“Grassroots” is a favorite term of WhyHunger, a New York-based nonprofit addressing hunger and poverty in the United States, and worldwide. The organization supports over 8,000 community-based projects that are helping to create “a just food system that provides universal access to nutritious and affordable food.”

WhyHunger was founded in 1975 by musicians Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres in response to rampant hunger in Africa, and elsewhere. The friends decided that their new charity would need to go beyond providing emergency food aid if it were to create a just and sustainable food system. Chapin and Ayres became dedicated to digging deep to the roots of poverty in order to find long-term solutions to the global problem of hunger.

In an open letter, co-founder and current Executive Director Bill Ayres defines WhyHunger’s global mission as “[helping] people to help themselves through food production, job-training programs, nutrition education, community economic development, healthcare, youth programming, leadership development and more.”

WhyHunger brings much-needed publicity and funding to small, community-based organizations that are working hard to chip away at hunger in their communities. This feat is accomplished through WhyHunger’s various programs, including Artists Against Hunger & Poverty.

AAH&P partners with accomplished and rising musical artists to raise funds for outstanding local projects that are fighting hunger. So far, the campaign has funneled close to 10 million dollars into grassroots initiatives.

Some of the artists involved with AAH&P and WhyHunger include Bruce Springsteen, Carlos Santana, Chicago, Brandi Carlile and O.A.R., among many others. WhyHunger connects the management of the different artists to organizations that focus on hunger and poverty in towns near their tour stops. The artists then set aside time during their concerts to speak about the different nonprofits, and to collect donations. Typically the organizations are given the best tickets in the house to auction off, and the artists generally donate to the cause, as well.

“I’ve always said that working with WhyHunger is the perfect antidote to dealing with the whims and challenges of the music industry,” says Jen Chapin, an artist-supporter and longtime board member of WhyHunger. “In the food justice movement, you always get to interact with inspired and intelligent people who are driven by a sense of mission, which is — ahem — not always the case in the music biz.”

Artists Against Hunger & Poverty is a strategic program that utilizes the existing charisma surrounding musical artists to draw in fans and mobilize support for small-scale nonprofits that would otherwise not have access to such large audiences.

WhyHunger has received a four-star rating on Charity Navigator. The nonprofit places a great emphasis on keeping profits at the grassroots level, in community-based nonprofits that are helping eradicate hunger and poverty, person-by-person.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: WhyHunger, American Songwriter, Charity Navigator, AAH&P
Photo: WhyHunger Twitter

how many people go hungry?
Hunger and malnutrition plague millions of people globally, but just how many people go hungry?

Statistics show that 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. The vast majority of these hungry people, about 827 million, live in developing countries, where 14 percent of the population is undernourished. Asia currently has the largest number of hungry people, over 500 million, but it is Sub-Saharan Africa that has the highest prevalence of hunger and malnutrition. One out of six children, 100 million children in developing countries, is underweight. Throughout the world, one in four children’s growth is stunted from malnutrition, particularly in these developing countries. Poor nutrition causes nearly half of deaths under the age of five, totaling 3.1 million children a year.

Since 1990, global hunger has been reduced by more than 34 percent, but roughly one billion men, women, and children are still food-insecure. Since the federal government began Food for Peace in 1954, more than three billion people in over 150 countries have benefited directly from U.S. food aid. An increase in this assistance would make substantial changes throughout the world. WFP calculates that $3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.

The world produces enough calories for every person on earth to eat around 2700 per day for each human. Millions of people go hungry not because food is lacking. Rather, many of these calories are not used to feed humans. One-third is used to feed animals, 5 percent is used in the production of biofuels, and up to a third is simply wasted. The current system in place allows the wealthy half of the planet to eat well while the rest of the world struggles to eat at all.

Many organizations and programs aim to reduce global hunger. Supporting peasant farming is one key factor in this goal, but it is equally important to rein in Western-style culture and the standard the American diet creates.

-Elizabeth Malfaro

Sources: World Food Programme, Bread for the World
Photo: USAID

Everyone knows the feeling of an uncomfortable stomachache. If a person misses a single meal for one reason or another, he or she can feel the effect it has on mood, ability to concentrate and sometimes ability to even think straight. Thus, people try to avoid this feeling as much as possible, but what if one had no other choice but to be hungry?

Unfortunately, this is the reality that millions of people live with every day of their lives. According to the U.N., about 870 million people suffer from hunger, meaning one in eight people are hungry globally. Hunger has serious effects on the entire body, and extreme hunger only serves to continue the cycle of poverty.

Although hunger is normally a feeling associated with the stomach, hunger also directly affects the brain in several ways. Due to the lack of essential nutrients, vitamins, protein and minerals, severe and continuous hunger can inhibit the brain from developing cognitively, socially and emotionally, all of which affect an individual’s ability to read, concentrate, memorize and even speak.

Other key organs are also directly affected by hunger. Impaired vision and other eyesight issues result from a lack of Vitamin A, and the gums and teeth can become damaged due to calcium deficiency. Possibly even worse is the effect that extreme hunger has on the immune system. If the immune system lacks basic vitamins, nutrients and minerals, then it cannot properly defend the body against disease, which is why developing countries are constantly battling a variety of diseases.

As mentioned above, hunger can make it difficult to study and learn, which is why extreme poverty and hunger are often related to a lack of proper education. Especially in developing countries, children who experience hunger from a very young age tend to struggle academically and have a lower IQ when compared to the academic performance of well-nourished children.

Although all children should have access to nourishment, it is critical that newborns and infants receive the necessary nutrients. According to 30 Hour Famine, 70 percent of the brain develops during the first two years of life alone. If young children experience malnourishment, especially during that time frame, the brain could become damaged forever.

The effects of hunger and malnutrition are not only damaging, but can also be irreparable. Aside from a lack of comfort, hunger also causes serious health issues, which is why ensuring that everyone, especially those in developing countries, has access to the necessary nutrients they need to live a long and healthy life is such a critical issue.

– Meghan Orner

Sources: UN, 30 Hour Famine, The 40-Hour Famine
Photo: Poverty Around the World

Genetically Engineered Bananas
Deficiency in Vitamin A causes preventable blindness and an increased chance of disease and death for children across the globe in developing countries. Approximately 250 million preschool-aged children are deficient in Vitamin A. Between 250,000 and 500,000 children become blind every year due to Vitamin A deficiencies and around half of these children die within a year after becoming blind.

Recently, scientists at Queensland University of Technology have been working on genetically engineering a banana that will help prevent deficiencies in Vitamin A.

Genetically modified foods are foods that do not occur naturally but, instead, are created by scientists altering their genetic material. Genetically modified foods have been used to increase food production by making plants larger or making them more resistant to disease. Genetically modified foods could be used to increase the amount of nutrients in food — such as with Vitamin A-concentrated bananas — decreasing food allergies or making foods easier to grow.

While recognizing the advantages to global health that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would offer, many are worried about the possible negative side effects. Critics have noted the lack of research about future health issues that may arise due to the consumption of genetically modified foods. More research over time would be necessary for scientists to weigh their advantages and disadvantages.

These genetically engineered bananas have an increased level of beta-carotene in them. Beta-carotene is then converted to Vitamin A by the body after being ingested.

In the past few years, similar research has been done to create “golden rice”— rice with increased levels of beta-carotene. Critics have also been skeptical about the risks involved with this project.

If the bananas are effective in increasing Vitamin A levels, the scientists will work to begin distributing these genetically engineered bananas in Uganda by 2020 to begin decreasing the rates of Vitamin A deficiency-related diseases, blindness and death.

– Lily Tyson

Sources: The Guardian, HealthLine, PHG Foundation, WHO
Photo: Carnarvon

According to the World Health Organization, 30 million children in Bangladesh and southern India suffer from malnourishment, and in Bangladesh, 40 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth.

A recent study published in Nature, an international weekly journal of science, explores the reason some malnourished children still remain ill even after receiving food. Human stomachs contain bacteria that aid in the absorption and digestion of food. In severely malnourished children, even after they are supplied with food, the necessary forms of bacteria did not return to their systems. Research of doctors from Washington University in Saint Louis suggests that malnutrition greatly damages this process to the extent that it is not able to be adequately repaired.

Dr. Jeffery Gordon from Washington University in Saint Louis Medical School explained to an NBC reporter how he began to analyze this problem. Deciding to focus on the region of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Gordon first ran a series of tests on fecal samples of healthy children from infancy to age 2 in order to get an idea of how the microbial communities should appear. He then ran the same test on 64 malnourished children of the same age as the first group before, both during and after they received food supplements. He split the group in two and provided one with a peanut based food (Plumpy’Nut) and the other with a rice and lentil based food (Khichuri-Halwa) and took fecal samples from the children every month for four months.

Even after the children from both groups began to gain weight, neither group matured normally. Additionally, the children’s microbial communities did not mature normally, either. Dr. Sathish Subramanian, also from Washington University, commented in an interview with the BBC, “the severity of a child’s malnourishment was tied closely with the degree of immaturity of his or her gut microbial community.”

While the exact process that is occurring is still being researched, it is clear, as Dr. Gordon stated in his interview, “We can’t just think about food as a repair item.” His next move is to determine what exactly makes the digestive system livable for the bacteria that aid in food absorption and digestion.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: NBC, BBCNatureWorld Health Organization
Photo: National Geographic

In the ever-evolving global fight against hunger, the World Food Program USA, an ally of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP,) is leading the charge against the humanitarian issue.

With its headquarters in Washington D.C., WFP USA is thought of as the American arm of WFP. While WFP is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger throughout the world, World Food Program USA “builds support for WFP through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States.”

Through its work to connect American businesses, organizations and philanthropists, WFP USA seeks to “transform the lives of hungry people across the planet.” The organization views its relationship with American citizens as key to solving world hunger.  

WFP USA releases an annual report each year detailing the state of hunger throughout the world. Its most recent report noted how the effects of conflicts in certain countries, including Syria, the Philippines, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, destabilize the ability for each nation to combat hunger and food security.

WFP has recently collaborated with such organizations as Yum! Brands, India Charitable Foundation and a bracelet line called The Brave Connection. These collaborations are sought to strengthen ties with different organizations.

Moreover, WFP seeks to alleviate the hardships caused by natural disasters or other emergencies, including a lack of adequate school meals and inadequate food security. The organization also strives to make a difference for women throughout the world.

A non-governmental agency, WFP received over $20 million last year through a combination of grants and fundraising. Both WFP and WFP USA rely upon contributions made by everyday individuals in order to continue to fight against global hunger and its related issues.

Through its relationship with WFP, WFP USA is one of the foremost leaders in the fight against world hunger. By working with businesses large and small and Americans of all socioeconomic classes, WFP USA is able to make an impact worldwide.

— Ethan Safran

Sources: World Food Program 1, World Food Program 2, Franchising, Huff Post
Photo: WFP USA

food riot
Throughout history, food shortages have led to civil unrest. Most notably in recent history, the Global Food Crisis of 2008 spurred an outbreak of food riots around the world. Now, with food prices increasing at the highest rate since 2008, political leaders are concerned that a similar outbreak of food riots may be on its way.

In the beginning of 2014, international food prices rose 4 percent. In the time between January and April, food prices spiked to a level just short of their all-time high in August 2012. The rapid increase is similar to the surge in food prices in 2007 and 2008 that led to so many food riots.

If history repeats itself, the recent food price hikes give government officials adequate reason to worry.

The difficulty with monitoring food riots is that the term is loosely defined. In broad terms, a food riot is some sort of public disturbance raised in response to food’s availability. Interpretations of this definition, however, are as varied as the riots themselves, leading to a great deal of confusion surrounding the topic of food riots.

How severe must the disturbance be to earn the title of a riot? A food riot is generally a violent protest. Participants have been known to harm other citizens or police forces. In return, police forces respond with brutality to control the situation. Some news articles will only cite occasions that have resulted in casualties as food riots.

Other news sources believe that any public response to food-related issues falls in this category. They report even the most peaceful demonstrations as food riots.

Where is the proper balance? How can the media successfully educate the public on these world events without an accepted definition of a riot?

In the wake of recent food pricing inclines, The World Bank has developed a widely accepted definition to guide examinations of these conflicts. Their 2014 Food Price Watch defines a food riot as “a violent, collective unrest leading to a loss of control, bodily harm or damage to property.”

The definition has helped The World Bank determine which episodes in the recent past were actually food riots. A database of food riots between 2007 and 2014 has since been collected, revealing that 51 riots have taken place in 37 countries.

The cause of food riots also prompts confusion. Increasing food prices are not the only cause of riots. In Vietnam, decreasing prices of coffee have resulted in violent outbreaks in the past. A decline in value of major exports can have just as strong of an impact on a nation as unavailability of food and other resources.

The World Bank has also established guidelines for the causes of food riots, saying that they are “motivated by a lack of food availability, accessibility or affordability,” whether directed at the government or other groups.

There are two types of food riots. In a Type 1 incident, the riots are directed at the government. Distress takes its form in public protests outside of government buildings, often in response to rising food prices. It is the most common form of food riot reported in the media because their causes often have international implications.

In a Type 2 episode, rioters demonstrate near food suppliers because they are not politically driven. They attack supply trucks, stores or refugee camps. These riots are more locally focused and occur during times of drastic food shortages.

Defining food riots helps aid organizations determine how to best help areas experiencing food shortages to prevent violent outbreaks. Government officials know how to respond to rising food prices by studying food riots of the past. By alleviating causes of global hunger, aid organizations and government officials can increase peace in underprivileged nations.

– Emily Walthouse

Sources: Food Price Watch, Global Issues, Slate, The World Bank
Photo: NPR

Ranking 182nd on the Human Development Index (the 6th lowest ranking on the planet,) Mali is recognized as one of the most nutritionally unstable and under developed countries in the world. About four in 10 children under the age of 5 are underweight, and one in four people are as well. As a study from 2014 indicates, over 1.5 million people are not sustained by a regular supply of food.

This landlocked country is often afflicted by droughts and insect infestations, which deplete the crops upon which they often rely on for food. While malnutrition in Mali afflicts the entire population, it is the second largest killer of children under the age of 5.

In her intensive ethnographic study of Magnambougou, Mali, “Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa,” however, Dr. Katherine Dettwyler suggests that rather than poverty, a lack of education surrounding nutrition is the main root of malnutrition in infants and young children. It is the mothers’ misunderstanding that it is not simply enough to give children food, but in the early stages of development, it is crucial to distribute the right kinds of food.

On one of her visits to Mali, Dettwyler examined a little girl with kwashiorkor, of which the primary symptom is swelling all over the body and particularly in the abdomen. The disease is a result of protein deficiency combined with a high caloric intake and often appears when the child cannot sustain the same level of protein intake after being weaned.

The mother who summoned Dettwyler called the disease “funu bana,” meaning “swelling sickness,” and believed her daughter caught it from another child. She begged Dettwyler for medicine to cure her daughter despite Dettwyler’s assurance that all her daughter needed was to have a higher quantity of protein slowly introduced to her diet.

Dettwyler also offers an anecdote regarding misconceptions about nutrition that occurred when she brought her young daughter Miranda to Mali. When the two were eating with some of the villagers and Dettwyler gave her piece of chicken to her daughter, she was immediately questioned. One man explained that good food should not be wasted on the young, because they have their whole lives to eat, while the old should be honored because they will soon die. Dettwyler, however, tried to explain that children should be the ones to receive the better food because they need the protein to fuel their growth.

Moreover, a large reason for the high child mortality rate due to malnutrition is because adults often have trouble identifying the signs of malnutrition. In her ethnography, Dettwyler notes that “people simply get used to the way children look. If the typical child is mildly to moderately malnourished, then that becomes the standard… normal is what you’re used to” In addition to providing emergency relief, Dettwyler, along with Action Against Hunger, argue that the key to combating malnutrition in Mali is education, and that teaching Malians how to identify malnourished children will be an enormous step in the process.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: Action Against Hunger, Dancing Skeletons, WFP
Photo: Flickr

poverty in africa
A new report released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) claims the Feed the Future program has bettered the lives of millions of people who suffer from poverty and chronic hunger. In 2013, Feed the Future reached 7 million farmers, teaching them how to achieve a higher crop yield by using new technologies, and provided vital nutrition to 12.5 million malnourished children.

The program, which is the U.S. government’s global health and food security initiative, was established by the Obama Administration in 2010 and aims to reduce extreme poverty and starvation around the world. Feed the Future asserts hunger and poverty are inextricably linked and cyclical, and breaking this cycle will promote global prosperity and stability. Currently, the initiative focuses on 19 countries, which were selected based on level of need, opportunity for partnership, potential for agricultural growth, opportunity for regional synergy and resource availability. These countries are located in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Feed the Future is led by USAID, and works alongside other federal agencies, including such organizations as the Peace Corps, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. African Development Foundation, to achieve its goal of reducing poverty and hunger by at least 20 percent in each area that the program is established.

In order to break the poverty cycle, the program establishes important relationships with impoverished countries to strengthen their agricultural growth, empower women, educate people on proper nutrition and eco-friendly farming and create partnerships between the private sector, civil society and research community. By working on the ground, Feed the Future has made real, tangible progress.

Countries where Feed the Future has achieved the most success are Senegal, Bangladesh and Honduras. In Senegal, dependence on food imports has fallen significantly, specifically in regard to rice. The country’s rice imports have fallen by more than 20 percent and the country has grown enough rice to feed 400,000 Senegalese for one year. In Bangladesh, rice crop yields increased by 20 percent, and in Honduras, horticulture sales increased by 125 percent, which enabled more than 4,300 families to move above the poverty line of $1.25 a day.

In addition to these advancements, Feed the Future has also brought in billions of dollars of fundraising. For agricultural progress in African countries alone, $7 billion in private sector funds were raised. The organization also holds events, such as symposiums and summit meetings, to educate audience members on different branches of the initiative, and meet with world leaders to discuss further advancements of Feed the Future.

According to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Feed the Future is not only “pioneering a new model of development,” but “delivering results that are changing the face of poverty and hunger.” The full progress report released by USAID can be found here.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: All Africa, Feed the Future, The New York Times

Hunger is a persistent problem in communities worldwide. While poor nations face a disproportionate amount of hunger when compared to their wealthier cousins, rich nations are not themselves immune. As the world population continues to rise, hunger fighting strategies become a more urgent need in every country.

Fortunately, scientists, engineers and thinkers are responding with new solutions. Each of these hunger fighting strategies is far-reaching in its scope, but every one of them desires to be achievable, sustainable and profitable. Below are just three of the hunger fighting strategies being suggested as this century’s answer to hunger.

1. Farming Fish

In 2014, approximately half of the fish we consume is caught in the wild, whereas the other half is farmed in a practice called “aquaculture.” In the world’s rivers and oceans, over-fishing is a looming reality, and by 2030, the World Bank predicts that at least 62 percent of the fish we eat will come from aquaculture farms.

Aquaculture is a developing industry in parts of the globe, but with the right resources, fish farming could be an effective tool in fighting hunger in even the poorest places. Fish provide a high-quality source of protein, and when these fish are farmed rather than caught in the wild, that source is also replenishing.

The main goals of aquaculture are to be sustainable, environmentally-friendly and technologically advanced. On the most high-tech fish farms, video surveillance provides a solution to wastage, allowing farmers to better monitor over-feeding and dispense less feed per fish.

Sainsbury’s, a major chain of supermarkets in the U.K., has declared that all of the fish it sells will be produced via aquaculture by 2020. Other companies and countries are taking note.

2. Improving Rice

On May 28, in celebration of World Hunger Day, the web-based journal “GigaScience” announced that it plans to publish the first of the articles produced by the 3000 Rice Genomes Project.

The project, a collaborative mission by the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), aims to go public with the gene sequences of 3000 rice strains. Researchers and farmers alike can delight at this information which will do wonders in fighting hunger.

Sixteen poverty-stricken African and Asian countries have been named the intended beneficiaries of this project, though researchers worldwide will also be able to access the article. The 3000 gene sequences are compiled into 13.4 terabytes of information, all of which can be used in selective breeding programs.

Up until this time, breeders have had to rely on the outward characteristics of rice in order to make their selections. As a result, useless or counter-productive recessive traits — not outwardly visible but apparent in later generations — have slipped through the cracks. With the help of the 3000 Rice Genomes Project, scientists can select for very specific traits, including ones linked to drought resistance, higher yield and more. These improvements will mean more money for farmers and more food for families.

3. Exploring GMOs

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have developed a largely unfounded negative association. Produced by genetic engineering, GMOs are super-crops with high yields and great nutritional values. Most require fewer pesticides than their unmodified versions, and some may even require less water.

The stigma against GMOs developed largely in Europe, where Monsanto, an American company, tried to sell their modified product on European markets. Politicians responded with a terrific resistance to the GMOs, decrying them as “unsafe.” These claims were largely unsubstantiated.

As a result of decades-long campaigns against GMOs, Europeans have spread their fear to other parts of the world, including those most in need of the super-crops. Communities in Asia and Africa are already fighting hunger with the aid of GMOs, but too much pressure from anti-GMO campaigners may threaten their availability.

In order to end world hunger, GMOs must grow in popularity, not decline. Scientists are being called upon to prove the safety of genetically modified organisms, though the stigma against them may be hard to break.

With each of these three hunger fighting strategies, farmers, scientists and consumers can work to lessen world food shortages. With the help of all three, they could even put an end to hunger.

– Patricia Mackey

Sources: Boston Globe, CNBC, Science Codex
Photo: PSMAG