hunger in benin
Benin is a small West African nation west of Nigeria with a population of approximately nine million. Although it has one of the most stable democracies in Africa, it is still one of the poorest nations in the world.

As part of the Sahel region, where “ongoing conflicts and recurring droughts” make food insecurity even worse, many people in Benin go hungry each day.

In February, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations asked for $116 million for the 75 million vulnerable people in the Sahel, but less than 14 percent has been received since then.

“If we are going to break out of this cycle of chronic crises across the Sahel region, emergency assistance to vulnerable farmers and pastoralists has to be considered a top priority,” said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel Robert Piper. “The best way to reduce tomorrow’s emergency case-load is to help households protect their assets today.”

Droughts, floods and financial conditions have damaged the country’s nutritional situation in the most vulnerable parts of the country. Recently, low rainfall has contributed to the significant shortage of food causing hunger in Benin. One of the causes of malnutrition is Benin‘s weak agricultural system. The system has structural problems, including, according to the World Food Programme, “a lack of modern farming technologies, poor soil condition, and weak post-harvest infrastructure (storage, preservation, processing, etc.).”

A survey conducted by the Benin government in 2011 found that 33.6 percent of Benin households are food insecure. Additionally, the 2012 Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey showed that 16 percent of Benin children suffer from acute malnutrition and 44.6 percent of Benin children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

The Hunger Project, which has been working in Benin since 1997, has been working to provide the people of Benin with their basic needs. To combat poverty, The Hunger Project has established food banks at the epicenter of Benin and in villages in hopes that the communities can be food secure in the event of a shortage.

Kimmi Ligh

Sources: World Food Programme, The Guardian
Photo: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Hunger in Asia
Hunger is a serious global issue that affects millions in developing countries, and hunger in Asia is particularly devastating. According to the World Food Programme, there are 842 million people suffering from hunger across the world, and 98 percent of that total amount lives in developing areas within Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

As the largest and most populous continent, Asia is home to approximately 4.427 billion people. Unfortunately, a large amount of that population suffers from hunger.


Top Facts about Hunger in Asia


1.  Asia has the largest number of hungry people, with more than 500 million suffering.

2. About 62.4 percent of global hunger exists in both Asia and the South Pacific.

3. More than 20 percent of Asian children are underweight, meaning they are too thin for their age, and more than 70 percent of malnourished children live in Asia.

4. The lack of essential vitamins and minerals in one’s diet is a leading cause of hunger and malnutrition. Both Asia and Africa are iodine deficient areas. Iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) greatly impact the mental and cognitive development of children, and if pregnant women do not receive the proper amount of iodine, there is a greater chance the pregnancy will result in abortion, stillbirth and congenital abnormalities.

5. About 75 percent of all those suffering from hunger live in rural areas, and a large majority of them live in the villages of Asia and Africa.

6. Out of the 553 million malnourished people living in Asia, six out of ten live in South Asia and eight out of ten are malnourished children living in those areas.

7. The poor and hungry in Asia face difficulties as the demand for food increases while water and land resources decrease, causing food prices to rise. If these food prices did not rise during the 2000s, approximately 112 million people in Asia could have escaped poverty.

However, there is some good news and socio-economic progress in Asia:

8. The 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI) score for South Asia decreased by 34 percent when compared to the 1990 score.

9. Although 553 million people are still hungry in Asia, this represents a 30 percent decrease from the previous 739 million hungry people. Malnourishment has also decreased from 23.7 to 13.9 percent.

10. The U.N. launched the Zero Hunger Challenge on April 29, 2013, which has led governments, scientists, businesses, civil societies, farmers and consumers to work together to end poverty and hunger in Asia and the Pacific. To achieve this goal, the Zero Hunger Challenge outlined five objectives: ensure everyone always has access to nutritious foods, end childhood stunting, develop sustainable food systems, increase the productivity and income of small farmers and prevent the loss and wasting of food.

As these facts reveal, too many people across the world still suffer from hunger. Like in any other country, hunger in Asia affects the development of entire societies and communities.

Meghan Orner

Sources: World Food Programme, International Food Policy Research Institute, Asian Development Bank 1, Asian Development Bank 2, Hunger Notes, UN News Centre
Photo: WSJ

food waste
We all know that wasting food is wrong, but do we ever stop to think how this careless act directly impacts those who are less fortunate? The U.N.’s Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) recently revealed that almost one-third of all the food produced in the world is either lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems—food that could have fed the hungry.

According to the U.N., 842 million people suffer from the effects of hunger globally, and using the UNEP and WRI’s estimates, the one-third of the world’s food wasted could equal up to 1,520 calories for each hungry person in developing countries where malnourishment is widespread.

There is also a moral imperative involved in resolving this issue as the President of the World Bank Group Jim Yong Kim points out, “Millions of people around the world go to bed hungry every night, and yet millions of tons of food end up in trash cans or spoiled on the way to market. We have to tackle this problem in every country in order to improve food security and to end poverty.”

What people may not realize is that food waste unfortunately occurs in both industrialized and developing countries. In industrialized countries, food waste is typically caused by consumers buying too much food and being too concerned with the food’s appearance.

While the problem itself is the same in developing countries, food waste in these countries is caused by the lack of technology, harvesting techniques, post-harvest management and even marketing methods. Insect infestations and high temperatures also affect the quality of food products. For example, at least a quarter of the crops grown are wasted in Africa, where 65 percent of the labor force completes agricultural work.

The environment is also negatively affected by food waste as fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals are wasted while the rotting food creates more methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that is one of the greatest contributors to climate change.

Many are also fearful of the effect the growing population will have on the availability of food after the Pew Research Center revealed that 9.6 billion people are expected to populate the world in 2050, emphasizing the importance of future food security.

As a global issue, many campaigns such as Think.Eat.Save. are now focusing on ensuring food security and reducing the amount of food wasted. A campaign of the Save Food Initiative, Think.Eat.Save works to alleviate the negative humanitarian, environmental and financial effects food waste has on both developed and developing countries.

As the organization’s name suggests, we can all do our part in ensuring that we are not wasting food by following these three simple steps:

1. Think. Planning meals and creating a grocery list before shopping is a great way to ensure that you’re only buying what you will eat.

2. Eat. Be mindful of what you eat, and save time and money by eating food out of the fridge first.

3. Save. Freeze produce so it stays fresh longer and don’t forget to make the most of leftovers.

Food wasting is a serious global issue that affects millions, but through these simple steps we can all do our part in reducing our “foodprint.”

– Meghan Orner

Sources: World Bank, World Bank 2, U.N. Environment Programme, U.N. Regional Information Centre for Western Europe, United Nations, Pew Research Center, Global Issues, Society of St. Andrew, Think. Eat. Save
Photo: World Food Day USA

dietary supplements
It is no surprise that a world of nearly seven billion people produces imbalances. One of the planet’s many documented inequalities concerns the fight against malnutrition.

Globally, malnutrition affects nearly two billion people. Malnutrition is sometimes referred to as “hidden hunger.” While those suffering from malnutrition may receive enough food, they do not obtain enough micronutrients and minerals.

The German NGO Welthungerhilfe and child aid network Terre des Hommes published a report in July 2014 addressing the potential for fortified food to combat this problem. The report highlights the ongoing debate among the private sector, the government and the food industry as to whether food fortification is a mere “techno-fix” or a potential solution in the fight against hidden hunger.

According to the report, it is possible, albeit challenging, to provide populations with enhanced or fortified foods.

“Mass fortification is the preferred approach when a majority of the population is at risk of a particular nutrient deficiency, whereas targeted fortification is designed for defined population subgroups,” states the report.

Yet a sustained reliance upon enhanced foodstuffs could result in natural nutritional practices becoming obsolete. For example, breastfeeding allows infants to receive a host of nutrients via a mother’s breast milk. Health experts have warned that forgoing such practices for nonstandard approaches could prove costly.

Welthungerhilfe secretary general Wolfgang Jamann noted that parts of Africa place a rather significant reliance upon corn porridge. While those who consume the product may not necessarily be starving, such a diet restricts them from the necessary vitamins and minerals to sustain a healthy life. In Asian countries, where rice is a popular food, a lack of Vitamin A can lead to numerous health issues.

Though such dietary supplements may provide a possible antidote to the nutritional issue affecting impoverished people worldwide, it is likely not a long term solution. Health experts continue to believe a balanced diet holds the key to remedying the issue of hidden hunger.

The authors of the report noted that fortification programs should “be implemented together with poverty reduction initiatives and other agricultural, health, education and social intervention strategies that promote the consumption and utilization of adequate quantities of nutritious foods. Otherwise, they risk ending up as a short-term technical fix to the multi-faceted problem of hidden hunger.”

Though obtaining such a diet may prove difficult for many, it is most likely a more sustainable, safer and healthier option.

Ethan Safran

Sources: allAfrica, Micronutrient Initiative, Welthungerhilfe
Photo: JHSPH Open

According to a United Nations report released on July 27, malnutrition in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has reached alarming numbers.

Aid agencies in the region are incapable of meeting the needs of 350,000 malnourished people due to insufficient funds, recent drought and conflict.

The Somali government is comparing the crisis to a 2011 famine that killed approximately 260,000 people.

“Alarming rates of malnutrition have been observed among displaced communities in Mogadishu,” said the report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released over the weekend.

Somalia’s malnutrition rates actually hit a low point just last year, after the rebuilding and humanitarian aid  that followed the 2011 famine. Today, nearly one-third of Somalia’s population is considered “stressed,” meaning their food security remains fragile. Citizens in this classification struggle to meet minimal food requirements for their families and remain vulnerable in times of famine or environmental crises that may result in more food insecurity.

As of last year, more than 200,000 children under the age of 5 were malnourished. Many impoverished families in Somalia rely on cereal stocks and crops which suffer tremendously when the nation experiences periods of very little rain. Many poor households choose to use their incomes to purchase water during dry seasons, which means children and other members of these households become more malnourished during droughts.

The U.N. in part blames the unstable, impoverished conditions in Somalia caused by decades of fighting and conflict in the country. Most recently, Al Shabaab rebels, who look to topple the Western-backed government of Somalia and impose their own strict Islamic laws, staged a series of attacks in Mogadishu during the month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

Because of this continuing conflict and the recent drought, the report said that food shortages were expected to worsen in the south and southeast of the country.

“The humanitarian community is mobilizing resources to address the serious situation, but the significant shortfall in funding for humanitarian activities has undermined the capacity to respond,” said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report regarding the recent crisis in Mogadishu.

Earlier this year, after the Al Shebaab rebel attacks, African Union forces launched a new campaign to drive the militants out of Somali towns and cities. Many citizens fled their homes during outbreaks of fighting. One major obstacle for aid organizations and convoys is reaching newly retaken towns with supplies and food for the malnourished.

The U.N. has allocated approximately $21 million in emergency funds to support humanitarian aid and rebuilding in Somalia. They have also allotted some funding to fight a recent outbreak of measles in the country.

OCHA estimates that it will need around $933 million for relief work this year. The money will pay for food, health care services and basic education for children.

– Paige Frazier 

Sources: Reuters, The Daily Star, Relief Web
Photo: Disasters Emergency Committee

land grabbing
New research estimates that land grabbed in impoverished areas by wealthy countries and large corporations has the potential to feed up to 550 million people. Close to 80 million of acres of quality land in developing countries have been sold or rented to foreign investors since the year 2000, and this number is set to climb even higher in coming years.

With rising food prices comes an increased demand for cheap land, and this is exactly what has been happening since 2008 when global food prices tripled. Latin America, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing the most land grabbing. Wealthier countries lacking access to stable food sources buy up cheap plots in these areas, where they cultivate food to be shipped back to their domestic populations.

Many foreign investors are also buying up inexpensive land abroad in order to cultivate plants to be used in the production of biofuel. Huge swaths of land in Gabon, Zimbabwe and Malaysia have been bought up in large scale land grabs, displacing many small farmers and eliminating the food supply of surrounding areas. No policies exist to limit crop export, leaving local food sovereignty dismantled.

Professor Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano in Italy declares that “policymakers need to be aware that if this food were used to feed the local populations it would be sufficient to abate malnourishment in each of these countries, even without investments aiming [increase] yields.”

In many developing countries, especially throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, governments own much of the land. They see these territories as unused and empty, even though local communities may have been cultivating a livelihood there for many generations. Leasing and selling this land is easy money for governments.

Looking past the negatives of land grabbing, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank have pointed out the developmental opportunities provided by this huge level of investment. They propose that the influx of technology and experience could help move local farmers in a better direction, and that improved infrastructure typically accompanies foreign investment. Instead of condemning land grabbing, these international organizations are asking that governments and investors be more inclusive of the voices of local farmers in their land deals.

These voluntary guidelines, however, offer no real protection to locals or accountability structures to the big actors of the buying and selling. Hannah Stoddart, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam, observes that “the world already produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight people go to bed hungry every night … Stronger land rights are crucial to ensure that affected communities do not lose out.”

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, New Scientist
Photo: Farm Land Grab

hungriest countries
Today, there are over 870 million people in the world who are hungry. The World Food Programme estimated that 98 percent of these individuals live in developing countries that actually produce the majority of the world’s food supplies.

There are nineteen countries that the Global Hunger Index name as having “alarming levels of hunger.” However, there are three countries in particular that top the list — the three hungriest countries — harboring the greatest number of people suffering from hunger.

This Index takes into account three main indicators: the proportion of the population that is undernourished, the proportion of young children who are underweight, and the mortality rate for children under five years old.

The first is Burundi, with 73.4 percent of its population undernourished. Over 50 percent of Burundi’s population of 9.85 million live below the poverty line and nearly 35 percent of the adult population are completely out of work.

The second is Comoros, with 70 percent of its people undernourished. Comoros, a collection of three small islands off the coast of Mozambique, has a population of only 800,000. However, half of this small population lives below the country’s low poverty line.

The third is Eritrea, with 65.4 percent of its population undernourished. The country is located at the horn of Africa, and although it has experienced significant economic growth in recent years, no progress has been seen when it comes to the country’s dire hunger crisis.

Why are these countries struggling? Severe hunger in many of these regions is a product of immense political strife, economic turmoil, violent conflict, as well as other particular circumstances.

For example, although the amount of underweight children in Burundi has decreased within the past decade, 15 years of civil war has plagued the nation with extreme poverty, which reflects directly on the nation’s economic and nutritional well-being. Nearly 58 percent of Burundians remain chronically malnourished.

Comoros has also experienced immense violence in the form of nearly 20 attempted and successful coups since gaining independence in 1975. Eritrea has lived through intense political isolation under President Isaias Afewerki, who led the country in a 30-year war with Ethiopia.

Regardless of the causes, more action is needed to alleviate the suffering of these 870 million starving people, and especially in the three hungriest countries. The international community is beginning to focus greatly on prevention of future food crises in addition to responding to the current one. Dominic MacSorley of the organization Concern stressed that, “Aid agencies, governments and international organizations need to learn lessons from the past and boost future protection measures to reduce the impact of extreme weather events and other hazards on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

– Cambria Arvizo

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, All Africa, Ecointersect, Global Citizen
Photo: Action Against Hunger

agriculturally rich guatemala
The rural highlands are remarkably colorful in agriculturally rich Guatemala, providing a stunning view from afar. The visible beauty of pastoral Guatemala is undeniable, but a closer look into the Mayan communities that reside in the mountainous countryside reveals the equally undeniable issue of poverty, and the visible malnourishment of its inhabitants.

Despite the abundance of surrounding vegetation, up to 80 percent of children residing in the countryside are extremely undernourished and around half of all children in Guatemala fall into this category. Many of the families effected are farmers, but find it more beneficial to sell their harvest than eat it themselves. In this agricultural paradox, the vegetables grown in rural Guatemala hardly reach the plates of the natives. Instead, they are exported to the United States, Europe and other parts of Central America for a higher sale price that still manages to provide meager wages for the produce growers. For instance, the farmers in the farming village of Pammus live on only $3.42 per day.

Lack of funds makes it difficult for villagers to provide their family with nutrient-rich foods. “The fundamental diet here is basically corn and coffee. Maybe once, twice or three times a week beans,” said Arnulfo Alvarez, a local doctor in Pammus. “There is a shortage of proteins and vitamins and a shortage of some minerals that are fundamental in the development of a child’s growth, especially in the first five years of its life.”

Many children in Guatemala will benefit from adopting a rich, diverse diet, but will not be able to undo the lifelong effects of malnourishment from an early age. New developments focus on children 1,000 days old or younger, which is a make-or-break period in childhood development. The repercussions of malnourishment in Guatemalan children have been shown to include lower IQ scores, and increased likelihood for heart disease, diabetes, kidney damage and anemia into adulthood.

The most notable symptom of prolonged malnourishment in rural Guatemala is the significantly shorter average height of the Mayans. What has been chalked up to genetics until recently is now understood, at least partially, as the result of insufficient nutrients consumed during early stages of childhood development. Stunting is a clear indicator of malnutrition in Guatemala, indicated by the fact that Mayans over the border in Mexico are taller than their southern cousins.

The problem is also saturated by a lack of education; two years ago, most rural parents did not even understand the concept of malnutrition. New educational programs enlist mothers of small children in classes that teach about food health and track the health of infant children.

Guatemala ranks the highest gross domestic product in all of Central America, but lands in sixth place among chronic malnourishment rates worldwide. While Guatemala is rich enough to tackle the issue on its own, less fortunate Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Brazil have successfully reduced child malnutrition rates with fewer resources. The government and aid donors are currently sending supplies to around 300,000 people in Guatemala but an additional 400,000 people require assistance as well.

The government has taken creative steps to humanize the issue and gain a better understanding of the lifestyles of those most in need. Efforts include community outreach and visits to rural villages. One instance even involved numerous government officials spending the night in a rural hut, an event that is still discussed today, two years later.

The Guatemalan government has adopted a zero-hunger policy but has been long criticized for its failure to provide for all of its citizens. The response has been slow, but the issue is complicated by factors stemming back to the country’s mid-century civil unrest. Democracy came to the nation over time as well as a booming economy. However, improved social conditions remained mostly limited to expanding urban scenes while citizens on the country’s fringe were left behind.

There is extreme inequality in Guatemala and the government fails to collect enough taxes from wealthy citizens to provide for the poor. Reformed policies are coming into effect, but they are slow. The government only plans to reduce malnourishment by 10 percent by the end of 2015.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: DW, The Economist, PBS
Photo: PBS

hunger in malawi
It will prove to be (and has already been) a tough year for one of the poorest countries in the world, as more than 1.5 million people in Malawi will experience the adverse effects of food insecurity. Rural and refugee households are most at risk of the hunger and malnutrition caused by the alternating periods of drought flooding that periodically sweep through this landlocked African nation. Of Malawians, 90 percent live on less than the equivalent of U.S. $2 per day; this extreme poverty compounded by other social troubles such as rampant disease and a high illiteracy rate make hunger hard a difficult problem to fight.

It’s a problem that needs to be fought, though, and many aid organizations have turned their focus to Malawi since 2002, the year the country’s maize production decreased by nearly half. Malawi’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture and its primary crop is the grain plant, whose stalks grow in fields across Malawi. In 2002, though, budgetary cuts recommended by the International Monetary Fund forced the government to eliminate their seed and fertilizer distribution programs. The maize harvest has not yet recovered.

Though the feeding programs established in Malawi have the short-term goal of reducing hunger wherever it occurs in a nation of more than 16 million people, humanitarian organizations also aim to collaborate with the Malawian government to rebuild the country’s agricultural sector in a sustainable fashion. Efforts to achieve this goal include reinstalling fertilizer and seed programs, replenishing soil that has been drained of all nutrients after seasons and seasons of overuse, and encouraging farmers to diversify their harvest to include beans and nuts.

Other efforts to reduce hunger in Malawi include global health programs targeting the prevalence of AIDS and malaria in Malawi, as well as successful microfinance initiatives to get local entrepreneurs up and running. The combination of these programs has so far been successful, reducing rates of both hunger and illness. There is much to be done yet, but that fewer people are hungry in Malawi today than they were 10 years ago is promising.

Even more promising? The drive of Malawian farmers, who are determined to bounce back from natural disasters and diversify their fields. In fact, many people in Malawi – not just farmers – are bent on eliminating hunger in their country, so much so that they’ve sparked a movement called “the right to food.” Begun in response to the 2002 fertilizer crisis and subsequent famine, proponents of the movement urge their government to commit to feeding its people. Malawi’s government has now codified its obligation to ending hunger.

If progress continues at this pace, Malawians can expect to enjoy much more food in their stomachs in the coming years.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: Global Post, UNWFP
Photo: CRS

agriculture in togo
The Togolese republic, a strip of land east of Ghana and west of Benin, has a population of 7.3 million. People there are of 37 different tribes. Most speak Ewe or Mina, though a history of French colonialism makes French the official language and the language of commence.

Since declaring independence from France in 1960, Togo has gradually transitioned to democracy. Historically powerful political parties have proved a great challenge — they are reluctant to let go. Human rights abuses (especially within prisons,) capital punishment and a corrupt police force are widely reported.

Still, under the leadership of President Faure Gnassingbe, arbitrary arrest and political persecution have subsided. His own election (2007) and reelection (2010) were considered credible by international observers.

The Togolese economy relies heavily on commercial agriculture. Cocoa, coffee and cotton make up about 40 percent of revenue on exported goods and employ much of the population. Nearly 65 percent of the labor force works in agriculture. Subsistence farming is relied upon by many Togolese, 58.7 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Despite the dominance of agriculture in Togo many still suffer severe hunger. In 2006, almost half the population was underfed. In 2010, 16.5 percent of children under the age of 5 were underweight. Trading Economics reports that undernourished people in Togo have a deficit of nearly 280 kilocalories daily. Why?

The success of a harvest depends on much. In 2007, northern floods destroyed crops and livestock. Malnutrition in the region, among Togo’s poorest, increased significantly. The south was hit the next year with rain that inundated fields and washed away roads. Good weather in Togo is as vital as it is unreliable.

Then there’s the fact that crops need to be planted, and seeds are in short supply. As a whole, Togo has struggled to support a rapidly growing population with increased food production. It has become difficult for rural farmers to access both fertilizers and grains in time for planting.

Fortunately, there has been some, if not extraordinary, international aid in Togo. The World Bank, the United Nations and the World Food Programme all maintain a presence there. Most remarkable, though, is the attitude of the Togolese government. In 2012, President Gnassingbe announced a 1 billion dollar food security investment plan. Ideally, agricultural imports will be reduced while agricultural techniques and conservations expedite production.

The goal is ambitious, but Togo has the capacity for self-sufficiency and a government that cares enough to try for it.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Africa Review, Trading Economics, U.S. Department of State, CIA
Photo: The Guardian