Unfold is Combating Hunger With 5 Vertical Farming Techniques
Unfold is a new startup company in Sacramento, California. It has committed itself to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations for 2030. Unfold has a partnership with Temasek, a Singaporean holding company, and Leaps by Bayer (LBB), a company that invests in life sciences breakthroughs that can improve the world. LBB has a vision: Health for All, Hunger for None. In addition, Jürgen Eckhardt, head of LBB, explains how Unfold is combating hunger through its transformative, creative approach in agricultural product development. The company aims to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, “supporting sustainably grown, hyperlocal production and addressing food security challenges faced by growing urban populations.”

Vertical farming is still relatively new but there are advancements to boost its development. Vertical farming has two main components; the framework and the biology. The framework involves components like temperature, humidity and lighting. Meanwhile, the biology aspect comprises of making seeds that produce better and faster in the vertical farming environment. The latter is Unfold’s target area.

5 Facts About How Unfold is Combating Hunger

  1. Seed Genetics: As opposed to framework upgrades, Unfold is committed to vertical farming solutions related to seed genetics. It is most common for vertical farms to use refined seeds to grow vegetables in other types of settings like greenhouses or fields. Additionally, Unfold breeds seeds specifically for the vertical farming environment so that plants can mature faster and have higher crop yields. One way Unfold will accomplish this is with a combination of seed genetics and agricultural technology.
  2. Germplasm: Through Unfold’s partnerships, the company raised $30 million in initial funding. It has an agreement with certain privileges to Bayer’s vegetable portfolio, a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Through these means, Unfold is combating hunger using germplasm. Germplasm refers to living genetic resources, such as seeds, to manage breeding, preservation and research. To start with, the team will begin working on a variety of consumer-pleasing vegetables.
  3. Crop Varieties: Initially, Unfold will focus on lettuce and spinach because leafy greens have less restrictive light requirements and grow quickly. However, Unfold will need to expand into more varieties to really succeed. The next vegetables Unfold will concentrate on are cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, because they do not need much space and grow in similar environments.
  4. Sustainability and Freshness: Unfold is combating hunger through sustainability and freshness by paying attention to the framework elements of vertical gardening. The layout, lighting, materials and sustainability features, such as reducing water and energy use, are all pieces of the overall goal. The goal is to maximize output while minimizing space. As a result, the demand for this practice is high in highly populated areas with limited land use. For example, Singapore has a personal stake in this advancement because the country has less than 1% of arable farmland.
  5. Thinking Long-term: Global food challenges are a dynamic issue. This is due to overpopulation, food deserts, growing environmental concerns and global health issues, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. This forces companies, like Unfold, to constantly rethink conventional methods. Unfold will be conscientious of traceability and nutritional value as it navigates these new vertical farming methods that it will implement right in the heart of the benefiting communities to shorten the supply chain.

Unfold is an innovative key player in vertical farming to end hunger. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global vertical farming market is expected to reach $12 billion by 2026. This is because of deficiencies in groundwater, decreases in viable farmland and increased demand for fresh produce. Unfold’s CEO, John Purcell, says that vertical farming is “an important player in the food ecosystem.” It might be the answer to global poverty as farmers could grow more varieties of food and faster. Partnerships with vertical farmers and retailers are also part of the equation to bring local, fresh products directly to community members. In addition, it will build up the economies at the same time.

Heather Babka
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in New Zealand
New Zealand, an island country located in the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean, is home to a population of about 4.8 million people and comprises of nearly 600 islands. In 2019, New Zealand received the rank of one of the world’s richest countries, ranking fifth after Switzerland, Hong Kong, the United States and Australia. Despite its status as a rich country, New Zealand still has hidden issues with poverty, food insecurity and hunger.

Hunger and Poverty in New Zealand

Nearly one in five children in New Zealand are living in “relative poverty,” according to a report done by Stats NZ in June 2019. This number rises to one in four in the case of the Māori population (New Zealand’s indigenous people). Though it is a relatively wealthy country, many New Zealanders live with food insecurity. Defined as a lack of access to healthy and nutritious food, food insecurity has negative effects on families, children, health and even mental health.

New Zealand’s Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) estimated that the weekly cost to feed a person ranges from 29 to 74 NZD (depending on age and sex). For a family of four, that means food costs can average over $400 NZD a month on top of other costs like utilities, rent, clothing and education. According to CPAG, about 7% of New Zealanders experienced severe food insecurity in 2008/2009, and 3% — one-third of New Zealanders — experienced moderate food insecurity. The implications of this, even when dealing with moderate food insecurity, were large. CPAG reported on families struggling to feed their children, often opting for unhealthy food because it was cheapest, going through garbage to salvage food or forgoing food altogether to make sure their children did not go hungry.

COVID-19’s Impact

Food insecurity, fortunately, has reduced to about 10% of New Zealanders in 2019. But with the outbreak of COVID-19, the Auckland City Mission estimated that that number had rocketed to 20%. Between citizens losing jobs, panic-buying at grocery stores and other factors, the pandemic is threatening more widespread food insecurity in New Zealand. Emergency food assistance services have seen large spikes in demand. Additionally, many essential workers may be working full-time but are still not making enough to put food on the table.

Though it expects the winter months (June through August) to be harder on families, especially with the pandemic, Auckland City Mission was able to provide emergency food to over 23,000 families and individuals who were “in desperate need” over the last financial year. Additionally, when New Zealand released its 2020 budget in May 2020, Auckland City Mission released a statement noting that its social services support package meant the mission could help even more families who are facing food insecurity this winter.

The Future of Food Security

Food insecurity in New Zealand remains an important problem. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, these problems are becoming harder to ignore. Recently, CPAG released a paper about its ideas to solve food insecurity for New Zealand’s youth, including food programs in schools. It showed that with awareness and advocacy, people can begin to find solutions to these problems. In fact, the 2020 budget plans to expand an existing school lunch program to ensure that by the end of 2021, 200,000 students will receive a healthy lunch every day at school, up from the 8,000 currently receiving aid from the program. This sort of increase is a promising step to reducing the amount of food insecurity for New Zealand’s children.

Additionally, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Auckland City Mission has gone from supporting 450 families to over 1,200 and expect that number to stay high throughout the winter. Thanks to the 2020 New Zealand budget, Auckland City Mission will be able to continue helping those in need.

It is an unprecedented time for food insecurity in New Zealand, especially on top of existing challenges lower-income families have been facing. However, with help from the government and organizations like Auckland City Mission, the country is beginning to put more focus on providing food to those who need it most.

Sophie Grieser
Photo: Pixabay

Hunger in Comoros
Comoros is a country located in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel. The country relies on tourism and other external projects to help with funding its economy. With a relatively small population of 400 inhabitants per kilometer, Comoros’s population is young, half being under the age of 20. However, as of 2014, 18% of the population lives under the international poverty line. Hunger in Comoros therefore remains a vital issue.

There is limited data regarding hunger in Comoros, but the country’s nutritional and economic needs are clear. In 2014, the poverty rate was 62.30%, an increase of 0.7% compared to 2004. Although the poverty rate has not been increasing drastically, the stagnant high poverty rate dramatically affects the population. For these citizens, ensuring access to agricultural progress is key to reducing hunger in Comoros.

Heifer International

For this success to be possible, organizations such as Heifer International are working to fund the farming population via donations. With contributions from the public, the organization provides cattle, learning opportunities, crops and female empowerment. Heifer International’s work serves to alleviate hunger in Comoros by increasing both agricultural resources and educational opportunities for the entire country.

Heifer International also operates to bring about success for agricultural communities in 21 countries. It bases its work on three different models: community mobilization, training and connection to markets. Each model serves to provide hungry, impoverished communities what they need to provide for their families and their country. Community mobilization allows for teams of people to come together to create change as a whole. Heifer International also has team members work alongside farmers and train them to grow their businesses. The organization provides resources such as seeds and livestock for farmers to have a good head start.

Training and Connections

To help reduce hunger in Comoros, Heifer International’s training comes in the form of teaching farmers how to manage what they have. This training not only helps with maintaining livestock and crops but also allows farmers to develop successful business plans. Managing livestock quantity and learning how to manage a business are skills that stay with the farmers long after their training concludes, helping them to fight hunger in their communities.

With this training in place, having a connection to markets allows farmers to grow their businesses to create more revenue for farming communities. Heifer International helps farmers do this by assisting them with advertising products and selling them in new markets. The organization also provides methods for the public to donate directly to farmers in need. With different amounts of money, people can purchase goats, water for life, a heifer, an alpaca and other items for those in need. The donor can see where their donation is going and the impact it has on the community.

Looking Ahead for Comoros

Hunger continues to be a leading issue for those in poverty. According to Heifer International, 821 million people go hungry every night. With this in mind, organizations such as Heifer International support farming communities to ensure food security for all.

Brooke Young
Photo: Flickr

hunger in Chile
Chile is a country located in the far southeast of South America. With a population of over 18 million people, Chile is the sixth most populous nation on the continent and the ninth most populous in the Western Hemisphere. The country is largely developed with a high-income classification from the World Bank, but staggering levels of poverty and hunger in Chile remain. This is mainly due to government corruption, income inequality, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Chile’s Hunger Problem

The issue of hunger in Chile is partly a result of the national government’s decades-long neoliberal policies, which have created a high level of income inequality in the country. The Covid-19 pandemic has also contributed to this issue by causing widespread economic devastation.

The large number of Chilean citizens employed in informal work reveals a major connection between income inequality and hunger in Chile. The accumulation of wealth and resources, especially in terms of education and healthcare, in the hands of a very privileged elite has catalyzed the growth of poverty in Chile. A lack of financial and structural development in the country’s rural and peripheral areas has forced large numbers of Chileans, many of whom are unskilled and without formal education, to work outside of nationally recognized businesses. The unregulated nature of this under-the-table work has worsened the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the University of Chile, the salaries of workers have fallen by 60% since the beginning of the pandemic.

Before the recent economic and health crises, the national economy of Chile was greatly improving. Levels of poverty within the country had greatly diminished, from almost 40% to 9% since 1990, the last year of the military dictatorship. Nevertheless, the swift devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has raised the poverty level in the country to almost 15% since last year.

Covid-19 and Hunger

This decline in income and increased levels of poverty have been matched by increasing food scarcity and hunger in Chile. Many local markets in Chile’s more impoverished and isolated areas have been forced to close due to both government-mandated social distancing restrictions and high levels of debt among the country’s lower class. The dire need to bring home food to their families has forced many Chileans to continue to work despite pandemic conditions, disproportionately increasing their exposure to the virus.

Beyond the rising cost of food and living in Chile, the recent social restrictions and rising unemployment due to the virus have left hundreds of thousands of Chileans in danger of hunger. Families’ lack of income as well as their increased difficulty providing food point to the development of a hunger crisis in the country. The economic impact of the coronavirus has had a particularly great effect on lower-class citizens living near the capital who work in informal and unregistered jobs. Many critics of the Chilean government’s response to the pandemic and economic crisis point out that its proposed stimulus package, which includes millions of food baskets to be distributed to the hardest-hit areas, would be largely insufficient to tackle the ever-increasing problem of hunger.

Anti-Poverty Protests

In 2019, widespread protests erupted in Chile for a variety of reasons, mainly related to the increased cost of living and rising income inequality in the country. These protests marked the first time since the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s that the Chilean Army had entered into Santiago to maintain order. Although protests initially broke out in response to a hike in the metro fare in Chile’s capital city, most people agree that Chile’s past macroeconomic policies have laid the groundwork for the current economic situation.

Income Inequality and Neoliberal Economics in Chile

A major factor that has contributed to the ongoing anti-government protests in Chile is the staggering income inequality present within the country. Although the popular protests against the government of Sebastián Piñera began in 2019, the socioeconomic effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shutdown have greatly exacerbated the poverty and income inequality in Chile.

The country’s stark income inequality can trace its origin to the Pinochet regime. During the military dictatorship, various neoliberal economists from the United States were invited to Chile to help modernize and revitalize the national economy.

Although the effects of this neoliberal approach have greatly expanded the economy of the country as a whole, most of this new wealth was heavily centralized with the majority of Chileans still facing grave economic and health-related conditions. Although Chile boasts the fourth largest economy in South America with a registered nominal GDP of approximately $300 billion in 2018, the distribution of wealth within the country tells a very different story. According to the CIA World Factbook, Chile has the fifteenth highest level of income inequality in the world, ahead of both China and the United States when measured with the Gini index.

Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Chilean Poverty

Like in many other countries worldwide, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting national lockdown have greatly exacerbated the high levels of poverty and income inequality already present in Chile. Despite Chile’s overall economic success and complex healthcare system, the country has one of the highest infection rates per capita in the Western Hemisphere with 13,000 cases for every 1 million citizens. In comparison to similarly-sized economies in South America, Chile’s rate of infection is 10 times that of Argentina and twice that of Brazil, making it one of the most hard-hit countries on the planet.

The presence and spread of Covid-19 in the country are highly related to the preexisting level of income inequality in Chile. A large majority of new cases can be traced to the highly impoverished areas surrounding the capital of Santiago. Like other low-income areas in 2020, many of its residents are essential workers and unable to quarantine if they are to continue earning enough to pay for food and other necessary resources. This phenomenon of lower-income citizens facing increased exposure to the coronavirus due to their inability to stay home from work is not unique to Chile but is also occurring in many other economies across the globe.

Improving Conditions for Hungry Chileans

One group working to address the problem of hunger in Chile during the Covid-19 pandemic is Desafío Levantemos Chile, an NGO which aims to aid hundreds of Chileans by distributing food, providing microloans and housing projects, and advocating for public education reform. The group’s healthcare work has proven to be indispensable during the pandemic. The organization has worked to distribute testing kits and personal protection equipment to rural areas of the country and has also supported local hospitals and frontline workers through crowdfunding. Since its founding in 2011, Desafío Levantemos Chile has provided primary medical care to over 185,000 Chileans.

Many of the factors related to the high levels of poverty, income inequality, and hunger in Chile are endemic to the country’s socioeconomic and political status quo. The effects of the neoliberal push of the late 1980s have created a stark division of wealth and resources in the country. The austere policies of the Piñera government have incited civil unrest, which the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated. As in many other countries around the globe, and especially in South America, the lingering effects of this difficult year will continue to create economic hardships for many ordinary and impoverished people well into the future.

– Jason Beck
Photo: Wikimedia

Global Maker Challenge
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity (the Global Prosperity Initiative) launched the second cohort of its Global Maker Challenge in late 2019, in Abu Dhabi. The challenge is an innovation-based contest that brings together entrepreneurs from around the world to present ideas and solutions for promoting global prosperity and improving living standards.

Global Maker Challenge 2019 Themes

The Global Prosperity Initiative partnered with 10 U.N. agencies as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Solve, a marketplace for social impact initiatives, to select four themes that Global Maker Challenge submissions must follow. This cohort’s themes are (1) Sustainable and Healthy Food for All, (2) Climate Change, (3) Innovation for Inclusive Trade and (4) Innovation for Peace and Justice. Nearly 3,400 participants submitted cutting-edge ideas — including web and mobile applications, machine learning algorithms, artificial intelligence and cloud-based solutions.

The Finalists

In the end, 20 finalists (five from each section) were chosen by a select group of experts from U.N. agencies, global organizations, digital innovation companies, NGOs and academia. The final projects selected stood out among the rest because they were both affordable and scalable — two characteristics that are critical when working with disadvantaged communities. Limited infrastructure and resources  are often some of the greatest challenges that must be overcome.

Category Objectives and Finalist List

  1. Sustainable and Healthy Food for All: Ideas submitted to this category aim to address issues regarding access to sustainable and nutritious food among growing urban populations, as well as reducing hunger and malnutrition. Finalists presented solutions for storing fresh produce and extending the shelf life of foods. Finalists accomplished this using temperature control hubs and sustainable packaging that reduces waste. Another finalist introduced an idea for a social enterprise that makes affordable and nutritious food more accessible to low-income communities.
  2. Climate Change: Contestants focused on promoting sustainability and efficient resource use to lower carbon emission and eliminate waste. Several finalists addressed the textile industry and how to make its materials more sustainable. Submissions included technologies to create biodegradable textiles from plant-based materials, upcycled plastic and ethical sourcing. Other projects addressed the issue of climate change in different ways, such as generating electricity from wastewater and creating a circulation system to convert compost into fertilizer.
  3. Innovation for Inclusive Trade: This category aims to increase the market inclusivity of rural populations to promote global, economic growth. Finalists introduced several digital platforms that provide access to financial literacy tools and empower small business owners. Ideas included an application providing financial tools and market information to emerging enterprises. Also, platforms for connecting rural farmers to international markets and mapping tools — which increase the visibility of small retailers.
  4. Innovation for Peace and Justice: Contestants provided solutions for displaced populations and refugees seeking essential services and resources. Several finalists focused on making education more accessible. Ideas included virtual reality classrooms for students in underserved communities. Also, technology training and legal services for residents of refugee camps and solar-powered learning hubs. Other finalists presented solutions for improving the quality of life of displaced populations, such as user-managed identification and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) learning technology and games.

Final Pitch

Finalists will present their solutions in a series of virtual pitches, starting in late August 2020 and commencing in early September of the same year — during the Global Maker Challenge Award Ceremony. Prizes include project funding and mentorship worth up to $1 million.

Seeing the Big Picture

The second cohort of the Global Maker Challenge comes at a critical time. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable groups lack humanitarian aid, social protection and stimulus packages. Unless action is taken, as many as 50 million people could fall into extreme poverty, as a result of the pandemic. Innovation and collaboration are powerful tools for developing solutions to unprecedented challenges. Today’s entrepreneurs and designers provide hope for overcoming setbacks caused by the pandemic and maintaining progress towards the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Sylvie Antal
Photo: Flickr

feed hungry children in AfricaDuring the early weeks of the pandemic, many Americans were buying extra items that were hard to find in grocery stores, such as toilet paper, paper towels, rice and cleaning supplies. Now that supplies are back on the shelves, using those items can help feed hungry children in Africa.

Grocery Shoppers Are Stockpiling

According to a survey conducted between March 13 and 15, 2020 among American grocery shoppers, 54% said that they had stockpiled supplies that would last them for two weeks. Almost one-fifth of the shoppers purchased items that would last between three and four weeks, while 20% stockpiled enough for one week, and 7% were supplied for over a month.

Toilet paper was not the only item being hoarded. This spring, worried consumers bought staples such as rice and pasta in record numbers. But does a family really need that second oversized bag of rice gathering dust on the pantry shelf? Statistics show that many people in the United States were over-supplying their pantries. For example, a five-pound bag of rice equals about 13 six-ounce servings, which would feed two people for almost a week if each person ate a serving of rice every single day. Similarly, five pounds of uncooked pasta is equivalent to 13 servings, which feeds two people each a serving of pasta every day for about a week. Instead of stockpiling and letting these items linger on the shelf until their expiration dates, it makes sense for people to use just five pounds each of rice and pasta per week. Doing so could save close to $20 at the grocery store.

Now that supplies such as toilet paper are back on the shelves, families can also use stockpiled paper goods regularly instead of storing them indefinitely in the closet. By not buying two 12-roll packages of toilet paper this month, and instead using the rolls already in the closet, a family could save around $25. This amount could feed a child in Africa for an entire month, according to the World Food Program.

Feed Hungry Children in Africa for an Entire Month

If a family also uses the package of paper towels sitting in the pantry instead of buying a new package, they would save around $20, which would feed a child in Africa for another three weeks. And using the extra cleaning supplies that are stashed under the sink — such as laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, hand soap and spray cleaners — could save another $25, which would feed yet another child for one month. To sum up: dusting off and using just a few stockpiled paper goods, cleaning supplies and five pounds each of rice and pasta could cut around $90 from the next grocery bill. According to the World Food Program, $15 could feed a hungry child in Africa for one month. With the savings gained simply from using these items and not buying new ones, a person or family could feed six hungry children in Africa for an entire month.

The Pandemic Increased Global Hunger

The global need for aid is greater than ever. Prior to the pandemic, around 149 million people suffered from extreme hunger, but as the coronavirus spreads, that number could reach 270 million by December 2020. According to the World Bank, the prevalence of undernourishment in Zambia’s population is over 46%. This means that almost half of all people in Zambia do not have enough to eat. In the Republic of the Congo, 40.4% of people are hungry, while the same is true for 29.4% of Kenyans and 13.4% of Nigerians.

In addition, South Sudan has declared a famine, with an estimated one million children acutely malnourished. As of March 2020, South Sudan is one of the most food-insecure countries in the world, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Around 6.5 million people, or about 51% of its entire population, could face acute food insecurity and require urgent food assistance this year. The need to feed hungry children in Africa has never been more pressing.

Easily Save $90 and Give

Again, simply clearing out those crowded pantries and kitchen shelves and using the stockpiled items could save around $90 in one month. What to do with the savings? Why not simply cross those stockpiled items off of this week’s grocery list and donate the money? The pantry shelves will be less crammed — and that is a good feeling, along with the knowledge that using these stored items has helped to feed hungry children in Africa.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

hunger in kazakhstanKazakhstan has made great strides in reducing hunger levels within its borders. In the 1920s, the country experienced a famine that led to up to 33% of the Kazakh population dying. The country experienced another famine in the 1930s, during which up to 1.5 million people died. Today, Kazakhstan has put forward a tremendous effort in reducing hunger to a very low hunger level. The country ranks 20th out of 117 qualifying countries, behind nations such as Uruguay, Bulgaria and Chile. Less than 2.5% of children experience undernourishment, and Kazakhstan boasts an under-5 mortality rate due to hunger of 1%. However, even with low hunger levels, efforts to reduce hunger in Kazakhstan remain steady. Without reducing hunger levels, children’s growth can be stunted and malnourishment can cause future health problems, something the country has been trying to avoid following its post-Soviet rule.

Hunger in Kazakhstan: A New Food Crisis

While hunger in Kazakhstan has largely been eliminated, the country is taking a new approach to food accessibility and education. Now, the types of foods that Kazakhs are eating are not as nutritious as they could be. Almost 20% of children from ages six to nine are overweight, and only about one in three children consume fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. These eating habits are due in part to cultural practices of Kazakhs, as many come from nomadic cultures where food, mainly meat, had to be preserved with high levels of salt. This practice continues today, and both traditional and commercially produced food has extremely high levels of salt. The average salt intake in Kazakhstan has reached almost 17 grams a day, four times the WHO recommended daily limit. This makes Kazakhstan’s salt intake the highest in the world. Additionally, many Kazakh foods contain very high levels of trans fatty acids, which often connect with higher blood pressure, obesity, a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Without regulating and changing the food industries to guide consumers toward healthier options, Kazakhstan will be looking at increased medical costs for rising health issues related to nutrition.

Looking Forward to Solutions

To find solutions, Kazakhstan will need to include both healthy marketing techniques as well as provide more options for fresh fruits and vegetables. While it will be difficult to change traditional methods of food preparation, by including more fresh produce in food preparation Kazakhs can begin to reduce their salt and trans fatty acid intake, significantly improving their health. Additionally, while current levels of hunger in Kazakhstan are low, the coronavirus has impacted food prices and availability. Since January 2020, the costs of food have increased to be 11.3 % higher than they were in 2019. Global trade has been limited due to health and safety concerns, and since agriculture in Kazakhstan takes up a small percentage of its economy, accessing fresh produce during the pandemic has been difficult.

The country is making great strides toward reducing hunger in Kazakhstan and the effects of malnourishment within its borders. However, without an approach toward making healthy food accessible and informing citizens of healthy food practices, Kazakhstan is likely to see a rise in health concerns due to obesity and other non-communicable diseases. This process will take a coordinated effort from multiple areas of Kazakh society, but if Kazakhstan is successful in reducing obesity, the country will be well on its way to a full recovery from its history.

Julia Canzano
Photo: Pixabay

hunger in turkmenistanThis time last year, the London-based Foreign Policy Centre reported that Turkmenistan was “a country teetering on the edge of catastrophe.” An economic crisis has exacerbated hunger in Turkmenistan. Additionally, Human Rights Watch calls Turkmenistan “an isolated and repressive country.” Without freedom of speech or information, the authoritarian government leaves no room for economic autonomy, thus resulting in hunger among citizens.

Economic Crisis and Hunger in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan sits on 9.9% of the world’s gas reserves, with 19.5 trillion cubic meters. Statistics like these attract foreign investors, which in theory should boost the nation’s economy. However, in 2019 Turkmenistan entered its worst economic crisis since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The state heavily controls the economy, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) lists Turkmenistan as the “least competitive economy among the EBRDS’s countries of operations,” meaning that economic autonomy is essentially nonexistent. The Foreign Policy Centre’s report labeled Turkmenistan’s economy as a “Potemkin economy,” meaning its public record of ordinary, satisfactory GDP figures — a result of strictly regulated state companies — hides a crumbling economy.

In 2018, a video of a Turkmen student cutting up his debit card, salting it and cooking it for dinner circulated around media sites. The student, who was studying abroad in Ukraine, spoke on the matter, saying that “the [bank] cards stopped working and, as a result, I’ve lost 15 kilograms.” While the banks never released explanations, economists suggest that the debit card failures may be a result of Turkmenistan’s active black market. Officially, the exchange rate is three and a half Turkmen manats to one U.S. dollar. But the black-market rate is closer to 22 manats to one U.S. dollar. The government would lose large sums of money with students trying to withdraw from their banks in foreign countries.

The Turkmen government lacks transparency about its crop supply as well; in 2018, Deputy Chairman Esenmyrat Orazgeldiev released data stating that Turkmenistan had overshot its yearly harvest goal, and had harvested 1.099 million tons of cotton. However, reports from the Agriculture and Water Resources Ministry and the International Cotton Advisory Committee said that the country had harvested between 300 and 450 thousand tons. A similar inconsistency in reports occurred for the wheat harvest. These economic and agricultural struggles have led to widespread hunger in Turkmenistan, particularly in the form of major food shortages across the country.

Food Shortages

For the past three years, hunger in Turkmenistan has resulted from dire food shortages. The Diplomat conducted an interview with Turkmen “activist-in-exile” Fareed Tukhbatullin in 2018, and Tukhbatullin recalled fights breaking out among citizens waiting to purchase necessities such as bread, flour, vegetable oil and eggs, all of which are in short supply despite being government-regulated foods. Inflation and the disparity between the official manat’s value and the black-market manat’s value have made importing ingredients and farming equipment nearly impossible. In the interview, Tukhbatullin emphasized that there are no official news coverings or statistics released in Turkmenistan about this crisis, but he estimated that 60% of the population is unemployed and living with food insecurity. Last month, Turkmenistan increased its regulation of subsidized foods by enforcing the use of registration books by individual households. Families are instructed to bring their books, which have a certificate containing their address and the number of people in their household, to food stores, where their purchases will be documented.

Foreign Aid Reducing Hunger in Turkmenistan

Currently, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working to stabilize Turkmenistan’s economy and strengthen its international connection around Central and South Asia. USAID also provides assistance to dairy and meat-producing livestock farmers to keep their livestock healthy, and it works to connect the farmers to local and international markets. In July 2020, USAID announced the launch of its hotline for Turkmen farmers. The hotline is accessible over email and telephone, and it offers necessary advice on the exportation of goods to foreign markets. USAID claims that this extra support will help the Turkmen farmers “maximize their revenues, stabilize seasonal sales, and expand the markets for quality Turkmen products.” USAID also worked between 2010 and 2019 to introduce Turkmenistan into the International Financial Reporting Standards, which allows the country more access to the global economy.

Turkmenistan has not known peace or stability since its independence in 1991. Inflation, food shortages and disconnect from the rest of the world have plagued the country for almost 30 years, and government officials worry that this instability will soon lead to catastrophe. Helping the citizens of a highly isolated country is extremely difficult, but organizations like USAID are doing what they can to end hunger in Turkmenistan.

— Anya Chung
Photo: Flickr

hunger in PolandHunger and malnutrition continue to pose a huge threat to millions of individuals across the globe. Many do not think of Poland when it comes to hunger, but that doesn’t mean hunger doesn’t exist in the country. While thankfully the percent of individuals who suffer from hunger is rather low, a majority of those who do suffer from hunger and malnutrition are children. Here are five facts about hunger in Poland.

5 Facts About Hunger in Poland

  1. The percent of individuals in Poland living in hunger has been stagnant since 2000. As of 2017, Poland has seen 2.5% of its population living in hunger. While this is a huge feat on its own, this percent has not increased since 2000–Poland has had only 2.5% of its population live in hunger for almost two decades. This ranks Poland among countries with the lowest hunger rates.
  2.  Almost 120,000 children in Poland go to school hungry, according to a Polish foundation called A Piece of Heaven. By not having proper nourishment, students’ ability to perform well in both educational and extracurricular activities can be affected. Luckily, organizations such as A Piece of Heaven are dedicated to help improve the nutrition of Polish children. Most specifically, the organizations help children dealing with sickness and or living in poverty. Through their work, A Piece of Heaven has helped 150,000 individuals.
  3. 170,000 children in Poland suffer from malnutrition. While hunger may not be a large risk, malnutrition has affected Polish children at a higher rate. Malnutrition often poses a problem in rural areas of Poland, where poverty levels are higher. Because their families face financial afflictions, oftentimes nutritious food and resources are more difficult to acquire. Malnutrition in childhood can cause developmental irregularities in the central nervous system, struggles with mental health and underweight body mass.
  4. Much of the hunger in Poland is due to poverty. While of course poverty and hunger are not directly connected, Warsaw’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetic with Clinic of Metabolic Diseases and Gastroenterology has estimated that much of Poland’s hunger is due to poverty. They also suggest that poverty not only affects rates of hunger, but also malnutrition. Those living below the poverty line have limited access to more nutritionally balanced food with a higher price tag.
  5. 23,000 children living in Warsaw suffer from starvation. While Poland does have one of the lowest rates of hunger in the world, A Piece of Heaven estimates that tens of thousands of children go hungry each day in the nation’s capital. Because hunger in Poland does not pose a large issue in a global light, many are unaware of this tragic reality. Many of these children are living in poverty, though, and have little to no food with nutritional value.

While Poland has made great efforts to keep the percentage of individuals living in hunger down, there is more to be done. This is especially true for children living in poor, rural areas. Through help from organizations bringing food to malnourished and hungry children, hopefully Poland’s hunger rate that has stayed stagnant for so long can now begin to decrease even more.

Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr