Hunger-Fighting Initiatives in India
India ranks 101st out of 116 countries on the 2021 Global Hunger Index rankings, with a score of 27.5, which GHI considers “serious.” Currently, there are many hunger-fighting initiatives in India. The five government implemented hunger-fighting initiatives in India include the National Nutrition Mission (NNM), National Food Security Mission, Zero Hunger Programme, Eat Right India Movement and efforts toward food fortification.

National Nutrition Mission

India’s Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, launched the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) or the POSHAN Abhiyaan, on International Women’s Day 2018. NNM targets children, pregnant women and lactating mothers, aiming to reduce stunting, undernutrition, anemia and low birth weight babies. It uses Lives Saved Tool, also known as LiST, to gather results on increased interventions of maternal, newborn and child health, and nutrition.

National Food Security Mission

In 2007, the National Development Council launched the National Food Security Mission. By the end of the 11th Five Year Plan (2011 – 2012), production of rice had successfully increased to the projected “10 million tons, wheat to 8 million tons and pulses to 2 million tons.” The 12th Five Year Plan was even more successful, with a target of 25 million tons of food grain from 2017 to 2020.

The National Food Security Mission implemented eight strategies to accomplish its objectives. Those strategies are to:

  • Place focus on districts with low production and significant potential
  • Establish cropping system-centric inventions
  • Inherit “agro-climatic zone wise planning and cluster approach for crop productivity enhancement”
  • Increase focus on annual crop (pulses) production and grow them with diverse crops
  • “Promote and extend improved technologies i.e., seed, integrated nutrient management (INM), integrated pest management (IPM), input use efficiency and resource conservation technologies along with the capacity building of the farmers/extension functionaries”
  • “Closely monitor the flow of funds to ensure timely reach of interventions to the target beneficiaries”
  •  Combine multiple interventions and the goals of each district and its plans
  • “Implement agencies for assessing the impact of the interventions for a result-oriented approach”

Zero Hunger Programme

The Zero Hunger Programme in India began in 2017 to improve agriculture, health and nutrition. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) created it. The program focuses on developing farm equipment, revamping the farming system, setting up genetic gardens for biofortified plants and beginning zero hunger training. In India, most farmers do not have an adequate amount of land to support their families plus the growing population. Without proper storage available, transportation and marketing places, most food goes to waste. The Zero Hunger Programme aims to:

  • Decrease child stunting for children 2 years and younger
  • Ensure access to food all year round
  • Create stable food systems
  • Increase small farmer productivity and income
  • Eliminate food waste

Eat Right India Movement

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India started the Eat Right India movement to ensure that the Indian population has access to food that is healthy and safe. The program stands on the foundation of regulatory capacity building, collaborative and empowerment approach.

Overall, the purpose of the Eat Right India Movement is to encourage communities to eat healthy, safe and sustainably. It aims to help all age groups since diet-related illnesses affect everyone if their eating habits are poor. With this common ground, the movement is banding with restaurants, agriculture, food producers, ministries and professional cooks to ensure change.

Food Fortification

Eating low-quality food can cause malnourishment and anemia. Both are present in children and women of the Indian community. In efforts to lower the extent of malnutrition and anemia, food fortification has been a common practice in India since the 1950s. Food fortification is a process of nutrient supplementation chemically, biologically or physically. Fortified food can include rice, wheat flour, edible oil, salt and milk.

Unfortunately, low-income women and children never consume 40%-60% of fortified food. This is due to some states’ failure to purchase fortified food, information disclosure in public supply chains and a shortage of distribution channels in rural areas.

All five hunger-fighting initiatives in India are working towards the goal of combating hunger. Though some have met their targets, the fight is still ongoing. Incorporating more nutrients in daily diets could save many from hunger and diseases. With that, the government recognizes the severities and has established initiatives to address the problem.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Food insecurity rates in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has experienced many crises in recent decades, with several domestic and international conflicts transpiring within the nation’s borders. Afghanistan’s economic crisis as well as conflicts and droughts aggravate rates of food insecurity in Afghanistan. With the recent Taliban takeover in August 2021, the country is seeing a collapse in food security. On October 25, 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a warning that millions of Afghans may face starvation during Afghanistan’s winter unless the world responds with urgent intervention. Understanding the challenges that Afghanistan and its people face, many international organizations are providing both donations and aid to alleviate food insecurity in the nation.

The Food Insecurity Situation in Afghanistan

According to the WFP in October 2021, more than 50% of Afghans, approximately 22.8 million citizens, are enduring severe food insecurity. Furthermore,  about 3.2 million Afghan children younger than 5 years old are at risk of acute malnutrition. In a WFP news release, the executive director of the WFP, David Beasley, says, “Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises, if not the worst.”

The full Taliban takeover that came to fruition in August 2021 debilitated an “already fragile economy heavily dependant on foreign aid.” In an effort to cut off support to the Taliban, many nations chose to suspend aid to Afghanistan and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) chose to halt payments to Afghanistan. For a country with about 40% of its GDP stemming from international support, vulnerable Afghans are hit heavily with the impacts of aid suspensions as food insecurity rates in Afghanistan continue to rise.

In September 2021, the U.N. warned that just 5% of Afghan families have sufficient daily food supplies, with essential ingredients like cooking oil and wheat drastically rising in prices. In October 2021, the WFP warned that “one million children were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition without immediate life-saving treatment.” WFP also predicted that the looming winter would further isolate Afghans depending on humanitarian assistance to survive. With overall food insecurity rates skyrocketing, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities. The WFP stresses the importance of continuing international aid to Afghanistan so that citizens can survive the coming months.

The Aid Dilemma for Global Economic Powers

“If we do nothing, Afghanistan drifts into state collapse. The economic chokehold is squeezing the air out of the economy,” said Graeme Smith, a consultant for the International Crisis Group (ICG), in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor on November 4, 2021.

The danger of a total state collapse is so concerning that European donors “are trying to expand stopgap emergency measures to find creative ways to alleviate the financial challenge faced by the central Taliban government in Kabul.”

The challenges of providing support remain. The U.N. estimates that as much as 97% of the country’s population could live in poverty by 2022 “in a worst-case scenario.” However, recognizing the severe consequences of aid suspensions, in October 2021, “The Group of 20 major economies” pledged to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. As a global powerhouse, the United States also announced its intention of providing aid to Afghan citizens as the harsh winter season starts. However, these countries are skeptical about providing aid directly to the Taliban government, therefore, aid will likely come through international agencies.

Aid to Afghanistan

Recognizing the need for aid, international organizations worked tirelessly to deliver food, blankets and monetary assistance “to hundreds of displaced families in Kabul” in October 2021. Humanitarian assistance from different global agencies found a way into Afghanistan. Even though the distribution of aid only reached 324 families, a very small percentage of the total needs of the nation, this aid gives hope to many Afghans who are experiencing severe food shortages.

Rising food insecurity rates in Afghanistan highlight the desperate need for aid. With many donors creatively developing ways to help the Afghan people, during a time of crisis, the country is hopeful for a brighter future.

– Tri Truong
Photo: Max Pixel

Guinea-Bissau
Guinea
-Bissau, a West African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is known for cashew nut farming, which amounts to “90% of the country’s exports,” serving as “a main source of income for an estimated two-thirds of the country’s households.” However, almost 70% of the country’s population lives in poverty.  Among the issues of poverty that plague Guinea-Bissau is food insecurity, low educational attainment and inadequate healthcare. The World Food Programme (WFP), in particular, supports Guinea-Bissau by tackling several issues through humanitarian aid and support.

Food Insecurity and Education

In Guinea-Bissau specifically, the WFP focuses its efforts on supplying “nutritional support” to roughly 96,000 citizens. Data indicates that about a quarter of Guinea-Bissau’s population endures chronic malnutrition. Therefore, in specific, the WFP’s nutrition programs work on combating malnutrition among children younger than 5 as well as “pregnant and nursing women.”

On top of food and nutrition support, the WFP also focuses on education in Guinea-Bissau. In 2014, the overall literacy rates of young citizens aged 15-24 in Guinea-Bissau stood at just 60%. A specific strategy the WFP employs to tackle both food insecurity and low educational attainment rates are supplying meals to more than 173,000 school students to encourage students to attend school. Furthermore, “take-home food rations for female students” aim to “encourage girls to attend and remain in school” since rates of school completion for girls are disproportionately low. The hope is for the WFP to assist the Guinean government in taking over this school feeding program.

In order to strengthen the long-term food security of Guinea-Bissau, the WFP is helping rural people gain access to “social services and markets.” In addition, on June 24, 2021, the WFP provided “agricultural tools and seeds” to about 120 female farmers for the purpose of growing food in their local communities. For short-term food security, the WFP delivered 80 million tons of rice across villages in Guinea-Bissau.

COVID-19 in Guinea Bissau

The WFP is also assisting Guinea-Bissau to better manage the COVID-19 crisis within the country. By October 1, 2021, Guinea-Bissau reported more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases and 140 deaths. As a low-income country with a GDP per capita of just $727, the nation does not have adequate funding or resources for resilient and effective healthcare facilities as well as a strong and efficient COVID-19 response.

The WFP supports Guinea-Bissau with supply chain management of essential COVID-19 resources such as “personal protective equipment, medical equipment, medicines and hospital lab supplies” and delivers these resources to health facilities across the country.

Looking Ahead

Guinea-Bissau faces significant challenges regarding poverty, food insecurity education and healthcare, among other issues. Through how WFP continuously supports Guinea-Bissau, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions in the country can improve. With both long-term and short-term humanitarian efforts, hope exists for the people of Guinea-Bissau to rise out of poverty as resilient, empowered and productive individuals.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

<span class="imagecredit">On April 12, 2013, the World Bank approved funding for the National Horticulture and Livestock Productivity Project (NHLP) in Afghanistan. Under this governmental program, greenhouses are distributed to families across Afghanistan’s provinces. More than 300 Afghan women in the province of Kapisa alone are able to grow food year-round for their families with some women even becoming the sole breadwinners of their family due to farming made possible through the NHLP’s distributed greenhouses. The United Nations implemented the Community-Based Agriculture and Rural Development project (CBARD) in Afghanistan in 2018, a program that involves similar creations of greenhouses in Afghanistan. CBARD has led to the construction of 70 greenhouses in the Ghormach district alone. As the success of micro and commercial greenhouse distribution through both the World Bank and U.N.-initiated projects has grown, the importance of long-term and community-based anti-poverty solutions has become clear internationally.

Greenhouse Distribution

The NHLP has reached 291 districts across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan, covering more than 500,000 citizens, half of whom are women. Each greenhouse costs 25,000 afghani (or around $320) to build, with recipients selected “based on financial need and access to at least 250 square meters of land.” After distributing these greenhouses, the NHLP also provides classes for participants on how to cultivate vegetables and apply fertilizer made from organic waste.

With the goal of tailoring the CBARD project to Afghanistan’s agriculture, the U.N. aims to benefit an estimated 46,000 households across the nation. As part of this general agricultural program, greenhouses are implemented as “key infrastructure” across the region. The U.N. explains that due to cultural and security concerns throughout many provinces, it has also focused on the implementation of micro greenhouses so that women can grow crops inside their homes. With the CBARD program currently active in the Badghis, Farah and Nangarhar provinces, the program has built hundreds of micro and commercial greenhouses for farmers.

The Need for Year-Round Food

Greenhouses in Afghanistan have provided access to produce during winter months while also providing a general improvement in food quality. This is especially beneficial for children and pregnant women who are vulnerable to malnutrition. Saima Sahar Saeedi, NHLP social affairs officer, explains to the World Bank that these greenhouses aim to reduce childhood malnutrition with children able to “eat the vegetables grown in their own family greenhouses.”

Due to Kapisa province’s especially cold winter climate, many families are unable to grow produce such as wheat, potatoes and vegetables throughout the year without the help of greenhouses and are unable to afford produce at a local bazaar. Some greenhouses in Afghanistan even help families sell crops. One recipient, Roh Afza, tells the World Bank that the money she made from selling her greenhouse produce is used to buy “clothes, school uniforms, notebooks and books for [her] children.”

The U.N.’s CBARD program has focused on the Badghis region specifically, where citizens depend on agriculture as their primary occupation. With an increase of droughts, however, much of the population has turned to poppy cultivation, which requires less water than other crops. Poppy cultivation not only requires an entire family to work but results in minimal profits and reduces the fertility of the soil. The CBARD program aims to reduce the dependence on poppy cultivation in the region by implementing greenhouses for the production of crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

The Global Success of Greenhouses

The success of both the U.N.’s CBARD program and the World Bank’s NHLP initiative include achievements in combating malnutrition, poverty and food insecurity through both micro and commercial greenhouses. Greenhouses have also furthered agricultural progress and livelihoods in rural Jamaica as well as Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan. The U.N. and World Bank’s greenhouse implementation programs create long-term, community-based solutions in combating food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The United Arab EmiratesThe United Arab Emirates (UAE) is leading the fight against malnutrition. Malnutrition refers to imbalances, deficiencies or excesses in a person’s ingestion of nutrients and all-around intake of energy. It can result in several problems, ranging from undernutrition to obesity. As a result, the issues caused by malnutrition can lead to diet-related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, various forms of cancer and strokes.

Malnutrition is an issue that affects every country in the world in one form or another. Children are especially at risk, with 45% of deaths among children younger than the age of 5 linked to malnutrition. Malnutrition affects 49 million children around the globe.

COVID-19 caused an upset in the health systems of numerous countries, which worsened the issue noticeably.  By 2022, experts expect an additional 2.6 million children to suffer from chronic malnutrition. There are several programs across many nations working to combat the issue globally. Likewise, the United Arab Emirates built one of the most notable reputations for combating hunger and malnutrition.

Efforts by the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates has previous endeavors fighting against malnutrition. For example, the Crown Prince of Dubai Mohammed Bin Rashid’s “100 Million Meals” food campaign successfully delivered more than 216 million meals to the hungry. The nation refuses to sit still on the issue.

The United Arab Emirates joined the list Reaching the Last Mile. Reaching the Last Mile is a global health fund that works to eradicate diseases affecting lower-income and more marginalized communities. Reaching the Last Mile, which was launched by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, partnered with the U.N. Foundation alongside Ecobank, OnlyOne, ONOMO Hotels and Koosmik to help fund UNITLIFE.

UNITLIFE and the UAE

UNICEF claims that the annual global cost of malnutrition is $3.5 trillion. Reducing global malnutrition by a third could reap economic benefits totaling roughly $417 billion. Director of the Secretariat at UNITLIFE, Assia Sidibe, tells CNBC Africa “Malnutrition really leads to huge economic burden.” Sidibe also goes on to cite how malnourished children will earn 22% less in their adult lives than their non-malnourished counterparts.  The healthcare costs set in motion by malnourishment have a significant financial impact as well.

UNITLIFE aims to combat chronic malnutrition by investing in nutritious food systems, female empowerment and climate-smart agriculture. UNITLIFE largely obtains funds through micro-donations, public-private partnerships and market-based transactions.  These funds accompany official development assistance and domestic resources already at the organization’s disposal.

On top of partnering with UNITLIFE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan donated $2.5 million to the organization shortly after UNITLIFE’s creation. This was a gesture that is representative of the United Arab Emirates’ commitment to tackling the issue of malnutrition.

The United Arab Emirates demonstrated, alongside UNITLIFE’s other partners, a commitment to end chronic childhood malnutrition. This commitment serves as an example of philanthropic humanitarianism. The action taken by the United Arab Emirates and others to fund UNITLIFE may help to spell an end to chronic childhood malnutrition worldwide.

– Brendan Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in UzbekistanOn July 1, 2021, USAID successfully delivered 131 tons of food to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to combat malnutrition in Uzbekistan. The almost $400,000 humanitarian aid package provides a “nutritious vegetable and legume mix” to health and social care facilities as well as disadvantaged Uzbek households. The aid is yet another act showing the U.S. commitment to long-term investment in health and nutrition in Uzbekistan.

Food Security and Uzbekistan’s Agri-Food Sector

Since it gained independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has wisely prioritized self-sufficiency in its approach to food security. Although the country has produced sufficient food to cover its population in the past, “food security also encompasses affordable food and a diverse diet that includes essential nutrients.” According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), malnutrition in Uzbekistan lingers because the country lacks adequate standards of balanced and nutritious diets and affordable food options are rare.

The World Bank states that the development of Uzbekistan’s agri-food sector is critical to strengthening food security and reducing poverty in the country. Economically, the agriculture division alone contributes 28% of Uzbekistan’s GDP and is responsible for employing more workers than any other sector. About 27% of the entire workforce, or more than 3.65 million people, work in the agricultural field.

In 2019, almost 10% of the country lived below the poverty line, surviving on less than $3.2 per day. This equates to about 3.2 million people, 80% of which lived in rural regions “with livelihoods that depend largely on agriculture.” For these reasons, USAID seeks to develop and diversify the agri-food sector by introducing new technologies and techniques to local farmers. In the past, Uzbek farmers could not access contemporary data on markets, weather, technologies and farming practices. By supplying almost 100,000 hours of agricultural training “and working with 64 new consulting service providers,” USAID has played a role in a 523% “cumulative increase in farm yields,” raising the income of Uzbek farmers by 107%.

USAID’s Impact on Uzbek Food Security

In the last decade, USAID’s International Food Relief Partnership program has supplied 1,300 tons of food assistance to Uzbekistan, amounting to more than $3.5 million in aid. The recent delivery will target more than “30,000 of the most vulnerable citizens” who are most at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition. The aid will cover 130 health and social centers, including mental institutions and orphanages.

USAID Uzbekistan’s mission director, Mikaela Meredith, states, “This program demonstrates the ongoing strong partnership between Uzbekistan and the United States of America to improve nutrition and ensure that the most vulnerable have adequate, safe and nutritious food to support a healthy and productive life.”

The Future of Uzbekistan’s Food Security

Uzbekistan is currently on course to meet the global nutrition targets of reducing child stunting by 40% by 2025. In terms of stunting in children younger than 5, the rate has reduced from 25% in 2002 to 10.8% in 2017. However, not enough data is available to determine how close Uzbekistan is to achieving its 2025 target for stunting. Nonetheless, the country has made progress over the years. The continued assistance from USAID and other international organizations will help develop the agricultural sector, increase food security and combat malnutrition in Uzbekistan.

Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr

Food insecurity crisis in SomaliaSomalia’s climate consists of sporadic periods of intense rainfall between long periods of drought. So far in 2021, a devastating mix of severe droughts, intense floods and locust infestations in Somalia have devastated crop production and livestock herds, leading to a hunger crisis. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the previously high rates of poverty in the country and have contributed to the food insecurity crisis in Somalia. USAID is aiming to combat the hunger crisis in Somalia by providing food assistance while also targeting assistance efforts to limit malnutrition among children and pregnant women.

Causes of the Food Insecurity Crisis in Somalia

Typically, heavy rains strike Somalia between April and June and again between October and December. During the two rainy seasons, extreme rainfall and flooding regularly displace Somalis across the country. However, in 2021, the rainy season ended in May instead of June. This early end caused intense droughts in Somalia.

Rainfall in some areas of Somalia has amounted to only half of the year-to-date average. As a result, deficit farmers in the south and northwest of Somalia have not been able to access water supplies adequate to plant Somalia’s staple crops. Moreover, pastoral households’ inadequate access to water has decreased the size and productivity of livestock herds. The subsequent meat, milk and crop shortage might surge food prices in Somalia.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network projected that the Somali yield of cereal crops in 2021 will be up to 40% less than the yearly average. The drought has already decreased the food and water intake for farmers and pastoralists across Somalia, and low crop and livestock yields in the late summer harvest will lead to lower incomes for farmers and pastoralists. This will limit the purchasing power of Somalis employed in the agriculture sector. Altogether, the drought and subsequent low-yield harvests could extend the risk of a food insecurity crisis in Somalia past the summer.

The State of the Somali Food Insecurity Crisis

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale is a system that governments, non-governmental organizations and the U.N. uses to analyze the severity of food insecurity situations. The IPC scale ranges from minimal (IPC Phase 1) to famine (IPC Phase 5). By the middle of 2021, the IPC expects 2.7 million Somalis to encounter at least the crisis level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3). Specifically, the analysis expects 2.25 million Somalis to be at the crisis level of food insecurity while another 400,100 will be at the emergency level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 4).

COVID-19 in Somalia

While the COVAX initiative and the Somali Federal Government have started the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Somalia, the virus continues to devastate the fragile economy. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the poverty rate (percent of the population below $1.90/day, 2011 PPP) in Somalia was at 69%. The poverty rate among Somalis in rural areas was at 72%.

Further, the worldwide COVID-19 induced lockdowns have limited employment opportunities for Somalis working in foreign countries. Consequently, Somalis working internationally are not able to send much money back to their families in Somalia, which heavily supports consumption in the country. Moreover, Somali businesses have reduced their full-time staff by an average of 31% since the pandemic first struck Somalia.

Lastly, a global reduction in demand for Somali livestock has decreased Somali livestock exports by 50% since the beginning of the pandemic, which further weakens the income of already impoverished Somali pastoralists. Thus, the global economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 threatens to intensify the food insecurity crisis in Somalia.

US Aid to Somalia

On June 24, 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a pledge of $20 million in assistance to Somalia. USAID’s aid pledge to Somalia was part of a larger USAID plan to provide a total of $97 million to African countries to combat the health and socioeconomic ramifications of the pandemic. The U.S. aid plan will focus on tackling the food insecurity crisis in Somalia and will supply the country with staple crops like sorghum and yellow split peas. The funding also aims to limit the malnutrition of children and pregnant women.

The aid package builds on a U.S. commitment of $14.7 million in June 2021 to provide drinking water, fight malnutrition and support victims of gender-based violence.

While Somalia’s struggle with poverty and malnutrition is a longstanding and complicated issue, assistance from the U.S. and the rest of the global community could prevent a famine in the short term and boost the country’s economic development in the long term.

– Zachary Fesen
Photo: Flickr

SPOON, Helping Children With Feeding DifficultiesApproximately 93 million children worldwide have been diagnosed with a disability. A total of 80% of these children have problems with feeding processes. Children with disabilities often suffer from medical conditions like anemia and, along with children who do not receive nutrition through a caregiver, are among the groups that are most likely to be malnourished. However, two women from Portland, Oregon, founded the nonprofit organization SPOON to address children’s malnutrition.

Providing Nutritional Assistance for Children Worldwide

SPOON was founded in 2007 when Cindy Kaplan and Mishelle Rudzinski adopted two children from Kazakhstan who were diagnosed with severe malnutrition. They created SPOON to ensure that all children across the globe receive nourishment. SPOON aims to provide help for caregivers through nutrition programs and assessing the needs of children with feeding difficulties. As the most important part of their mission, the organization puts a special focus on nutrition support for children who do not have a family to care for them or those with a disability.

Helping Children With Feeding Difficulties

Children diagnosed with a disability are three times as likely to suffer from undernourishment than those without any disabilities. Furthermore, one of SPOON’s studies showed that approximately 91% of children in institutions and without family care do not receive the nutrition they need.

Carolyn Moore, the Policy and Advocacy Advisor for SPOON, told The Borgen Project that the two groups often overlap since “institutionalization and separation are more common for children with disabilities.” Moore further explained that the lack of training regarding children with special needs is a significant contributor to feeding difficulties and nutritional health conditions.

The population of children in need of the help SPOON has to offer is immense. Approximately 250 million children who live in developing countries are at immediate risk of stunting. Additionally, 53 million under the age of 5 received diagnoses with cognitive delays, reduced motor skills and other disabilities.

According to Moore, there are additional tens of millions of children who live “in institutions or … on the streets.” One of the main challenges in making sure that all children receive the nutrition they need is that caregivers often do not understand the importance of finding the right feeding process. This is especially important since nutrition is the main contributor to ensure a child’s health. It also affects the development of their brain and body.

Teaching People Important Feeding Skills

SPOON operates with several different methods. The first step of its work includes helping local partners and caregivers of children with disabilities. This is “to build their skills in the specific nutrition eating needs and techniques.” The initial training period covers many different aspects, including learning how to improve feeding techniques, correctly assessing the specific problems a child is facing and adapting diets and nutrition accordingly to individual needs.

Another part of SPOON’s work is the organization’s mobile app called Count Me In. The tool assesses the growth and problems of children with feeding difficulties, especially those with disabilities and in institutions. The app is then able to offer appropriate solutions to caregivers. Moore explained that Count Me In “can recommend improvements around positioning and texture” of the food. It is also a very efficient way for the organization to collect valuable data. By 2019, many orphanages in countries such as Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia have used Count Me In.

Advocacy and the Global Child Thrive Act

The third important component of SPOON’s work is advocacy. Moore explains the need for children with disabilities worldwide to have access to nutrition and support with their feeding difficulties. She emphasizes the need for nonprofit organizations to look at how to “change policies and change systems” permanently. For example, SPOON was part of the Thrive Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations that advocated for the Global Child Thrive Act, which was passed into law in January of 2021.

The coalition continuously met with congress and the media. This resulted in more than 100 Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate co-sponsoring the bill. The Global Child Thrive Act assures that the United States government will contribute to strengthening early childhood development. This is for 250 million children under 5 in low-to-middle-income countries. According to Moore, the act was especially important to SPOON, since it specifically included support for “children with disabilities or without family care.”

Helping Children All Across the Globe

In addition to helping with the passage of the Thrive Act, SPOON has seen many successes throughout the years. After working in countries like Vietnam, China and India for two years, the rate of stunting in the children decreased from 55% to 23% and the percentage of children with anemia went down from 41% to 13%. Furthermore, SPOON’s advocacy efforts significantly contributed to a policy change in Kazakhstan that resulted in better nutrition for children without family care.

Also, data collected through Count Me In in 2020 showed a 35% improvement in the growth of kids and found that 82% of caregivers had adjusted feeding positions according to the children’s needs. Another 2020 success was the development of the SPOON chair. The chair will help children with disabilities by allowing them to sit upright during the feeding process.

Partnering With Other Organizations to Help Children

SPOON has also seen much success through collaborations with local partners. In Zambia, SPOON worked together with CMMB, a nonprofit organization that aims to help children with diseases by improving their nutrition. Together, the two organizations were in charge of the Improving Nutrition and Safe Feeding Practices project. This project specifically focused on children with disabilities and without family care.

Moore explained that SPOON and CMMB provided “specialized training in the nutrition and feeding issues” that are common for the two groups of children. The project worked with nutritionists and clinicians who had no prior experience in this specific field. Data pulled from Count Me In in Zambia from 225 surveyed children shows that between the years 2017 and 2020, the feeding positions improved in more than half of all cases for children with disabilities. There was a reduction in malnutrition for every child that was evaluated more than once through the application.

SPOON’s work has significantly contributed to improving the health and lives of many children with feeding difficulties. SPOON has displayed solutions for helping disadvantaged children and has revealed the need for further organizations to join their cause. Moore noted with the “big shift in food insecurity,” due to COVID-19, SPOON’s work is incredibly vital.

– Bianca Adelman
Photo: With permission from Carolyn Moore

Smart Farms Fiji
27-year-old Rinesh Sharma is the man behind the Smart Farms Fiji initiative, which aims to combat food scarcity and malnutrition across Fiji. The idea came from his family’s experiences that were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their diet growing up contained few vegetables and fruits because his parents could not regularly afford them.

This is a shared experience across much of Fiji. High food prices have led to high rates of food scarcity and malnutrition. Access to nutritious food supplies has only worsened since the pandemic, as people have lost their jobs and are left with little money to purchase expensive fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, COVID-19 halted or seriously limited food transportation. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to ensure everyone across Fiji has access to nutritious vegetables and fruits. It also wants the population to have a consistent supply of food to put on the table.

Hydroponic Farming

To begin with, Sharma conceptualized a large-scale hydroponic farming system. Hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants without soil, growing them directly in nutrient-rich water. Hydroponic farming helps plants absorb nutrients at a faster rate, which means quicker, easier and more reliable harvests. This allows more people easy and quick access to more crops and reduces food scarcity and malnutrition. Sharma was granted $20,000 in financial assistance from the government, which allowed him to invest and incorporate hydroponic systems into larger commercial farms across Fiji.

Since the pandemic, the main focus has been on a more localized and accessible supply of food and farming resources. Within the initiative, Sharma has created an at-home hydroponic kit. The kit contains 15 seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, kale, mint, basil and others. It also includes a water tank, net cups, soil nutrient solutions and a step-by-step guide. These kits have been sold and donated across Fiji and provide a local, continuous, reliable and easy source of nutritious food for many families who are struggling to put food on the table.

Reducing Hunger

Energy poverty is common on islands in the Pacific because many people live in remote areas without access to electricity. The Smart Farms Fiji initiative ensures that being remote does not hinder access to food. The at-home hydroponic kits are electricity-free to ensure all inhabitants have access to adequate and nutritious food supplies.

Furthermore, U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 2 is the main objective of Smart Farms Fiji and the reason Rinesh Sharma began the initiative. So far the initiative is having success, as it has helped Fijian families access steady and reliable supplies of healthy food that is full of the nutrition they need to continue to prosper. After only a month since the conception of the at-home hydroponic kits, the initiative deployed 15 kits and conducted 15 educational classes for households. It is well on its way to ensuring local food security.

Influence on Poverty and Education

One of the key points of concern when conceptualizing the initiative was the pesticides used in typical farming practices. Sharma saw how much traditional farming harmed coastal towns that rely on local fishing to earn their wages. The pesticide runoffs harm marine life that coastal workers needed to survive. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to promote pesticide-free farming that will help these coastal communities out of poverty and give them thriving business opportunities.

Sharma has also continued to expand his initiative through education. He has held classes with local communities that have at-home hydroponic kits, educating them about more sustainable subsistence farming and how to get the best out of their crops. Additionally, he has regularly attended schools and colleges where he has discussed with students everything from leadership, entrepreneurship and how students can contribute to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. He wants to inspire and mobilize the next generation to use their education to change the world by combatting poverty, food scarcity and malnutrition.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in VenezuelaA meager 3% of Venezuelan families are considered food secure in a country where more than 96% of people live in poverty. Child malnutrition in Venezuela rose to 26% from December 2019 to March 2020. Maduro’s government, a hotbed of mismanagement, corruption and cronyism, has done little to help the poverty and malnutrition in Venezuela. Hyperinflation continues to suppress economic activity, and U.S. sanctions imposed to pressure Maduro into reform or exit, have limited Venezuela’s access to imported food, medicine and other basic goods. On April 19, 2021, the World Food Programme announced that it would be implementing a program to address food insecurity and malnutrition in Venezuela.

Child Malnutrition in Venezuela

A 2021 policy brief by medical researchers called Venezuela’s public health system “practically non-existent.” Especially with U.S. sanctions, many healthcare facilities are unable to obtain the medicine or medical equipment needed to properly function. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic puts further strain on already limited health resources. As of April 2021, the Venezuelan Government has vaccinated less than 1% of the Venezuelan population.

According to a UNICEF report, 13% of children in Venezuela suffered from malnutrition between 2013 and 2018. Without access to sufficient calories, protein or generally diverse foods, many of these children will be held back developmentally, far beyond their childhood years. Venezuelan nutritionist, Raquel Mendoza, tells Thompson Reuters that “A population suffering from malnutrition implies we are going to have adults with less physical and intellectual potential.” Mendoza states further that “We’re going to see a regression in the development of the country because human resources are diminished.” These words express the urgency and importance of speedily addressing malnutrition in the country.

Before 2009, Venezuela’s infant mortality rate was steadily declining. In the first decade of the Chavez presidency, which began in 1999, infant mortality dropped by half. However, under Venezuela’s ongoing economic and sociopolitical crisis, the infant mortality rate has regressed to where it was in the 1990s. Even though many cases go unreported, statistics show that child mortality increased by 30% in 2016.

The World Food Programme Alleviates Malnutrition

Starting in July 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) will provide school lunches for children between 1 and 6 years of age. The WFP’s goal is to reach 185,000 students by the end of 2021 and 1.5 million by the end of 2023. These meals will mainly go to preschool and special education schools, but public and private schools will receive aid too.

Despite the pressing need for foreign aid, the Maduro government has historically rebuffed aid attempts by international organizations and governments. According to the Washington Post, Maduro blocked almost $60 million worth of U.S. aid in 2019 and insisted that Venezuela was not a country of beggars.

The agreement reached between Maduro and the WFP Executive Director David Beasley on April 19, 2020, came after months of resistance by the government. The program’s operations will remain independent of the political turmoil and uncertainty of Maduro’s rule.

The Road Ahead

Although the aid cannot catapult Venezuela out of its current crisis, the WFP program will improve the lives of many families who do not know how or when they will eat next. Although rarely dissolving geopolitical tensions or toppling an unjust regime, humanitarian aid organizations can and do protect those who suffer from the impacts of corruption, mismanagement and conflicts of others.

Alexander Vanezis
Photo: Wikimedia Commons