food banks in AfricaAccording to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately 702 to 828 million people worldwide suffered from hunger in 2021, and more than 30% of them were on the African continent. While there are many hunger relief efforts on the continent, food banks are the least prominent or known. There are many reasons for this, including bureaucracy in local governments, lack of funding, poor geographical location and poor infrastructure. Nevertheless, food banks in Africa are increasing in number despite the challenges and are making a significant impact on reducing food insecurity. Some things to know about food banks in Africa include:

Food banks are relatively new to Africa.

While there may be many hunger relief initiatives in Africa with long histories, food banks, especially those formed by local initiatives, did not form before the beginning of the 21st century. The earliest African food banks include the Egyptian Food Bank, founded in 2006, and FoodForward South Africa, founded in 2009.

Food is sourced directly from farmers and processing companies.

Most food waste in Africa comes from post-harvest and food processing levels of food distribution. This is unlike established food banking systems in the U.S. and Europe, which mainly source food waste from restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores and other similar places. Other differences between these established systems and emerging ones in Africa and other parts of the world are challenging what is understood about food banking. As a result, food banking is being reevaluated on its impact on food insecurity.

Food banks expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the number of people in Africa suffering from hunger increased by 46 million; by 2021, 278 million people on the continent faced hunger. New food banks in Africa stepped up to cope with the increase and served 906,026 people, increasing their reach by 169% compared to their impact in 2019. Through the Africa Food Bank Incubator Conference held annually since 2019, African food banks came together virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic to share advice and strategies contributing to their exponential growth.

In 2019, African food banks joined the Global Food Banking Network for the first time.

The Global Food Banking Network is a nonprofit organization supporting food banks worldwide. Except for its partnership with FoodForward South Africa, the organization had no presence in the African continent. In 2019, the organization partnered with 40 food banks in Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar and Botswana to form the Africa Incubator Program.

Food banks are helping food insecurity.

Food banking systems as a means to combat food insecurity and food waste in Africa will continue to mature as the continent continues to develop alongside the refinement of international interdependence. The present challenges to food banking in Africa can therefore be considered an opportunity to test innovative solutions in the fight against food poverty.

– Kena Irungu
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Young Jordanians Who Confront Food Insecurity via InnovationJordan has been experiencing food insecurity challenges due to multiple factors, such as water scarcity and slow economic growth. As a result, many Jordanians struggle to afford food for themselves. Food insecurity is a pervading problem in Jordan because 63% of its population is under 30 years old, a generational issue. However, young Jordanians have discovered new ways to cleverly tackle food insecurity in their country without successful government policies. The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and The World Food Programme (WFP) have recently established the Youth in Food Security Innovation Programme, which gathers young Jordanians who confront food insecurity via innovation.

Food insecurity has become the central issue amongst citizens in the developing world primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine-Russia war and economic decline. This made tackling food insecurity in developing countries more challenging especially given the vulnerability of the governments. Therefore, citizens living in the developing world are compelled to find effective alternative methods to feed themselves, their families and their fellow citizens. The innovations in tackling food insecurity presented by these young Jordanians highlight new ways to reduce hunger quickly. The key is to discover the latest methods and adopt them as official development policy.

The Current Food Insecurity Situation in Jordan

The food insecurity situation in Jordan worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic as it “has affected sustainable development efforts.” On February 28, A U.N. policy brief on Jordan’s food security strategy stated that 53% “of Jordanians are vulnerable to food insecurity” while 3% of Jordan’s households are struggling with food insecurity. Jordan is also facing water scarcity which can heavily impact its agriculture since it absorbs more than 50% of water in order “to produce 45%” of Jordan’s agriculture. The country relies on young Jordanians who confront food insecurity via innovation to solve the hunger issue.

Aya Kreik: The Soil as a Sustainable Source of Food

One of the young Jordanians confronting food insecurity via innovation is Aya Kreik, an architecture student living in Jordan’s capital city, Amman. Aya is part of a team that “succeeded in converting farm waste into organic fertilizers rich in nutrients.” This innovative method revived the soil and compelled farmers to stop using chemical fertilizers. Furthermore, the soil would “retain water in a large proportion,” reducing water irrigation in a water-scarce country. This method that Aya and her team created produces more organic food for Jordanians, which helps tackle food insecurity while promoting environmental sustainability.

Alaa and Nourhan: Plants that Self-Feed

Alaa (Banking and Finance student) and Nourhan (Business Intelligence student) are also young Jordanians who confront food insecurity via innovation. The students teamed up to build a start-up enterprise that specializes in producing “self-watering and self-feeding plants.” This is done by transforming “moisture in the air into pure water” via a type of hydrogel that is made up “of self-absorbing polymers.” This method allows for the availability of more water that produces more food at a time when Jordanians are struggling to find water and food.


Jordan, as with many other Middle Eastern countries, is experiencing severe food shortages and high prices for food items due to COVID-19 and the Ukraine-Russia war. However, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Jordanians have proven that tough challenges can be easily overcome via innovation and creativity. The innovative methods the young Jordanians have presented to the world are helping Jordan solve its food insecurity problem by producing healthy organic food that contributes to environmental sustainability. The creative methods show the world that solving development issues and policies in the developing world requires intelligent solutions. In other words, the world may be closer to ending hunger than before.

Abdullah Dowaihy
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in Uganda Due to global warming over the past few years, the world has seen many countries be thrown into crisis due to natural disasters. Uganda has been one of those impacted countries.

What’s Happening?

24 people have died and over 5,600 people have been displaced due to the eruption of 2 riverbanks in Eastern Uganda causing flash flooding after heavy rain. The floods have also led to 400,000 people without clean water and destroying thousands of acres of farmable land. Flooding in Uganda has left many Ugandans without the capacity to sustain their basic needs. Rain is predicted for the coming month and the local government has a goal of evacuating 100,00 people out of the Eastern Ugandan area, only 2,500 have been evacuated thus far.

Impact On Poverty

Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. Half of the population is 15 years old or younger, so this massively impacts the work force. 76% of the country lives in rural areas and 73% of the work force works in agriculture. The floods have greatly impacted this massive industry of agriculture which affects the way the population is able to earn sustainable wages. 41% of the country already lives below the poverty line of less than $1.90/day. Fertile land and farming are seen as a way for people to make a living for themselves.

With the floods having no end in sight and likely only to get worse due to global warming, thousands of acres have been lost in this season alone and it is hard to say when the industry could make a full recovery.  The eastern and northern regions of Uganda have higher poverty populations than the rest of the country. This means flooding in Uganda is more likely to affect people who are in poverty.

Humanitarian Impact

On June 13, politicians in the area declared a need for humanitarian assistance in food security. The USAID and BHA are planning to deliver emergency funds to the world food program in order to help with the food crisis caused by the flooding in Uganda. The U.S. also announced a donation of $20 million in development assistance to the country. The funds are meant to ease the food insecurity by helping the agriculture industry and providing the country with improved techniques to increase productivity and to prevent losses.

 A Look Ahead

The situation for many in Uganda is currently not adequate, however, the people of the world see their struggle and have committed to helping. The U.S. and other organizations have seen this problem all over the world in terms of food insecurity caused by natural disasters. While the problem may not be gone today or tomorrow, there are countless people trying to make sure that the Ugandans in the coming years will not have the same worries.

Alex Peterson
Photo: WikiCommons

Agriculture in MalawiIn high-rise corporate buildings and individual cubicles, a barrier unfolds in the lives of many people who work in air-conditioned offices toward the difficulties of a career in agriculture. Small changes in the weather or environmental conditions impact entire communities. The emergence of the collaboration between new, innovative technological solutions and the farms of Malawi shed light on the future of farming.

Agriculture in Malawi

Malawi is a landlocked country in the southeast Africa. About 80 percent of Malawi holds connections to the agricultural sector as a means of their livelihood, representing the importance of efficient and innovative farming policies. Political leaders implemented the “National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan” to complement the pre-existing “Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program”. Together, the policies coordinate government spending and growth in the agricultural sector. Malawi also works with other organizations and governments for additional agricultural support. For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) invests in dairy and legume cultivation, provides training to assist in financial and economic improvements and works with local communities to develop lasting solutions.

Concern Worldwide in Malawi

Another organization that provides agricultural assistance is Concern Worldwide. Created in 1968 by a couple named John and Kay O’Loughlin-Kennedy, this group is based in Ireland. It initially started as a response to the independence movement in Biafra from Nigeria that resulted in widespread famine. The organization eventually expanded to countries in need around the world, providing aid and sending volunteers.

In 2021, Concern Worldwide provided emergency assistance to 17.8 million people and health services to 11.4 million people. In 24 countries, Concern Worldwide emphasizes the livelihoods and education of impoverished communities and fights for adequate health and gender equality.

Harnessing the Power of the Sun

One of Concern Worldwide’s latest initiatives is the implementation of a program to improve agriculture in Malawi. Because a large portion of the country relies on the success of agriculture to survive, it is vital that the productivity and efficiency of new technological innovation transfer to the communities to establish a sustainable livelihood. Concern helps install solar-powered irrigation systems with funding partnerships with organizations such as the European Union and Irish Aid.

The new irrigation system allows farmers to avoid problems associated with droughts and other environmental inconsistencies and plant multiple times per year. The collaboration in these local communities ensures that the program will be long-lasting and sustainable. Groups in specific areas assemble into co-operatives, jointly operate the system and make decisions about entering the agricultural market to ensure a profit. The profits provide repayment for the irrigation system, allowing the organization to move on to the next co-operative group. Thus, the system that Concern Worldwide supports encourages productive farming techniques and resourceful business strategies to ensure long-term success for agriculture in Malawi.

Success Builds From Previous Projects

The development of solar-powered irrigation systems builds on prior projects in the region from similar humanitarian groups. Concern Worldwide previously worked with the Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience (PROSPER) program to provide treadle pumps in partnership with UK Aid.

It functioned as a means to increase food accessibility and availability. After budget cuts, the organizations that were supporting the project were unable to continue. Thus, there is hope that the new solar-powered system yields more success among renewed efforts in the field of agriculture in Malawi. The solar-powered irrigation system also builds on a prior UNICEF project for a solar-powered water pump in Malawi. UNICEF installed this pump and also trained citizens to operate and fix the pump when needed while creating a way to fund the pump through a community garden. The program assisted in a wide variety of poverty-reducing actions in the areas of sanitation, agriculture, trust in local institutions and time for children to attend school.

A Look Ahead

As more projects such as the prior project that UNICEF implemented as well as the more recent project by Concern Worldwide make a difference in Malawi’s local agricultural communities, individuals remain closer to maintaining healthier and stable lifestyles.

Kaylee Messick
Photo: Flickr

Harvest AfricaIn 2017, NASA, in partnership with the University of Maryland, established its official agriculture and food security program known as Harvest. Using resources like Earth observation (EO) data, artificial intelligence and the knowledge of experts worldwide, Harvest works to enable informed agricultural decision-making in the U.S. and around the world, all while doing so in a “cost-effective and transparent” manner.  As part of this broader Harvest framework, however, there is also Harvest Africa— the more targeted initiative working to advance agriculture and food security in Africa specifically.

Harvest Africa’s Objectives

The program also works to advocate for the wider use and implementation of these advanced agricultural tools by both “public and private organizations” in an effort to “benefit food security, agriculture and human and environmental resiliency,” per Harvest’s mission statement. There are several key aspects to know about this program and its work on the African continent.

With an emphasis on Eastern and Southern Africa— two regions in which the World Bank projects an estimated 66.4 million people will experience food-related crises in July 2022. Harvest Africa intends to find innovative, partnership-driven solutions to address Africa’s most difficult food and agricultural issues.

Using data gathered from advanced satellite and machine technology, the program works to identify the root causes of problems like crop failure or production shortfall in Africa, all in an effort to get out in front of those problems early.

 Several crucial objectives of Harvest Africa, according to its website, include:

  • Using “world-class technical expertise,” artificial intelligence and “EO-based data and tools” in order to advance agricultural land use, sustainability and productivity.
  • Promoting the implementation and use of satellite-based data and technology for crucial agricultural monitoring and assessment.
  • Working with agencies and organizations on both the national and local levels in developing and implementing these advanced agricultural tools.
  • Making this agricultural data as widely available to the public as possible in order to “promote the operational uptake and sustainability of these new methods.”

The Impact So Far

Harvest Africa is currently carrying out numerous projects; many of which are seeing extremely promising results. In Kenya, for example, an estimated 3.5 million people in the country’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) region are currently facing acute food insecurity. Harvest is running a program that is playing a massive role in helping government officials and local farmers diagnose and find solutions to widespread crop failure.

By using satellite data to track elements such as rainfall, soil moisture and land use, NASA teams funded by Harvest and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are helping to make more accurate and detailed assessments to track where crops are growing, according to NASA Applied Sciences.

As described on NASA’s website detailing the program, “Agriculture officials in Kenya now have help pinpointing exactly where farms are thriving or struggling. They’re using views from above provided by NASA satellites to help direct support where it is needed most,” NASA Applied Sciences reports. 

Another Harvest project making great strides is the Crop Monitor. In close collaboration with several other global organizations, this project is working to implement the wider use of EO satellite data and agricultural monitoring systems in various African countries, according to EOS.

Having been “adapted and adopted for full operational use by national ministries in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda,” and “currently in development for use in Mali and Rwanda,” the Crop Monitor project is an exciting possibility for other African countries.

In countries like Mali, where over 29% of the population is battling malnourishment and Rwanda, where one-fifth of the population is food insecure, the development of such a project is certainly good news, as it has the potential to bring much-needed relief in the face of harsh struggle.

A Fighting Chance

As threats to African crop production prove more and more numerous— such as increased drought, frequent flooding and growing pest infestation — the need for innovative solutions and increased cooperation is higher than ever.

 However, with the work of Harvest Africa, African countries and their farmers have a real chance of getting ahead of such disasters; a chance which leads to the potential for greater crop success and, as a result, increased food security.

 With the help of these early warning systems, Earth observation data, artificial intelligence and some of the world’s brightest minds, Africa is becoming better equipped than ever before to thrive in the face of crisis.

– Riley Wooldridge

Photo: Flickr

E-Shop Fights Food InsecurityThe World Food Programme (WFP) Somalia developed the WFP e-Shop to combat food insecurity in Somalia where 4.1 million people were in need of food assistance in 2021. The online food-ordering e-Shop fights food insecurity using a delivery system that helps those facing hunger in Somalia access nutritious, affordable food.

Food Insecurity in Somalia

The food insecurity crisis in Somalia has only worsened in recent years, with COVID-19 threatening to double the number of people suffering from acute hunger in just one year alone. Some of the causes of this troubling trend include:

  • Conflict. Armed conflict in 2021 led to the displacement of women and girls in Somalia, making it difficult to access basic necessities including food.
  • Climatic shocks. Extreme weather patterns such as drought and flooding have resulted in widespread crop damage. In addition, Somalia endured a desert locust infestation that depleted the remaining crops and pasture in 2019 and significantly reduced food availability.
  • COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced remittances due to global lockdowns, ultimately slowing food production and increasing rates of food insecurity.
  • Russia-Ukraine war. “Nearly all the wheat sold in Somalia comes from Ukraine and Russia, which have halted exports through the Black Sea since Moscow waged war on its neighbor on Feb. 24,” AP reports.

WFP Intervention

The WFP estimated that if the rainy season fails, Somalia could suffer from famine by the middle of 2022. A quarter of a million lives were lost when the last famine hit Somalia in 2011. To prevent another crisis, the WFP scaled up its emergency food and nutrition response to reach 3 million people. However, there is a large relief funding gap of $192 million, which means the organization has less than a third of the funding it needs to save lives.

A Technical Response

Trying out a new approach, the WFP in Somalia decided to go technical and launch the WFP e-Shop in 2018, a digital food assistance system. First, users can download the WFP e-Shop on a mobile device. Then, the app enables users to receive food vouchers to shop online from local grocery stores. In 2020, the WFP added a feature that delivers food purchases on the e-Shop to users’ homes. The e-Shop fights food insecurity in five major Somalian cities– Hargeisa, Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidoa and Galkayo.

The e-Shop app is especially useful in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. During social distancing, online ordering and delivery helped Somalians obtain food while still following protocols. That way, Somalians facing food insecurity can be safe and remain well-fed at the same time. Speaking on the benefits of the e-Shop app during COVID-19, one WFP beneficiary remarked, “It has changed many things in my life such as bringing the food into our houses due to precautions taken for coronavirus, so I am very grateful.” Thus, the e-Shop fights food insecurity in a way that is amenable to changing conditions.

Two years after the launch of the e-Shop, the app completed more than 43,000 successful deliveries with more than 90,000 registered users and 1,100 retailers, according to CTG. More importantly, though, the e-Shop app has greatly empowered local communities and economies. With 100% of the proceeds from the platform going to local businesses, the local economy benefits and bolsters up in the fight against food insecurity. Ultimately, as the innovative WFP e-Shop fights food insecurity, the flexibility and profitability of the app are crucial to changing the tide of the food crisis in Somalia.

– Sarah DiLuzio
Photo: Flickr

United States and WFPAmid the COVID pandemic, the war in Ukraine, changes in climate and terrorism, many countries in Africa are facing spikes in food insecurity and malnutrition. According to World Vision, in 2020, 282 million people faced malnutrition in Africa, equating to 46 million more malnourished people compared to 2019. In 2021, 33.8 million face acute food insecurity in East Africa. The World Food Programme (WFP) is working to help these individuals establish food security, especially those who are refugees and other displaced individuals.

United States policymakers and USAID are also working to support WFP in addressing food insecurity. On June 14, 2022, the U.S. announced funding assistance of $29.5 million to “support WFP’s humanitarian food assistance to 940,000 people affected by insecurity, conflict and natural disasters in northern Mozambique” and efficient “registration of displaced populations jointly with the Government of Mozambique and partners.” By establishing long-term solutions to poverty and malnutrition in refugee camps and providing emergency aid to host families of displaced people, the United States and WFP can strengthen food security throughout Africa.

Displaced throughout Africa

On June 16, 2022, USAID Administrator Samantha Power spoke with WFP Executive Director David Beasley to discuss how the two agencies would partner to supply “urgent humanitarian food assistance to crisis-affected people”, especially in light of recent crises including:

The effects of the pandemic and the blockage of grain exports from Ukraine to other countries are triggering a food crisis across the globe, mostly impacting vulnerable countries dependent on these exports. Dealing with one or more barriers to food access will increase poverty and malnutrition. These combinations of issues harshly impact host countries and people living in refugee camps.

US Commitment

The U.S. is the leading WFP donor worldwide and contributed $3.7 billion in 2021. The United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland visited WFP in Mozambique on June 14, 2022, to allocate aid for specific issues impacting Mozambique that exacerbate food insecurity in the nation. WFP Country Director Antonella D’Aprile said, “With so many overlapping crises around the world, the contribution of $29.5 million from the United States to the people of Mozambique is praiseworthy.”

Providing Aid

The World Food Programme (WFP) is able to assist through a network of resources that commit to addressing global hunger and aiding refugees. WFP is helping Kenya’s Kalobeyei refugee settlement by establishing farming systems to help those escaping violence in Burundi. The organization and partners “established rainwater harvesting ponds, built greenhouse-like structures and modern markets” to accelerate the area’s farming potential. The organization also developed “five irrigation water pans with a combined capacity of 265,000 cubic meters” to help farmers irrigate crops during times of drought.

WFP is grappling with the consequences of poor harvests, the COVID-19 pandemic and food shortages stemming from the war in Ukraine. Refugees from various regions of Africa are able to find WFP projects that can help them improve their quality of life and secure a better future.

Displaced people in different countries have the help of a range of conflict-specific aid to combat food insecurity and fight hunger in populations that are depending on programs that can provide stability amid multiple barriers. The United States and WFP are making this life-saving aid a priority, especially as new conflict arises.

– Karen Krosky
Photo: Flickr

Extreme Heat and Child MalnutritionResearchers from Cornell University found a link between extreme heat and child malnutrition in western Africa. The study revealed that there was an increased prevalence of chronic and acute malnutrition in young children due to extreme heat exposure.

About the Study

The study focused on West Africa because it is a particularly warm section of the sub-Saharan region that experiences an average maximum temperature of 32 degrees Celsius — the heat threshold after which there are effects on mortality. It looked at data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in the West African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo between 1993 and 2014.

The DHS Program conducts household surveys to collect data from developing countries about health, nutrition and demographics. Researchers studied the nutrition of children aged 3-36 months who had been exposed to temperatures at multiple ranges, the highest of which is above 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the study, extreme heat affects child growth and nutrition in three main ways:

  • Agriculture: Inadequate rainfall brought on by extreme heat can negatively impact agricultural production. The study primarily looked into the agricultural effects of extreme heat on chronic and acute malnutrition.
  • Disease: Extreme heat increases exposure to infectious diseases that may affect early development, as pathogens and vectors survive at warmer temperatures.
  • Direct Impact: Infants and young children are sensitive to sudden heat waves or increased temperatures, as they are unable to regulate their heat stress.

The study found that the prevalence of stunted growth from chronic malnutrition increased by 12% and low weight from acute malnutrition increased by 29% as a result of average heat exposure.

Beyond health impacts and higher mortality rates, chronic undernutrition can also lead to worse learning outcomes and lower incomes later on in life, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

Future Implications

Research published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science showed that extreme weather patterns are linked to increased conflicts, the spread of diseases and migration globally. While the study analyzed child nutrition and temperatures between 1993 and 2014, its findings have larger implications for the future.

Rising temperatures are affecting the African continent disproportionately. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2021 was the sixth warmest year globally, but the third warmest year for Africa. In particular, West African countries faced their highest annual temperatures on record, including the countries reviewed in the study. The region is also likely to be more prone to heat waves in the future, which can set off droughts and other extreme climate events. In addition, Africa already has a high rate of stunting at 30.7% compared to the global average of 22% as of 2020, according to the Global Nutrition Project.

The effects of extreme weather patterns on food insecurity can already be seen in the long-term drought in the Horn of Africa, where millions are food insecure and are facing malnutrition. Western Africa is also experiencing a food crisis exacerbated by multiple factors, including extreme weather events, conflict, Russia-Ukraine war-driven inflation and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This issue will not stay localized to Africa — many other regions are seeing the impacts of extreme heat. Europe experienced extreme heat waves in June and July 2022, with countries such as France breaking temperature records. Along with these heat waves come wildfires, heat-related deaths and rising food prices from decreased agricultural production, leaving many families food insecure.


The study found that in the period of analysis, interventions such as improved infrastructure and child care decreased rates of stunting by 5.8%. Programs instituted by organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, the World Food Programme, Actions Against Hunger and more have made a tangible impact on providing food assistance and reducing child malnutrition in the past few decades.

Countries across Africa, including Senegal, Rwanda, Cameroon and Angola, set up councils or committees in their governments to address food insecurity and malnutrition. They started initiatives encouraging breastfeeding, fortifying foods, hosting school feeding programs and using technology to spread awareness about the importance of nutrition. Malabo Montpellier Panel, an international group of agriculture and food security experts, noted that these countries saw a significant drop in stunting and undernourishment rates between 2000 and 2016.

As the current food crisis persists, President Joe Biden’s administration announced $215 million in emergency food assistance to several African nations as of May 2022. This is an important step in addressing what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called “the greatest global food security crisis of our time.”

– Ramona Mukherji
Photo: Flickr

Foodborne illness in Southeast AsiaEvery year, one in 10 people across the world become infected by a foodborne illness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). These are known to cause a wide range of symptoms from the milder, which may result in a long day in the bathroom, to the more severe, which can cause meningitis, sepsis and even death. Though common throughout the world, foodborne illnesses affect some regions more than others in both spread and severity, with the greatest impact on the poorest areas. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 4.7 million people in Southeast Asia fell into poverty in 2021, making safe food and other necessities harder to access. Due to these factors and others, there is a higher prevalence of foodborne illness in Southeast Asia.

The Current Standing of Foodborne Illness in Southeast Asia

High rates of both population and economic growth among Southeast Asian countries contribute to an increase in demand and production of food. But, higher agricultural output, especially meat production, the advent of foodborne illness has become more likely.

In 2015, the WHO created the first-ever global estimate of the burden of foodborne illness. Based on 2010 data, it estimated the existence of more than 150 million foodborne illnesses in Southeast Asia. These infections proved fatal for 175,000 people in the region, with children under 5 accounting for one-third of global deaths due to diarrhea. These diseases can also be disabling with side effects often including brain disorders, cancer and organ failure.

The four most prevalent causes of foodborne illness in Southeast Asia include Campylobacter species, Shigella species, Enterotoxigenic E. coli and Non-typhoidal S. enterica. Each is estimated to burden more than 15 million Southeast Asian people with bouts of sickness every year. Various forms of Salmonella and E. coli are the most life-threatening while norovirus and hepatitis A contribute to thousands of fatalities as well.

How Foodborne Illness in Southeast Asia Exacerbates Poverty

Diseases caused by foodborne illnesses result in “an annual loss of 33 million years of healthy life,” Felicia Wu, a food scientist who works with the WHO and for Michigan State University, told NPR in 2015. With thousands dying every year, the possibility of children losing one or both parents to a foodborne illness is a real threat. The loss of a parent can do harm to human capital development. For instance, a study by Kathleen Beegle and others found that maternal orphanhood leads to a loss of two centimeters of final height and one year in school.

Even when these diseases do not lead to the worst outcomes, they can still have major effects on the short-term well-being of those in poverty. For instance, while rarely fatal, those infected with the Campylobacter species, the most prevalent foodborne illness in Southeast Asia, will experience painful symptoms for a week on average. A week or more of debilitating symptoms can likely mean time off of the job. With so many people infected with these diseases in the region, this can have broader effects on the economy. In the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia, there is a projected cost of $4.7 to $16.7 million from diarrhea caused by foodborne illnesses alone.

Improving Standards through Multilateral Institutions

In 2016, an estimated 60 million people endured undernourishment in Southeast Asia, making food security high on the policy priorities of countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the intergovernmental body responsible for facilitating cooperation between the nations. Trade between Southeast Asian nations has been an important tool in countering this.

But, with trade, one country’s foodborne illnesses can quickly become another’s. To address this, ASEAN set up a Food Safety Policy in 2015 for better practice and enforcement of food safety standards. Some of the actions that this policy takes include support for small and medium-sized producers to adhere to food standards, a rapid alert system for disease tracing and transparency requirements concerning all new food safety laws.

Improving Practices with the ILRI

While news laws and standards set up an improved framework, especially for producers involved in regional trade, nearly all of the agriculture in Southeast Asia is informal. While these informal producers are more accessible to most, they are also harder to regulate, creating greater potential for hazards.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), an intergovernmental organization based in Kenya and Ethiopia, is working to improve local producers’ practices on the ground in Southeast Asia through a number of programs. In 2017, the ILRI began the SafePORK project to counteract disease from pork in Vietnam. This project has helped teach better pork safety practices and risk communication methods to small-scale producers across the country. With more confidence in the pork supply, the president of one pork cooperative told ILRI that there is more stability in its supply chains and it is making between 10-15% more on sales.

Looking Ahead

Though the incidence of foodborne illness remains high in Southeast Asia, the work of multilateral institutions and international scientific organizations have created frameworks to reduce the prevalence.

– Joey Harris
Photo: Flickr

Shea Butter Plant in GhanaShea butter, known as “women’s gold,” supports female empowerment, backs many U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), enhances the global supply chain and promotes self-sufficient development in Southeastern Ghana. To make the most of this versatile nut, Bunge Loders Croklaan (BLC), “the specialty oils and fats business of [U.S.-based] Bunge Limited,” opened Africa’s first and largest shea butter plant in Ghana, in 2019. Bunge’s example portrays how capitalizing on a burgeoning international market is mutually beneficial for the United States and the world’s impoverished, especially women.

Bunge’s Global Partnerships

As an international industry headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, Bunge’s purpose is to “connect farmers to consumers to deliver essential food, feed and fuel to the world.” Bunge serves more than 70,000 farmers and consumers by “sourcing, processing and supplying oilseed and grain products and ingredients.”

The BLC sector specializes in delivering oils and fats to farmers and industries within and across borders. Reaping benefits since the opening of the shea plant in Tema, Ghana, Aaron Buettner, a president of BLC, said that the “latest investment in Ghana plays a critical role in strengthening BLC’s global infrastructure for processing and supplying high-quality shea products to our customers around the world, while also bolstering the entire ecosystem of regional crushers and local shea collectors in the West African region.”

BLC’s Shea Butter Plant opens Financial Opportunities in Ghana

Bunge’s global network increases employment and enhances the self-sustainable development of the local shea community in Ghana. About 16 million families in Africa rely on the shea industry to financially sustain their households. In late 2020, Tema’s shea butter plant provided jobs for 73 people, mostly residents and individuals around the community. Currently, in 2022, Ghana has met the unemployment rate indicator under the SDG “decent work and economic growth” at a value of 4.52.

Celebrating Ghanaian Women’s Empowerment

Women represent most of the shea butter plant industry in Ghana. With “skills passed on from mother to daughter,” women pick, process and sell shea nuts and their components. Women leave their homes at dawn and travel to the shea parklands to generate income for their families.

Autonomy in labor helps to raise the status of women. The gender equality goal of the Sustainable Development Report displays a value of 89.68 in 2020 for the ratio of female-to-male labor participation rate, indicating that Ghana is maintaining an egalitarian workforce.

Shortcomings to Women’s Rights in Ghana

Still, gender inequality remains a prevalent issue. Despite employment data that often only captures the world from its surface, women in Ghana generally have fewer assets and are more impoverished than men. In fact, according to Oxfam, about 94% of the wealthiest people in Ghana are men.

Women are even disadvantaged in the shea business due to their absence in key stages of the supply chain. Illiteracy and lack of skills prevent many women from maximizing their wealth and industries’ production. In fact, “significant challenges remain” in the ratio of female-to-male mean years of education received.

How BLC Helps Females in Ghana

The Where Life Grows campaign, connected with BLC, committed itself to “empower shea collecting women, create socio-economic value in their communities and conserve and regenerate the shea landscape.” The campaign builds the capacity of women through training and by providing innovative resources. For example, during the off-season, women working with the Where Life Goes program organize, plan and discuss their needs with colleagues and receive loans. The women use the borrowed money to rent land, buy fertilizer, hire tractors to plow the soil and more.

Furthermore, BLC and the campaign implement solutions to alleviate stagnated access to sustainable clean energy in Ghana that impedes on shea production. BLC’s management designs efforts that provide energy-efficient pots and stoves that “use 60% less wood,” emit less smoke and decrease nut boiling time. These newly improved tools improve working conditions, sanitation and efficiency. By investing in local skills development overseas, the Missouri-based company attains a more efficient and sustainable production process while accounting for humanitarian needs.

Bunge’s partnerships supply training, tools, farming activities and direct sourcing to women in Tema, ultimately strengthening both ends of the value chain. Global businesses, namely BLC, operate with a multitude of incentives, such as strengthening the independence of women in Ghana and creating jobs in the United States. The international shea business improves Ghanaian individual and economic wealth and works to close the gender gap.

– Anna Zawistowski
Photo: WikiCommons