems Summit recently took place on September 23, 2021. The U.N. Food Systems Summit highlighted the key nexus between food sustainability and food insecurity. The Summit was a virtual conference, and it described the food-related challenges that many people around the world are currently facing. Statistics highlighted the magnitude of the nutritional issues.

The UN Food Summit: Igniting Action and Hope

The World Food Program’s (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, mentioned several concerning facts. For example, 3 billion people are unable to attain a balanced diet. Beyond that, 9 million people die from hunger each year. In 2020 alone, 25,000 people died per day due to starvation. However, following these morbid realities, the Summit revealed the goals of the U.N. and some solutions to the pre-established issues. The emphasis was on galvanizing people to care for one another. At its core, the Summit was a rallying call to action.

Main Objectives of the Summit

The main objective of the Summit was to raise awareness of the food system’s importance to the entirety of the sustainable development agenda. The urgency of addressing the issues plaguing global food systems has increased, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Summit also aimed to unite stakeholders around a common understanding of food systems as a foundation for action, to recognize the necessity of innovation addressing global food obstacles and catalyze action for the transformation of food systems in every corner of the globe.

António Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, issued a summary and statement of action for the Summit. One of the key points of the statement was how the pandemic has significantly worsened food insecurity, resulting in a 20% increase in the number of people facing hunger between 2019 and 2020. Furthermore, the Secretary-General established five action areas to help ensure the necessary changes to achieve all of the SDGs by 2030:

  1. Nourish All People
  2. Boost Nature-Based Solutions
  3. Advance Equitable Livelihoods, Decent Work and Empowered Communities
  4. Build Resistance to Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stresses
  5. Accelerating the Means of Implementation

This statement of action was very robust. It included details about how the U.N. Resident Coordinators and U.N. Country Teams will work with national governments to develop new national pathways to improve food systems and ensure the accomplishment of the SDGs by 2030.

Global Leaders Reactions

During the Summit, leaders from a variety of countries spoke in an attempt to elicit empathy and initiative in the fight against food insecurity and malnutrition. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Agriculture Ministers and others were present at the Summit. The Summit’s goal was to “transform food systems to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Many of the leaders who spoke focused on the specific issues plaguing the food systems within their state and established courses of action and priorities for tackling those issues.

Spain stated that it will be focussing on boosting family farming, with President Pedro Sanchez saying that “family farming…contributes to the economic and socio-cultural fabric of rural areas.” He followed that statement by announcing that the Spanish government will support family farming by boosting the coalition for the Decade of Family Farming. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), made a strong statement condemning humanity’s current state of production and consumption. He emphasized the urgency of investment into global food systems and called upon food manufacturers to change the composition of their products.

The Conversation Needs to Continue

The U.N. Food Systems Summit provides hope and reassurance that action will occur to address food insecurity and poverty worldwide. The Summit was available to watch for anyone with internet access, and those who registered were able to connect in chat sections. Globalizing the combat of food insecurity and reaching the individual level increases awareness and participation in the Summit, which is beneficial to the U.N. cause. International humanitarian organizations and NGOs should continue to host these community dialogues to raise awareness of the issues plaguing humanity and to establish roadmaps to alleviate these issues.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Niger
Niger is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Approximately 75% of Niger’s land is the Sahara Desert, with 81% of the population relying on agriculture for food. According to World Bank data, 42.9% of the 24 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty. Hunger in Niger is a significant issue, with the Global Hunger Index ranking Niger as the 17th hungriest country in the world. Here is some information about food insecurity in Niger and what some are doing to reduce it.

Overpopulation

Currently, more than 25 million people live in Niger and almost 50% of the population is under the age of 15. Niger is one of the fastest-growing populations with a growth rate of close to 4% annually, but its ability to produce food for the growing population has not been successful. The United Nations World Food Program has estimated that food insecurity in 2019 affected more than 1.4 million Nigeriens. Many must face the adverse effects of hunger due to the continuously growing population and scarcity of food. The growing population exhausts hunger program initiatives and creates a challenge to feed communities. The high population also contributes tension to the already strained natural food resources.

Agriculture

Agriculture serves as one of the top food sources for people across the world. As for Niger, depending on agriculture poses a big problem. The land already suffers from degradation, deforestation and desertification, with low fertility and heavy pests, making it hard to produce food.

The land deals with fluctuations in precipitation and environmental changes, which make the production of crops limited. Droughts and floods are also likely and increase the risk of dying crops. Although that is the case, much of farmland still depends on rain to feed crops because of the lack of infrastructure to retain water and irrigation.

Malnutrition

One of the direct results of food insecurity is malnutrition. Malnutrition develops when the body does not receive proper nutrients. This could be a result of poor diets, lack of food or even inconsistent food intake. Proper nutrients are necessary in order to maintain a healthy immune system, growth and development. Since Niger lacks the proper food resources, malnutrition continues to endanger the lives of children.

Child Marriage

Another direct effect of food insecurity is an increase in child marriage. Hunger forces some families to resort to desperate measures such as child marriage. Payments such as dowries have been helpful during hunger-stricken moments. Child marriage is a common practice among Niger natives. Around the age of 16 young girls usually have to choose between school or marriage. Approximately 75% of young girls marry before the age of 18.

Data from a 2018 study for the International Center for Research on Women shows that women who marry at an early age have high levels of food insecurity. Additionally, those women end up forfeiting their education. Consequently, once married early, their educational growth becomes stunted. The act of child marriage has increasingly contributed to the low literacy rate among Niger women, resulting in an indirect effect of food insecurity in Niger. An analysis has also linked child marriage with early childbearing. Early childbearing may lead to more children, and as a result, reduce the amount of money in the household.

USAID

USAID is offering programs that bring more job opportunities, food security and stability to the people of Niger. Along with those programs, USAID is working to provide additional support such as access to credit, economic opportunities, better natural resources, soil management and more farming production.

In 2019, USAID funded a project that provided improvement, sustainability and nutrition to families in need. Along with those provisions, the organization also focused on developing agricultural entrepreneurship for youth in the Zinder area of Niger. USAID taught youth about compost production, pest management, marketing gardening and fruit tree nurseries.

The KfW Development Bank

The KfW Development Bank helps finance projects around the world to fight poverty. KFW has fought poverty and protected the environment for over 50 years.

KfW launched a project on Mar. 8, 2021 to expand small-scale irrigation infrastructure. This project is serving as phase two of two. Phase two should run until 2025 and provide farmers with successful harvests and sustainability. Water availability and food production should increase substantially.

Despite the prevalence of food insecurity in Niger, organizations like USAID and the KfW Development Bank are making a difference. Through continued efforts, hunger should reduce improving the lives of Niger’s citizens.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Floods in Timor-Leste
Between April 29 and March 4, 2021, extreme weather struck the nation of Timor-Leste. Cyclone Seroja created “strong winds and heavy rain,” according to the Associated Press. The U.N. explained that heavy rain, in turn, led to landslides and flash floods during the cyclone. The challenging weather struck Timor Leste’s capital city, Dili, particularly hard. In fact, around 8,000 Timorese people had to move to temporary shelters and 34 people died due to the floods in Timor-Leste.

Since April 2021, the floods in Timor-Leste have received little coverage from Western news sources and the work of rebuilding and providing resources is ongoing. In fact, the country’s government requested more “support to address residual humanitarian needs” in June 2021.

The Current Situation

A U.N. report, dated July 16, 2021, has provided details about which areas still require attention. These include the evacuation centers, which are still housing 730 people, as well as food and water accessibility. As part of its section on “Gender & Protection,” the report stressed the necessity for well-lit bathrooms with lockable doors for both men and women at the evacuation centers. Additionally, the report noted that those living in evacuation centers will need access to materials so that they can fix their damaged homes or build new ones. 

More broadly, clean water and COVID-19 are major concerns. Initiatives to restore the country’s piped water supply system is on their way in order to deliver water to the capital and other areas. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have risen, and the country lacks supplies and equipment to deal with the pandemic effectively. Cyclone Seroja resulted in the flooding of Timor Leste’s national medical storage facility, leading to the destruction of medical supplies.

The report from the U.N. shows that there is a demand for information as well. In its section on “Education,” the report noted that “[d]etailed information on damages and losses in schools not yet available.” The report listed the problem in regard to its “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene” section as well.

USAID Food Assistance

Shortly after the floods in Timor-Leste, The New Humanitarian reported that “food affordability [was] emerging as [a] growing [worry]” due to the impact of the floods on crops. In fact, the cost of rice increased by more than 20% in one year. The U.N. has suggested that Timor-Leste implement a referral system to resolve malnutrition. 

On July 8, 2021, USAID announced that it would give Timor-Leste an additional $900,000 in assistance after having given $100,000 in the aftermath of Cyclone Seroja. On July 9, 2021, Kevin Blackstone, the U.S. ambassador to Timor-Leste mentioned that the U.S. aimed to impact “farmers in remote areas” by providing “cash or vouchers to buy seeds,” as well as necessary farming tools.

Further Assistance

USAID’s contribution is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.N’.s report lists many other actions that governments and organizations have taken to aid the Timorese government. Among other measures, the Timorese government has given out 36,600 water purification tablets. Additionally, UNICEF gave supplies to a Tasi Tolu community so that education for children could continue and the UNDP began a cash-for-work program, offering jobs to those who need them. Finally, various organizations have worked to provide education about gender-based violence.

The New Humanitarian’s coverage in April 2021 highlighted the actions of local volunteer groups in Timor-Leste. One woman named Berta Antonieta Tilman Pereira worked on fundraising so that she could start community kitchens for evacuees in the aftermath of the floods. Pereira stated that “the community themselves needs to be organized” because “the system that we’re…supposed to trust and rely on…is totally slow and not responding.” The New Humanitarian pointed out that the Timorese government did not request help from international bodies until April 8, 2021, which was four days after the disaster.

Three months after Cyclone Seroja, much still needs to occur in regard to dealing with the effects of floods in Timor-Leste. According to the U.N., 26,186 “affected families…have received emergency support,” and “[t]he majority of the temporarily displaced have returned home.” However, organizations are also carrying out a great deal of work in the hopes of long-lasting recovery.

– Victoria Albert
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe was once a rising economy in Africa, with its mining and agricultural industries propelling the country forward. However, Zimbabweans now struggle with war, internal corruption, hyperinflation and industrial mismanagement. A closer look at the country provides insight into the context of poverty in Zimbabwe.

8 Facts About Poverty in Zimbabwe

  1. Poverty affects 76.3% of Zimbabwean children living in rural areas as of 2020.
  2. Roughly 74% of the population lives on less than  $5.50 a day and the average wage per month is $253.
  3. Half of Zimbabwe’s 13.5 million people live below the food poverty line and about 3.5 million children are chronically hungry.
  4. Approximately 1.3 million Zimbabweans were living with HIV as of 2016. However, the number of HIV cases has been declining since 1997 because of improvements in prevention, treatment and support services.
  5. About 60% of rural Zimbabwean women face period poverty, meaning they lack access to menstrual supplies or education. Girls who experience period poverty miss an estimated 20% of their school life.
  6. Due to famine and the HIV/AIDS crisis, the average life expectancy for a Zimbabwean was only 61 years as of 2018. However, life expectancy has steadily risen since 2002 when it was only 44 years.
  7. In 2019, two million Zimbabweans had no access to safe drinking water due to the impacts of drought.
  8. The government allocates a significant portion of the national budget toward education. As a result, Zimbabwe’s adult literacy rate is 89%, one of the highest in Africa.

Why Poverty is Rampant in Zimbabwe

Since Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, its economy has primarily depended on its mining and agricultural industries. Zimbabwe’s mining industry has immense potential as the country is home to the Great Dyke, the second-largest platinum deposit globally. Additionally, Zimbabwe has more than 4,000 gold deposits.

However, the country’s mining sector is inefficient — its gold output dropped 30% in the first quarter of 2021. While illegal gold mining hurts the industry, Zimbabwe’s lax mining licensing laws also allow foreign companies to mine minerals at cheap costs for years on end, leading to a lack of incentive to accelerate mineral production.

Furthermore, the Zimbabwean government’s decision to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Second Congo War drained its bank reserves, alienated its allies and caused the U.S. and the EU to impose sanctions. Subsequently, Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed. As a result, the government began printing more money, leading to widespread hyperinflation of the Zimbabwean dollar.

NGOs Combating Poverty in Zimbabwe

The situation in Zimbabwe is improving. In 2021, Zimbabwe’s GDP could potentially grow by nearly 3% thanks to increased agricultural production, increased energy production and the resumption of manufacturing and construction activities. Unemployment rates will likely continue to decrease. The rebound is primarily due to increased vaccination efforts, with China providing two million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the country.

In addition, multiple NGOs are fighting poverty in Zimbabwe. For example, Talia’s Women’s Network seeks to end period poverty in the country’s rural areas by helping 250 girls gain access to menstrual products. The project also seeks to provide the girls both with an understanding of the menstrual process and with access to support structures to combat early childhood marriage, gender-based violence and unwanted pregnancies.

Another organization, Action Change, supplies lunch to 400 primary students in Zimbabwe. It also works to break the cycle of poverty by providing resources for education. Zimbabwe spends 93% of the estimated $905 million it allocates toward education on employment costs, leaving only about 7% of the budget for classroom resources. Action Change provides schools with resources such as textbooks.

American Foundation for Children with AIDS helps 3,000 children and guardians who have AIDS by providing them with livestock and food self-sufficiency training. Meanwhile, the organization also provides resources and training to fight food insecurity and ensure that children eat well.

Stimulating the Agriculture Industry

The key to reducing poverty in Zimbabwe is stimulating the country’s agricultural industry. Nearly 66% of Zimbabweans rely on their small farms for survival. However, great inequality in water access exists between the country’s many small farms and few large commercial farms. Equality in water access would increase productivity and income for small farmers. A revitalization of the agricultural sector would spur economic growth and alleviate poverty in Zimbabwe.

Although the country still has barriers to conquer to truly eradicate poverty, it also has immense potential to become an African superpower.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr

FoodForward SASouth Africa is one of the most developed African countries and the continent’s largest stock exchange. However, despite its advanced economy, South Africa still has much work to do to solve its key issues, one of them being food insecurity. According to Statistics South Africa, in 2017, 6.8 million South Africans faced hunger. Although the number of food-insecure populations has plummeted by more than half from 13.5 million in 2002, roughly 11% of the country’s population struggled to put food on the table in 2019. However, a closer look at South Africa reveals that hunger is not a national-level issue but rather a household-level issue. Although the country produces enough food for its citizens, approximately 10 million tonnes of food goes to waste in a year. FoodForward SA aims to alleviate hunger in South Africa by rescuing and redistributing surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.

The FoodForward SA Mission

FoodForward SA is a South African nonprofit that was established in 2009 to alleviate hunger in South Africa by rescuing quality edible food for subsequent redistribution to people in need. FoodForward SA partners with various local beneficiary organizations (BOs) to extend its impact to rural and urban communities. Through these BOs, the organization widens the scope of its impact to large numbers of vulnerable South Africans, which it would otherwise not reach if it were acting alone.

The FoodShare Innovation

Before 2018, FoodForwad SA relied on a complex logistics chain to gather, categorize, store surplus food from donor agencies and redistribute the food to beneficiary organizations. In 2018, however, this ended with the organization’s innovation, “FoodShare,” a cyber platform to help save quality food that would otherwise end up in landfills by virtually connecting food outlets with beneficiary organizations, consequently promoting a smoother redistribution process. In addition to connecting donors and beneficiaries, FoodShare also allows for easy inventory optimization, tonnage measurement and offline monitoring and evaluation, among other features.

Breakfast Program

About nine years ago, FoodForward SA embarked on a partnership with Kellogg’s, a U.S. multinational food manufacturing company. The Kellogg’s Breakfast for Better Days Programme is a school feeding initiative dedicated to providing breakfast to vulnerable primary and secondary school children in South Africa. In 2020, the program covered the South African provinces of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and both the Eastern and Western Cape, reaching roughly 37,000 children. The collaborative efforts of FoodForward SA and Kellogg’s help the initiative expand its reach and impact. In 2021, Kellogg’s hopes to extend the program’s impact to more vulnerable areas in South Africa.

Mobile Rural Depot Programme

FoodFoward SA’s Mobile Rural Depot Programme was started in 2019 to alleviate hunger in South Africa by making quality surplus food accessible to more than 25 identified and underserved rural communities. FoodForward SA deploys trucks loaded with food supplies to each depot region to deliver food to communities. BOs from neighboring communities subsequently gather to collect and redistribute the food. Following the delivery, empty trucks stop by the areas’ farms to stockpile surplus agricultural supplies, which are taken back to a warehouse.

COVID-19’s Impact: A Blessing in Disguise

Whereas the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exerted a toll on food banks globally, FoodForward SA has a different story. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Deidre Adams, the nonprofit’s fund development manager, discussed FoodForward SA’s immediate action during COVID-19 and its resulting success.

Adams explains that the COVID-19 pandemic required the organization to rapidly scale its operations to meet increasing food insecurity. The managing director of FoodForward SA, Andy Du Plessis, put out a food security appeal of R50,000 in order to extend its scale of food aid. The R50 million appeal sparked an influx of donations from local and international donors, totaling R90 million, almost doubling the initial target.

“By not only reaching but exceeding our appeal target, we have been able to scale rapidly so that currently, and within nine months only, we are feeding around 475,000 people daily,” Adams says. Through its Mobile Rural Depot (MRD) Programme alone, FoodForward SA currently reaches 62,000 vulnerable people in rural communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Future Prospects

Despite FoodForward SA’s remarkable success, the organization never stops searching for innovative ways to alleviate hunger in South Africa by reaching as many vulnerable communities as possible and seeking more financial support to reach all of the country’s nine provinces. In response to whether the organization’s progress provides hope of attaining its vision, “a South Africa without hunger,” Adams remarked that connecting the world of surplus to the world of need can indeed eradicate hunger in South Africa.

By 2024, FoodForward SA hopes to have expanded the number of beneficiaries to one million people. “As we expand our operations to reach one million people, we would like to call on food supply chain role players to donate their surplus food to FoodForward SA, which allows them to save on dumping costs,” Adams says.

During the 2020/2021 fiscal year alone, the organization issued 29 million meals. To ensure that its resources reach the intended beneficiaries, the organization pays unannounced monitoring and evaluation visits to its beneficiary organizations once a quarter. Although from the current state affairs, it is indubitable that South Africa still has a steep hill to climb to achieve zero hunger, FoodForward SA’s exceptional work promises rewarding outcomes in due time.

– Mbabazi Divine
Photo: Courtesy of FoodForward SA

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela 
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has been significant in regard to food security and medical care, but food shortages and malnutrition were already rampant between 2015 and 2017 in Venezuela. By the end of 2018, wholesale prices doubled nearly every 19 days due to inflation. More than 3.4 million Venezuelans migrated in search of more stability and opportunity.

In response to these issues, Venezuelans protested against the authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro, in 2019. The outbreak of protests demanded a new constitution addressing issues related to economic instability and medical care. Then, on March 13, 2020, the first COVID-19 case occurred in Venezuela.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Venezuela, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 250,309 confirmed cases and 2,814 deaths. The impact of COVID-19 on Venezuela compounded on preexisting humanitarian issues of economic instability, health and food insecurity. In response, nonprofit organizations and international government organizations began providing aid to people in vulnerable situations in Venezuela.

Life Before the Pandemic

Prior to the spread of the coronavirus, Venezuela’s economy experienced a debt of higher than $150 billion. In addition, the GDP shrunk by roughly two-thirds, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Due to this, Venezuela experienced the highest poverty rates in Latin America, affecting 96% of the people. These issues resulted in a lack of essential products such as medical care, potable water, food and gasoline.

Health Security in Venezuela

In the past five years, over 50% of doctors and nurses emigrated from Venezuela to escape economic instability. This is according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A declining health system was unable to provide aid for infectious disease, malnutrition and infant mortality. As a result, the spread of COVID-19 resulted in heavily populated hospitals with minimal resources.

Without adequate pay and protection for medical professionals, as well as a shortage of potable water and protective medical gear, Venezuela’s hospitals experienced difficulty in responding to COVID-19. According to WHO, around 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases resulted in death. WHO predicts this number to be much higher in Venezuela. This is because the country’s hospitals lack basic X-rays, laboratory tests, intensive care beds and respirators.

In response to these issues, the National Academy of Medicine in Venezuela, a politically independent medical organization, sought to reduce the impact of the pandemic on existing health care systems. The Academy made a request to the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, on May 2, 2021, for the U.S. to add Venezuela to its international donor list for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations. Venezuela already received around 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia.

However, the National Academy of Venezuela stated that to control the pandemic, the country needs to vaccinate 70% of the adult population. The vaccines they received represent less than 10% of what Venezuela needs.

Food Insecurity During the Pandemic

At the end of 2020, with exports at a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, food inflation rose to 1,700%, resulting in a significant increase in food prices. As a result of inflation and international sanctions, the WFP also projected that Venezuela will experience a slow recovery to intensifying humanitarian issues, including food insecurity.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has resulted in 65% of families experiencing the inability to purchase food because of the hyperinflation of food products and inadequate income. In order to survive while experiencing food shortages, families in Venezuela reduced the variety of food and portion sizes of meals.

However, those in vulnerable positions, such as children, pregnant women, those with preexisting health conditions and the elderly, experienced malnutrition because of the inability to meet nutritional needs. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that one of every three people in Venezuela is food insecure. During the pandemic, those experiencing food insecurity continued to increase. The U.N. reported that prior to the pandemic, one in four elderly people, a demographic that maintained the majority of wealth in Venezuela, skipped meals. During the pandemic, more than four in 10 have been skipping meals.

Humanitarian Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela

In 2020, the U.N. developed the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks to provide 4.5 million adults and children throughout Venezuela with access to humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA. The plan requires $762.5 million to provide health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, shelter and educational support. The plan carries out objectives of providing emergency relief, improving access to basic services and providing protection for the most vulnerable in Venezuela, especially during the pandemic.

Over 129 humanitarian organizations, including agencies associated with the U.N., will implement the Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela. It has already responded to emergency relief to COVID-19 and led to the return of tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees, according to OCHA.

Throughout 2020, the U.N. received $130 million in support of this Humanitarian Plan. This allows humanitarian organizations to reach 3.3 million vulnerable people in Venezuela with basic necessities. This will include humanitarian assistance, per OCHA’s report. Additionally, the Plan allowed for 1.4 million people to receive humanitarian assistance in response to COVID-19.

The global pandemic and humanitarian issues are continuing in Venezuela, leading to a necessity for improved food security and medical care. As a result, throughout 2020, the United Nations, as well as humanitarian organizations, increased their presence in Venezuela. They will continue to encourage additional humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

Amanda Frese
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

women for bees programAngelina Jolie is widely considered one of the film industry’s most successful and famous stars. In 2020, she was the second-highest-paid Hollywood actress, earning more than $35 million for her work in films such as Marvel Studio’s “Eternals.” Additionally, Jolie’s humanitarian work has received a lot of attention, partnering with the U.N. Refugee Agency and launching the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. She built her reputation as an advocate for global human rights and women empowerment. Recently, the actress joined forces with UNESCO and French perfume company Guerlain to jumpstart the Women for Bees program.

Women for Bees Program

Beginning on June 21, 2021, the global “female beekeeping entrepreneurship” program will send 10 women each year “to a 30-day accelerated training course” in beekeeping at the Observatoire Français d’Apidologie’s (OFA) Domaine de la Sainte-Baume in Provence, France. After five years, the 50 total course participants will have gained a solid foundation of beekeeping skills.

Participants will also form a strong global network of fellow female beekeepers. Furthermore, participants will all be able to run their own professional apiaries, bringing in an income to sustain themselves for years to come. Jolie was appointed “godmother” of the Women for Bees program and will track the progress of the beekeepers. The collaboration between UNESCO, Guerlain and Jolie aims to promote biodiversity and support bees’ crucial role as pollinators while simultaneously empowering women in female entrepreneurship. According to UNESCO, the program “aims to enable women’s social emancipation through an expertise-driven sustainable professional activity.”

As the female participants progress through the Women for Bees program, they will be able to gain critical skills for long-term economic enhancement for both themselves and their larger communities. The initiative will involve UNESCO’s biosphere reserves located in areas such as Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, France, Italy, Russia, Rwanda and Slovenia. About 2,500 hives are set to be built within 25 UNESCO biosphere reserves in the next four years.

World Bee Day

On World Bee Day, Jolie generated buzz for the Women for Bees program by partaking in a National Geographic photoshoot with bees roaming her face. Dan Winters took the portraits as a photographer and amateur beekeeper himself. The photos aim to raise awareness of the importance of bees and the ability of the beekeeping industry to contribute to economic growth. During her interview with National Geographic, Jolie spoke about the connection between saving bees and supporting women’s entrepreneurship. Jolie explains that pollinating insects are “an indispensable pillar of our food supply.” Therefore, bees contribute to global food security. The Women for Bees program protects bees while “empowering women in their livelihoods.”

Jolie’s collaboration with the Women for Bees program is a strong example of a celebrity utilizing their social influence to promote social good. Her efforts with the Women for Bees program are sure to help the environment, global food security and the livelihoods of the many women involved.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Unsplash

Prickly PearThe opuntia, better known as the prickly pear, could be the key to food security in the world’s most arid countries, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This statement is born from the results of a five-year study conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno. The study sought to examine the potential benefits of cultivating the prickly pear on a mass scale. Many people who live in rural areas consider this cactus to be little more than a formidable and even dangerous weed. It proliferates easily, is difficult to uproot and poses a threat to livestock who can injure themselves and their digestive systems on the sharp spines. However, the FAO believes the benefits can outweigh the downsides. Here is why this international humanitarian organization thinks the prickly pear is fundamental in the fight for food security.

Resistance to Drought and Heat

The study states that the prickly pear requires up to 80% less water than crops such as corn, rice and soy. Additionally, those crops have upper-temperature limits, whereas the prickly pear is able to grow in extreme heat. Africa’s largest country, Algeria, is classified as being around 80% arid or semi-arid, which leaves its population of more than 43 million vulnerable to food insecurity. In 2013, the country formed a cooperative of farmers, scientists and traders to begin cultivating the prickly pear. For this project, they consulted with Mexico, whose people and ancestors have ample experience with the cactus.

The cooperative built its first processing factory in 2015. The factory produces oil that is exported to France, Germany and Qatar. Since then, the enterprise has steadily grown. The cooperative built another factory in 2018 and plans to begin exporting its goods to the United States.

Can be Used as a Biofuel

The primary crops grown for biofuels are corn, sugar cane, soybean and palm oil, which comprise 97% of the biofuel industry. Sugar cane and corn require three to six times more water than the prickly pear, though they produce the same amount of energy. When grown as biofuel, corn, sugar cane, soy and palm oil crops can only be used for that very purpose. In contrast, farmers can first harvest the prickly pear for food before its waste-product is converted into fuel. It’s a circular system versus a linear system. When it comes to the question of the prickly pear as the key to food security, this distinction makes all the difference.

Food for Humans and Livestock

The prickly pear borders on being a superfood. It’s rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. It contains antioxidants and is anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. For animals, the plant’s pads, or “nopales,” contain nearly 80% water, making them ideal feed for livestock. It can also be prepared in countless ways, though many people around the globe are unfamiliar with its myriad of uses.

Eritrea, a northeast African country is a prime example of this missed opportunity. Here, they sell the prickly pear on roadsides and in marketplaces alongside more popular fruits such as bananas, guavas and oranges. However, the Eritrean people, who regularly face food shortages, are largely unfamiliar with the number of ways the plant can be consumed. As a result, it has yet to be cultivated on a mass scale. Nearly all of the prickly pears that are brought to market are harvested from wild cacti.

Can Function as a Carbon Sink

One of the strongest arguments for the prickly pear as the key to food security is its function as a “carbon sink.” The fruit grows in areas where other plant life can not be established and then captures excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Cultivated on a mass scale, this could lead to lower temperatures and more rainfall, thus decreasing the number of droughts that threaten food security worldwide.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

In 2015, Madagascar faced a drought-induced famine. The lack of rain laid waste to their chief crops, including rice, cassava and sweet potatoes. Desperate for nourishment, many turned to the prickly pear, which was then regarded as a weed. The FAO points to the plant’s usefulness during the direst conditions as proof of the potential benefits of cultivating it on a larger scale. Droughts have continued to plague the people of Madagascar, with approximately one million inhabitants living on the brink of famine. The continued suffering of those living in the world’s most precarious conditions underscores the need for attainable, wholesale solutions. The FAO believes one such solution, agriculture or “green gold,” is well within reach.

– Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa with a population of more than 15 million people. Today, more than 70% of the country’s population experience poverty. The people of Somalia struggle with food insecurity, vulnerability to human trafficking and youth unemployment among other challenges. One issue, in particular, is malnutrition in Somali children.

Food Insecurity

The most recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report on Somalia projects that 22% of the population or 2.7 million people will struggle with acute food insecurity in the coming months. The main factors contributing to food insecurity are locusts, floods, droughts and low amounts of rainfall.

Malnutrition in Somali Children

The current food insecurity crisis facing Somalia has placed more than 800,000 children at risk of acute malnutrition. Nutrition surveys taken in 2020 measured Global Acute Malnutrition levels of 36 population groups in Somalia on a scale increasing in intensity from Acceptable (IPC phase 1) to critical (IPC phase 4). Specifically:

  • Nine out of 36 population groups in Somalia faced critical levels of Global Acute Malnutrition. This means that more than 15% of the population of children in these regions are suffering from acute malnutrition.
  • A total of 28 population groups suffered from severe (IPC phase 3) levels of malnutrition. This means at least 10% of the population experienced acute malnutrition.
  • More than 34% of Somali children are in need of treatment for acute malnutrition.

Compared to years past, more populations have improved to phase 3 as their acute malnutrition levels decrease. Malnutrition levels have improved due to continued humanitarian aid efforts and accessibility to milk. The ongoing pandemic and seasonal challenges may lead to increased levels of acute malnutrition as food access decreases and the ability to get aid to at-risk populations becomes more costly.

Combating Malnutrition

Save the Children is a humanitarian organization that has been working in Somalia since 1951. The organization has helped more than 500,000 children by providing food, water and medical assistance to at-risk populations. With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to cause further harm to Somali children, Save the Children has created an emergency fund to increase the amount of aid it can provide.

Action Against Hunger is another humanitarian organization that has been combating malnutrition in Somali children since 1992. In 2019, the organization had provided aid in the form of food, water and health services support to more than 600,000 people. The organization helped more than 20,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition and provided health services to more than 160,000 pregnant women. Action Against Hunger plans to continue supporting Somalia. It plans to expand existing health services for the Somali people and empower the Somali healthcare system.

With millions being affected by food insecurity and more than 800,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition, Somalia is in need of continued humanitarian support. Continual improvements to healthcare, food and water systems have improved the lives of millions of people. The ongoing pandemic and droughts are obstacles in the way of continuing progress in combating malnutrition in Somali children. With these issues, the need for continued humanitarian support only grows.

Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr