Posts

Hunger in maldivesThe Maldives, a series of islands bordering both India and Sri Lanka, has faced increased obstacles with food security and hunger. With a population of 515,696 citizens, it is estimated that over 10.3% are battling with hunger. However, increased efforts have been made to combat this rise in hunger in the Maldives.

Problem in Numbers

With various scattered islands in the Maldives, it must be noted that a majority of citizens live in urban areas. However, despite this setting, 17.3% of children in the Maldives are underweight while 10.6% are wasted — a condition where a child’s muscle and fat tissues dissolve away to the bone.

It is also estimated that 36% of babies are not exclusively breastfed in their first six months of life, leading many to not receive the necessary nutrients to develop. This heavily contributes to serious health problems in the future.

In addition to the youth being affected by malnutrition, it must be noted that the adult population is also facing a malnutrition burden, with 42.6% of women of reproductive age having anemia.

Causes of Hunger and Poverty

Food insecurity in the Maldives points towards a variety of factors. A recent cause is resultant poverty caused by a lack of tourists. It is estimated that tourism accounts for two-thirds of the nation’s GDP. However, recent border closures due to COVID-19 have severely impacted citizens on a national scale. With one-third of adult males and a quarter of females engaged in tourism-related occupations, thousands have lost their jobs, making it harder for people to provide food and other basic necessities for their families.

Climate change, environmental degradation and declining ocean health severely threaten food security in the Maldives. Rapid changes in temperatures, flooding and drought, impact agricultural yields, reducing the ability to locally produce food.

Another factor that contributes to hardships is the decline of exports in the fish sector. With fishery accounting for another large portion of the nation’s GDP, many families who depend on fisheries as their main source of income have experienced serious financial impacts.

Road to Change

Despite the increased rates of hunger among the Maldivian population, organizations have stepped up to aid the needy. A prominent organization is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which has dedicated itself to developing both fisheries and agriculture in the Maldives.

The main course of action for the FAO was to reassess the situation in the Maldives and open opportunities to grow the fishery and agriculture sector. Through promoting a stable framework, the organization enabled thousands to enter new jobs in the agriculture industry while accelerating demand for certain goods.

Another course of action was teaching sustainable practices to hundreds of Maldivian farmers. By helping with smaller-scale farms, FAO was able to heavily accelerate growth, boosting production in underprivileged communities. The FAO also helped equip farmers to thrive during climate change. The organization provided farmers with knowledge and methods to increase the productivity of their crops, livestock and fisheries in the face of adverse climatic conditions.

Despite great aid from the FAO, the Maldives continues to face problems in feeding the entirety of its population. Organizations like the FAO can help in the short-term but the Maldives needs government assistance to see long-term change. For the Maldives to see a reduced hunger rate, the government must act alongside nonprofit organizations to increase food security in the country. With the help of NGOs and the Maldivian government, the overall hunger rate in the Maldives can be reduced.

Aditya Padmaraj
Photo: UNDP

Hunger Crisis in Latin America
Latin American countries and the Caribbean are on the verge of confronting the deadly combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a hunger crisis. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report that an estimated 83.4 million people will live in extreme poverty in 2020, potentially leading to a hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. This number will be 16 million more people than in the previous year. Latin America and the Caribbean’s seven years of slow growth could experience a historic drop in regional GDP (-5.2%).

Ways to Prevent a Hunger Crisis in Latin American and the Caribbean

As part of an initiative, ECLAC and FAO suggest 10 measures to prevent a hunger crisis in both Latin America and the Caribbean. They are as follows:

  • Provide an anti-hunger grant which could take the form of cash transfers, food baskets or vouchers to the entire population living in extreme poverty for a six-month period. It would amount to an estimated cost of $23.5 billion.
  • Support school-based food programs for children and adolescents.
  • Support local and global humanitarian organizations like Action Against Hunger and World Food Program.
  • Financially support agricultural companies with credit and subsidies.
  • Enforce sanitary and health protocols for food production, transportation and food markets.
  • Expand and ensure the functioning of programs to support local production.
  • Support artisanal fishermen and family farmers who contribute a large portion of food in national markets with funding, technical assistance and access to inputs and labor.
  • Maintain and add agile mechanisms for consultation and public-private interaction within all aspects of the food system (production, supply, distribution and access to food).
  • Prevent wholesale and retail markets and agro-industries from closing or reducing their operations.
  • Continue with policies that until now have kept the world food trade open.

Food Prices and Imports

As food systems weaken and unemployment increases, domestic food prices rise and people resort to purchasing cheaper, less nutritional options. The most vulnerable populations are the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean, the Dry Corridor in Central America, Haiti and Venezuela.

The Caribbean depends heavily on food imports from the United States and the United Kingdom. The area is also at high risk of supply chain disruption and impacts from hurricane season. The ports in the Dominican Republic did not reopen until a month after Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, devastated the island in 2017. Anticipating the season in 2020, organizations are subject to balancing the impacts of storms and maintaining measures against COVID-19.

Challenges in Tourism

The pandemic has also placed a strain on tourism in the Caribbean islands as travelers from all around the world had to cancel their trips due to government-issued orders. The Bahamas alone generates 75% to 80% of its GDP from tourism. These small island economies that often find themselves at odds against natural disasters face a decline in tourism by 60% to 70% between April and December.

The Situation with Remittances

Mexico and Central America face high extreme poverty, and undernourishment, especially among decreases in remittances. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are small countries with economies that rely on remittances. In 2016, the remittances that Salvadoreans received amounted to about 17% of the country’s GDP. During the worst of the pandemic, those countries suffered the most as people lost jobs globally, especially the U.S. where people send most remittances from. These countries are also at risk of border closures during the pandemic which is an obstacle for imports and exports.

Poverty and Food Insecurity

South America has a high proportion of poor, indigenous farming families who are already at a disadvantage from COVID-19, lacking proper treatment and medical equipment. In Peru, the country with the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases, millions are struggling with food security. About 20% of the population lived in poverty and survived through informal employment before the pandemic. Now struggling to find work and afford food, many are going days without food or relying on “community pots” for food.

The global pandemic and hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean could have serious implications if ignored. With a widespread hunger crisis, the world could experience “increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition,” said the U.N. World Food Program’s executive director, David Beasley.

 Understanding the severity of this situation, it is imperative to pass legislation aimed at protecting the International Affairs Budget and increase international funding in the next emergency supplemental. With no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in the near future, the most vulnerable populations need guaranteed access to food.

The ECLAC and FAO’s initiative and their 10 measures are crucial points in preventing a hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. The pandemic may have set these nations back, but the fight is not over. In fact, 83.4 million people are at risk and their future depends on these measures.

– Johana Vazquez
Photo: Flickr

Palestinian farmer's market Palestine is a region in the Middle East comprising the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with much of the territory currently under Israeli occupation. Palestine already experiences a number of humanitarian crises and restrictions on goods such as food and natural resources. However, the pandemic means the areas must now solve the problems with both COVID-19 and food security.

Food Insecurity Already a Problem

Currently, out of the 3 million Palestinians that reside in the West Bank and the 2 million in Gaza, about 1.7 million of them experienced food insecurity in 2019, prior to the effects of the pandemic. Additionally, many children across the territory were already malnourished and in desperate need of appropriate nutrition. About 63% of children under 5 in Palestine were consuming a minimally diverse diet, and about 7.4% of children under 5 appeared to be chronically malnourished. There is also a gender discrepancy as food insecurity is higher among women than men. While overall 32% of families in Palestine that are suffering from food poverty happen to be led by women, this is particularly a problem in the Gaza Strip where it’s 54% of families.

COVID-19 Measures Complicate Food Logistics

After the Palestinian prime minister declared a state of emergency in early March due to a rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the territory quickly entered into a lockdown. The subsequent effects of the pandemic and lock-down were drastic. It was extremely detrimental to the livelihoods of many Palestinians and impacted socio-economic development, employment and put many of them at an increased risk of experiencing poverty. It has put vulnerable communities who were already experiencing food and economic insecurity in an exponentially difficult position.

The outbreak has also affected food logistics, marketing and the production of certain commodities such as dairy, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the implementation of social distancing measures and overall restricted movement has had a dire impact on farming and processing. Therefore, a major reason for heightened food insecurity in Palestine is the reduced availability of food. While experts are unsure of the full impact of COVID-19 on food security, it can be estimated that it will continue to ravage food systems in Palestine and those vulnerable populations will suffer the most. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it can be expected that up to 50% of the population might face severe food insecurity and this effect may be intensified if Israel follows through on its annexation plans. “The situation will be exacerbated if Israel proceeds with the plans to annex parts of the West Bank, further limiting access to core resources, like land and water, and agricultural livelihood opportunities.”

An Organization Working to Help

The issue of food insecurity persisted in Palestine long before the pandemic, and many organizations have been doing the work to address the problem within the region. One such organization is the World Food Programme (WFP). It has been providing food assistance to vulnerable populations in Palestine since 1991. The WFP focuses on areas such as the Gaza Strip and the southern parts of the West Bank – places where poverty and food insecurity are particularly pressing issues. As a response to the COVID-19 crisis, WFP has extended its efforts to the entirety of the West Bank and has also managed to provide “climate-smart agricultural assets”, such as hydroponics and wicking beds, to impoverished households.

Food poverty has been an all-consuming issue in occupied Palestine long before the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the pandemic has had disastrous effects on the socio-economic conditions of Palestinians – many of whom were already in vulnerable positions. While there are many troubling implications for how both COVID-19 and food security will continue to affect the livelihoods of socioeconomic development of Palestinians, organizations such as the World Food Programme continue to aid food insecure communities in getting the help they need.

Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Benin
Benin, a nation in West Africa, has a population of 12 million people. Estimates have determined that 30% of the workforce in Benin works in the cotton industry. Even though the country is one of West Africa’s top producers of cotton, poverty in Benin remains quite high. In 2018, 46.4% of citizens fell below the poverty line.

Reliance on Any One Crop is Risky — Particularly Cotton

Reliance on cotton has a variety of harmful effects that prevent major economic growth and the reduction of poverty in Benin. Unlike farmers in many other cotton-growing areas of the world, many cotton farmers in West Africa work on small-scale farms rather than large plantations. Because of the relatively small size of farms, most farmers lack the technology and efficiency of larger farms, which reduces productivity and profitability. For example, most farms rely on rainfall to water their crops and must pick cotton by hand, which is a tedious and time-consuming task.

Growing cotton presents a variety of dangers to the environment and the health of farmers. Cotton is a challenging crop to grow, and common practices in Benin rely heavily on harmful pesticides as well as large amounts of fertilizer. Around the world, cotton only accounts for 2.4% of cultivated land but uses 6% of total pesticides. Some have linked pesticides in Benin to pesticide poisoning as well as eye, stomach and skin irritation. As pest incidence has risen and soil fertility has decreased, reliance on these agrochemical inputs has increased. This can account for up to 60% of production costs for small farms.

Relying on cotton presents other challenges besides health risks, soil degradation and reliance on outside inputs. When so many people rely on selling cotton, many communities become highly sensitive to changes in global prices for cotton. Deregulations in the global market have made it harder for farmers in Benin to compete. Due to the recession caused by COVID-19, the price of cotton has recently reached a 10-year low.

Crop Diversification Efforts to Reduce Dependence

A variety of programs have emerged to mitigate the risks of growing cotton as well as initiatives to encourage farmers to grow other crops. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) runs a variety of programs in Benin, including its Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) program and its Farmer Field School (FFS). IPPM aims to educate farmers on the risks of some pesticides while encouraging crop diversification and improved farming practices to decrease pest incidence naturally. FFS educates small groups of farmers on optimal planting and fertilizer use that reduces costs and increases crop yields.

Some private organizations and individuals have stepped in to address poverty in Benin as well. Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a former professor at the University of California, Irvine, left the U.S. and came to Benin in an attempt to use his Ph.D. in microbiology to address food security through zero-waste, sustainable farms. He started a farm in 1985 that focuses on creating zero waste and thoughtful crop rotation to maintain natural soil fertility and prevent reliance on fertilizer. Since then, he has opened multiple centers across 15 countries to share his organic farming techniques with others. With support from the U.N., Nzamujo has been able to educate 30,000 farmers.

Pesticide Action Network, an organization from the U.K., also works in Benin to promote organic cotton farming and reduce the use of harmful pesticides. It helps farmers find natural alternatives to pesticides and gain access to farming equipment that increases efficiency. This equipment is often useful for a variety of other tasks as well, as milling equipment can grind neem seeds to make natural pesticides and grind maize for food.

Each of these programs utilizes a variety of methods, but they ultimately have the same desired outcome. By promoting sustainable farming practices and diversifying crops away from cotton, farmers in Benin can have greater crop yields, more fertile soil for future seasons and resiliency to external shocks. Decreasing these farmers’ need for expensive fertilizers and harmful pesticides increases their profits, decreases food insecurity and reduces poverty in Benin.

Progress in Diversification Remains Slow

Despite all of the benefits of crop diversification, Benin has been slow to move away from its heavy dependence on cotton. In 2018, raw cotton accounted for 34.5% of Benin’s export revenue. A major reason for this is private and public investment as well as government subsidies that keep cotton competitive, particularly in the last four years of the presidency of Patrice Talon. This is no surprise, as Talon made his fortune selling agricultural inputs and later entering the cotton ginning industry.

As nearly half of the current population of Benin lives in extreme poverty, the time to make major changes is now. With an increase in crop diversity and a transition toward more sustainable agriculture, food insecurity and poverty in Benin could greatly reduce.

– William Dormer
Photo: Pexels

Farm Radio International
In 2016, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report stating that most of the world’s poor are small-scale farmers living in rural areas. Without targeted efforts to improve the lives of these rural farmers, “the eradication of poverty by 2030 will be impossible.” Fortunately, many organizations are committed to these targeted efforts. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports research into drought and flood-resistant crops that can withstand environmental challenges. Additionally, the foundation supports the World Food Program’s (WFP) initiative to purchase excess yields from small-scale farmers. This gives farmers a source of income and allows WFP to provide food aid quicker because their supply is local. Along with these forms of aid, a Candian NGO, Farm Radio International uses radio, a vastly accessible and effective tool, to provide essential information geared towards community development.

Farm Radio International

Farm Radio International focuses its efforts on rural communities in Africa. It has developed broadcasting partners in 41 African countries and has over 100 partners working on radio projects in 11 countries in Africa. In these rural communities, radio is often the primary source of information for small-scale farmers. Farm Radio International recognizes this key avenue of communication and has spent the last 40 years developing radio resources, technologies and projects committed to providing development information to impoverished rural farming communities all over Africa.

Radio is a tremendous tool for development for various reasons. It is widespread and accessible — radio can reach billions of people every year, even rural communities, and it can do so in their native languages. Radios are cheap and convenient. Since they are portable, listeners can work or travel while listening to radio programs. Radio is also often an interactive, allowing listeners to call in and ask questions or provide feedback to broadcasters. Lastly, radio is capable of providing information quickly, making it essential for emergency situations.

Not only does Farm Radio International recognize the usefulness of radio, but it also works to make radio as effective and impactful as possible through three programs: Radio Resources, Radio Innovations and Radio Projects.

Radio Resources

Radio Resources focuses on making broadcasters and their stations the best they can be for small-scale farmers. It provides training and packages for broadcasters to help them improve their stations and connects broadcasters to facilitate online discussions. Radio Resources also relays relevant news to small scale farmers.

Radio Innovations

Radio Innovations develops new technologies that make radio more interactive and a staple in these communities. It uses new technologies to connect audiences and broadcasters. For example, it developed text message alerts to notify farmers when it is time to tune in for the broadcast. The project is working to create a large range of programs to have the greatest impact possible such as cooking series, drama series, farmer development strategies and weather advisory.

Radio Projects

Radio Projects uses on the ground research and consultations to develop radio programs that target specific needs in the community. Some Radio Projects topics include:

  1. Agriculture: Agriculture explores the best farming practices and ways to prevent, control and get rid of pests, such as the fall armyworm.
  2. Environmental Sustainability: Environmental Sustainability teaches sustainable practices such as plowing across the slope, planting cover crops and how to build stone boundaries that prevent runoff and soil erosion.
  3. Gender Equity: Gender Equity addresses the specific needs of women. For example, one program sought to reduce maternal and infant mortality by facilitating conversations about proper nutrition and addressing cultural taboos about breastfeeding.
  4. Health and Nutrition: Health and Nutrition educates about nutritious crops and how to grow them, such as sweet potatoes. Additionally, it encourages the consumption of local nutritious crops and livestock, like teff, sorghum and guinea fowl.

Farm Radio International works directly with communities and individual farmers. For example, in Ghana, Farm Radio International started radio programs addressing the chronic malnutrition found in the country. These programs educated farmers on low-cost and highly effective behavioral changes to increase yields.

One man, Peter Bongkumum, explains the impact of Farm Radio International; he now uses strategies such as planting in rows, using fertilizers and reducing the number of seeds in each hole to have better and cheaper yields.

Bongkumum says, “I am very happy and very proud of myself and my farm… I’m using the higher yield and income to pay my school fees, as I am doing an online learning course on education.”

Farm Radio International is uplifting small-scale farmers, a group disproportionately impacted by global poverty, by putting information and resources directly into their hands. Through interventions like these, global poverty reduction is within reach.

– Paige Wallace
Photo: Flickr

Quinoa in Bolivia
Consumers worldwide recently discovered quinoa’s high nutritional value, earning this food its title of a superfood; in fact, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) dubbed 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. The grain is also an excellent choice for sustainable growth in food-insecure regions, particularly experiencing environmental challenges. There is a relatively positive outlook on the future of quinoa in Bolivia and the Andean region of South America. However, the explosion in demand for quinoa in Bolivia has created several negative consequences.

The Rise of Quinoa in Bolivia

For centuries, quinoa has been a dietary staple for those living in the Andean region of South America. Quinoa is a crop indigenous to this area; people have comfortably relied on the grain for nourishment for nearly 7,000 years. Given its historical link to subsistence, urban Bolivians considered quinoa to be a food reserved only for poor people. In 2000, quinoa was only worth approximately $0.25 per pound. The quick explosion in quinoa’s popularity, however, led to rapid growth in the number of farmers cultivating the crop. By 2014, the price of quinoa increased to as much as $4 per pound a staggering 1,500% increase from its original price. With this boost in price and subsequent strengthening of the national economy, many farmers were able to begin sending their children to university, purchase motorized vehicles, build new homes and invest in technology to improve their crop yields.

Economic and Environmental Costs

Despite its spike in global popularity, the rise in quinoa costs reduced local consumption in Bolivia by nearly one-third. What was originally fundamental to the Bolivian diet became too expensive for many locals, helping cause the price of quinoa to decline nearly as rapidly as it rose. As recently as 2018, the price of quinoa in Bolivia has dropped to $0.60 per pound. This rapid decline in quinoa prices in countries like Bolivia is also attributable to the increase in quinoa production worldwide: with the product’s increasing popularity came increasing competition from growers in other countries, leading to a forced reduction in prices. Although today’s low cost of quinoa attracts many health-minded consumers, this decline jeopardizes the economic well-being of Bolivian farmers.

In an attempt to remain competitive in the global quinoa market, Bolivian farmers expanded their areas of production. Previously unoccupied land transformed into spaces constantly cultivating quinoa, leading to land overuse. Soil consequently began to suffer erosion and nutrient loss, which created an overall reduction in soil quality. Furthermore, farmers who once raised large llama herds removed llamas from their land to open space for quinoa production. With this lack of animals, though, came a lack of manure to help nurture and protect the soil.

Promise for the Future of Quinoa Production

Fortunately, numerous efforts have emerged to help mitigate the effects of quinoa’s price fluctuations and account for long-term sustainability. The World Food Programme implemented a pilot project in Bolivia to connect local smallholder farmers with municipal food programs. In this system, local food programs provide farmers with a secure and stable market to sell their goods, eliminating the pressure of competing on a global scale.

Bolivian quinoa farmers have also taken matters into their own hands by placing a geographical indication on quinoa grown in Bolivia. This is helping to create a market in which Bolivian quinoa will receive the designation of “Quinoa Real,” a tastier and larger grain that can only grow in Bolivia. Such a designation helps to protect Bolivian quinoa farmers from another steep drop in prices and crop profitability.

As quinoa’s popularity continues to skyrocket worldwide, it will become increasingly important for farmers and their local economies to remain efficient and competitive. With involvement from global nonprofit organizations and local cultivators, there is hope that quinoa in Bolivia will become a superfood for consumers and producers alike.

– Maddi Miller
Photo: Flickr

Soccer Fighting World Hunger
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. As one of the most accessible games to play and watch, billions of people enjoy soccer. However, few are familiar with the impacts of soccer off the field. The sport has accepted an integral role in ending world hunger through its clubs, players and governing bodies. Many casual soccer fans are familiar with Marcus Rashford’s role in restoring over £120 million worth of food aid to underprivileged English citizens, a feat that is nothing short of remarkable. However, one cannot merely relegate soccer’s impact to the developed world: soccer is fighting world hunger, especially in developing nations.

Governing Bodies

Many larger soccer groups have committed to combating world hunger. One prominent example is the Professional Football Against Hunger campaign, which the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) co-founded and signed. The EPFL represents 27 member leagues constituting over 900 soccer clubs across Europe. This campaign reached millions of fans, generating record-breaking donations to food-aid projects. In addition, the organization created a recurring event named Match Day Against Hunger, in which over 300 clubs played in matches dedicated to raising awareness for world hunger. This awareness campaign helped put world hunger at the forefront of the soccer community’s mind, in addition to encouraging action from individuals and clubs alike.

Clubs

Soccer clubs themselves also play a massive role in fighting child and family hunger. Much like how soccer clubs in England support their regional communities, soccer clubs in developing nations also assist local populations. One gleaming example is the Everton Uganda Football Academy. This facility has committed itself to aiding the communities from which it recruits players, most recently donating food and medical supplies to 50 families. Fortunately, Everton is not an anomaly: many clubs in underdeveloped countries provide food assistance, particularly to the families of their budding players. The club cannot expect players’ and prospects’ best performance if they do not have adequate nourishment; thus, there is an incentive to provide for them. Many of the world’s best current soccer players – including Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus – were food-insecure during their childhoods. Soccer programs provide not only food to young players, but also an opportunity to follow their dreams and prosper.

Players

Many of the world’s best professional soccer athletes have had humble beginnings. As a result, some of the most dynamic advocacy for hunger relief has originated from the players themselves. One example of an avid advocate for fighting world hunger is Kaká, a former AC Milan and Real Madrid star. Kaká became the youngest United Nations World Food Programme Ambassador at age 22, serving as the main endorser and contributor to the Fill the Cup campaign that ultimately fed over 20 million undernourished schoolchildren in nearly 80 developing countries. Kaká’s influence not only garnered millions of dollars to save the lives of millions but also encouraged many children to remain in school.

Colleges

In the United States, college soccer programs have also answered the call to fight against world hunger. While university soccer teams are largely underfunded – and thus unable to make large donations to charity – they are often extremely committed to issues surrounding world hunger. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s men’s and women’s soccer programs, for instance, sent an incredible 285,000 meals to Nicaragua to aid underprivileged families and youth. While monetary funds are hard to come by for many college athletics programs, the University of North Carolina powerfully demonstrates how these programs can donate time and money to do what they can in aiding others.

As the most popular sport in the world, soccer has nearly infinite influence. Especially for a massive issue like global poverty where it is difficult to recognize the pockets of solutions that some are implementing, it is essential to acknowledge how soccer is fighting world hunger. Fighting world hunger is not a task for food-aid specific groups alone, and soccer programs worldwide are helping to lead the charge.

– Keagan James
Photo: Piqsels

Lotus flowers are used to make lotus face masks in Cambodia to address PPE waste and a high face mask demand. Several activists and actors have raised alarm over the potentially devastating effects that personal protective equipment (PPE) can have in terms of increasing pollution around the world. There have been reports of PPE waste collecting on coasts around the world. Plastic pollution negatively impacts ocean health and, for maritime nations, this could translate to economic losses and the loss of livelihoods for those working within the ocean economy. One study by Plastics Hub found that if every person living in the UK utilized a single-use face mask for every day of 2020, it would contribute an additional 66,000 tons of plastic waste. It is unclear how much of this waste could end up in marine environments, but with 150 million tonnes already circulating the earth’s water, there is a pressing urgency to address the unsustainability of single-use face masks to fight the spread of COVID-19. As a result, an eco-friendly designer in Cambodia created lotus face masks to address this PPE waste.

Is There a Way to Combat PPE Pollution?

Cambodia is not exempt from the negative impacts that pollution can have on marine environments. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identifies Cambodia as being highly dependent on its aquatic resources for both food security and the livelihoods of the Cambodian people.  In 2013, Cambodia averaged 700,000 tons of fishing and aquaculture production.  At a conference on maritime issues in Cambodia in 2015, hosted by the National University of Management in Phnom Penh, speakers highlighted the risk pollution poses to the economic livelihoods of those who depend on the marine economy.  The FAO has also spoken about the degradation of the marine habitat in the country due to pollution. Photographer Niamh Peren described one scene of coastal pollution in Sihanouk, Cambodia as “mountains and mountains of plastic.”

Pollution in the marine environment is a global problem. Due to the nature of the ocean’s currents, marine plastic pollution does not respect national boundaries and one country’s actions will not be enough to address the problem alone. However, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, is implementing an innovative solution to tackling plastic pollution, while simultaneously diversifying the economy in Cambodia and alleviating poverty rates in the country.

Turning Unwanted Lotus Stems into Organic Fabric

Delaval’s lotus face masks are made utilizing ancestral techniques of producing lotus fiber from lotus stems, which are commonly regarded as waste within the country. The entire process of creating sustainable lotus face masks is entirely eco-friendly, as well as biodegradable.  The fabric produced using lotus fibers is remarkably efficient at filtration and, according to Delaval, is a superior fabric due to its light texture and breathability. The eco-textile company Samatoa, which Delaval manages, produces lotus masks that meet the standards of both the United States’ CDC and France’s Association Francaise de Normalization, making them an effective alternative to plastic single-use face masks.

Samatoa also values the tenets of fair trade and has made a positive impact on the livelihoods of poor Cambodians in the Battambang province. The company has provided employment that empowered thirty Cambodia women to be financially independent and provide for their families. According to Samatoa, the wages earned by company workers are twice what they would receive from other textile work in the country. Additionally, the company ensures that workers have access to a number of benefits, including trade union rights, paid leave and health insurance.

Impact of Lotus Face Masks

Delaval’s innovative solution to plastic pollution produced from single-use face masks gained international attention. The company he manages, Samatoa, is striving to increase production and capacity to improve the lives of an additional 500 women. Samatoa also provides educational opportunities to lotus farmers on sustainable farming practices, further improving the lives of the Cambodian people. Deval’s lotus face masks provide a sustainable solution to the problem of PPE waste while simultaneously providing economic development to rural communities in Cambodia.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay

Hunger in the Syrian Arab Republic
The Syrian Arab Republic is a country in the Middle East that has a rich and unique history going as far back as 10,000 years ago. More recently, political instability led to the Syrian civil war which has created a humanitarian crisis that extends far beyond its borders. It has been nearly a decade since the Syrian civil war first began in 2011. The U.N. approximated that over 13 million people in Syria were in need of some type of humanitarian assistance. Over 5 million people seek asylum in the surrounding countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, hunger in the Syrian Arab Republic soared to the forefront of the humanitarian crisis.

Nearly one-third of Syria’s population is dealing with food insecurity partly due to an increase in food prices. The COVID-19 lockdown measures and the collapse of the Lebanese economy have caused food prices to increase by 200%. This makes them 20 times higher than they were before the civil war. Additionally, Syria’s local currency has been devalued by two-thirds. Consequently, people cannot afford to buy available food.

Efforts to Alleviate Hunger in the Syrian Arab Republic

  • Turkish Exports: In May 2020, the U.N. placed restrictions on exports as a way to combat the spread of COVID-19. Shortly after, the U.N. authorize Turkish exports to alleviate hunger in the Syrian Arab Republic. This aid from Turkey is a crucial survival source for 2.8 million people in the northwestern part of Syria.
  • Extending the Lifeline: The U.N.’s Emergency Relief is working to extend intraregional aid deliveries. The U.N. has authorized aid deliveries to the Syrian people in several resolutions since April 2012. The latest resolution, resolution 2504, was to expire in July 2020. On May 14, 2020, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres requested that the Security Council extend the authorization of this cross-border aid for another 12 months. In Guterres’ report, he noted that this U.N. cross-border operation helped an average of 2 million Syrians each month in 2019.
  • Large and Small-scale Efforts: Many formerly displaced people have returned to their land. However, many people are facing issues resuming food production. As of June 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) introduced several programs to help more than 300,000 households at risk of food insecurity. About 155,000 households will directly benefit from livestock production support which includes vaccinations and anti-parasite treatments. On a smaller scale, about 3,000 households will benefit from better nutrition that local school food gardens provide.
  • Creative Solutions: Since 2012, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP) has provided more than $3 billion in emergency food relief. In January 2020, USAID committed to providing emergency food assistance through two specific methods. Firstly, USAID is providing emergency food aid to newly displaced peoples through ready-to-eat rations, food vouchers and locally or regionally procured food baskets. Secondly, they are continuing to support local bakery inventions to help with the production of bread. The FFP has helped over 4 million people in Syria and over 1 million Syrian refugees since 2012. 

It is evident that hunger in the Syrian Arab Republic is the result of a combination of factors following the eruption of the civil war. International organizations and NGOs dedicated their resources to help the Syrian people, especially as COVID-19 threatens much of the progress that the country has previously made.

Camryn Anthony
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in GuyanaGuyana is a country located on the northeast corner of South America. Due to economic growth and increased agricultural productivity, hunger in Guyana has dropped by almost 50%. Though food availability is not a problem, making food accessible to the rural and remote populations remains a challenge. Here are five facts about hunger in Guyana.

5 Facts About Hunger in Guyana

  1. Between 50,000 and 60,000 Guyanese suffer from undernourishment. Though about 21% of the Guyanese population suffered from malnourishment in previous decades, that number was reduced to less than 10% in 2015. The Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder said that by 2050 Guyana’s agricultural sector would need to produce 50% more food than in 2012 to counter this. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture is working to increase investments to help improve Guyana’s agricultural capacity.
  2. Guyana met an internationally established target in the fight against hunger. Guyana halved the number of malnourished people between 1990-1992 and 2010-2012, being one of 38 countries to do so. In 2008, around 6% of children under the age of 5 suffered from mild to moderate malnutrition. This was down from 11.8% in 1997. In June 2013, Guyana was honored at an award ceremony in Rome held by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for reducing the number of people facing hunger in the country.
  3. Raising agricultural productivity helps counter hunger. Over 70% of the poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. This means that if agricultural productivity increases, access to food may improve. Campaigns such as the Grow More Food Campaign, the Basic Nutrition Programme and the National School Feeding Programme assist in increasing access to food in Guyana.
  4. Climate change exacerbates hunger in Guyana. Higher temperatures cause a decline in crop yields, which threatens food security and contributes to malnutrition. Since much of Guyana’s population depends on increased agricultural productivity, this is a serious risk for the Guyanese. Guyana’s Initial National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2002 projected an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations. They are projected to double between 2020 and 2040 and triple between 2080 and 2100. Temperature is also projected to increase by 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1995 levels during the first half of the 21st century.
  5. The U.N. is attempting to counter the harm posed to hunger due to changing weather patterns. The FAO has assisted the Guyanese government in developing a plan for risk management in the agricultural sector. Similarly, the Guyanese government plans to create opportunities for carbon mitigation through carbon sequestration and biofuel production. This will aim to lessen the effects of climate change and expand agricultural production.

Though Guyana is not devoid of malnutrition, hunger has been and can be reduced. Ensuring that the Guyanese population has ample access to food, as well as increasing agricultural productivity, can help lessen the number of people who suffer from malnutrition. The U.N. is working to assist Guyana and their support can be a good first step to help lessen hunger in Guyana.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Flickr