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Food InsecurityPeru is a country in South America home to some of the world’s natural wonders, such as the Amazon rainforest and the Andes mountains. Thanks to stable economic growth, social initiatives, and investments in health, education and infrastructure, poverty and hunger have significantly decreased in Peru over the last decade. However, according to World Food Program USA (WFP-USA), one in five Peruvians live in a district with high vulnerability to food insecurity. Rural Indigenous populations, representing 52% of Peruvians in poverty, face particular concerns over hunger. Inequalities in lack of access to water and education lead to chronic hunger and malnourishment in these populations. However, Indigenous populations are learning to adapt to food insecurity in the Andes.

Melting Glaciers and Food Insecurity in the Andes

The Andes hold 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. However, as climate change progresses, many of Peru’s glaciers are melting. This is disastrous for many of the people living in the foothills. These citizens are losing access to clean water, which is essential for drinking and irrigating staple crops and pastures. As the glaciers melt, water cannot run through the cracks of the mountain downhill into the springs for the people to collect. This causes a decline in crop yields and crop diversification, which can lead to food insecurity in the Andes.

“If the snow disappears, the people will disappear too,” says Rev. Antonio Sánchez-Guardamino, a priest in the country’s southern Ocongate District. He continues, “if the snow disappears, we will be left without water. The pastures and the animals will disappear. Everything is interconnected. The problem of the melting of the glaciers is that the source of life is drying up.”

Food insecurity in the Andes is therefore a persistent and serious problem. Many smallholder farmers produce staple crops at a subsistence level, enough to feed themselves and their families. However, with less water, it has been difficult for them to uphold this, leading to the danger of food insecurity.

Adapting to these Changes

As water in the lower regions of the mountains grows scarce, farmers are adapting to keep up with these geographical changes. One way they have adapted is by moving uphill, where water is more abundant but land is more scarce. Moving crops uphill also prevents diseases such as late blight from killing off entire harvests. This helps farmers maintain a sufficient potato yield for their families.

Another way Peruvian farmers have adapted to water scarcity is by revamping ancient agricultural technologies and practices. The use of amunas, for example, is extremely resourceful. These stone-lined canals turn rainwater into drinking water by channeling the rainwater to springs downslope for use. Today, most of these once-widespread canals lie abandoned, but 11 of them still function. They feed 65 active springs and 14 small ponds.

Terracing is another ancient agricultural practice that makes farming on the highlands fruitful. It involves flattening out the rocky terrain into level terraces for plant roots to better grip. In the Andes, this is an increasingly common agricultural practice. Terracing has shown to create sustainable water-drainage systems and successfully produce high yields of crops.

Taking Further Action

From 2007 to 2011, The New Zealand Aid Programme along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) initiated the FORSANDINO (Strengthening of High-Andean Indigenous Organizations and Recovery of their Traditional Products) project in Huancavelica, Peru. The project aimed to improve food management and development in Indigenous communities. In doing so, it hoped to alleviate food insecurity in the Andes.

Thanks to this initiative, the production of staple crops significantly increased. Indigenous communities produced 329% more quinoa and 100% more potatoes, oca and mashua. Consumption also dramatically increased by 73% for quinoa, 43% for mashua and 64% for oca. In addition, the net annual income per capita increased by 54% for families participating in the project. As a result, the proportion of families living below the poverty line decreased.

As climate change wreaks havoc on the livelihoods of Peruvians, especially farmers in the Andes, they are cultivating a culture of resistance. People are looking to their roots, resources, communities and innate abilities for answers. This restoration work is renewing old technologies that can still help today. Hopefully, the government will also focus more on on meeting the needs of farmers to support their fight against food insecurity in the Andes.

Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

Hydroponic Farming
In India, more than 189 million people are undernourished, according to a 2020 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With India’s population quickly increasing, it needs to steeply greaten the amount of agriculture and food that it produces. However, a critical setback to the more than 118 million growers in India is the lack of water sources. Fortunately, hydroponic farming might be a solution to this issue.

A Look at the Statistics

There is a total arable land of 160 million hectares. According to the Agriculture Census, about 58.1 million undergoes appropriate irrigation. In 2010, irrigated land made up 35% of entire agricultural land, according to the World Bank. More than 163 million people lack access to a primary water supply in India.

Also, space and fertile land is a shortcoming that many farmers face. This inefficiency lowers India’s crop yields. The average vegetable yields in India are 17 tons per hectare, while the average in developed countries is over 40 tons per hectare, according to Re-Nuble.

Combating the Issue

To combat this limitation along with the hindrances coming from COVID-19, many Indian growers and companies are turning to hydroponic farming. Hydroponic farming is a soil-free, insufficient space, less water, reduced pesticide and fertilizer mechanism of growing plants. This form of agriculture is much more efficient, and it keeps plants resilient against the effects of droughts and global warming.

Hydroponic farms grow vertically or at lower altitudes. How they grow means they could easily be located in houses or small areas, avoiding the need for open land and soil. Due to its compact nature, this also allows for lower labor needs in harvesting and growing.

The Popularity of Hydroponic Farming

Amongst COVID-19, where many fear buying external produce, hydroponic farming has soared in popularity. Since it can grow in urban settings, sharing potentially dangerous plants is no longer necessary. The hydroponic farming systems also have high potentials for the future. The Indian market should grow at a rate of 13.53% compounded annually from 2020 to 2027. Globally, the hydroponics market will achieve $12.1 billion by 2025, according to the Transparency Market Research.

Furthermore, many Indian companies have taken it upon themselves to start up hydroponic centers in cities across the country. A prime example of this is Future Farms, a Chennai-based startup. It grew to $1 million in worth under the guidance of Stanford Seed, an initiative aiming to eliminate global poverty through enterprises.

Future Farms’ hydroponic farms have reduced water consumption by 90% while increasing production by around four times. Annual production has also increased – from between 120 and 160 tons to between 250 and 270 tons. This system has a faster payback rate as well, with the growth cycle decreasing to 35 days from seed to full plant.

Looking Ahead

Increased efficiency and higher crop rates will prove to be extremely beneficial shortly for India. As India turns towards a “green revolution,” it will soon be able to mitigate the hunger and better produce agriculture despite water shortages. Hydroponic farming continually updates its mechanisms to be more up with times, and a future could see it combining with rises in smart technology and agriculture.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Pixabay

Coffee Production
Partnering with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) TechnoServe, Swiss coffee company Nespresso has worked in East Africa since 2015. It works to boost sustainability in coffee production and power small coffee farmers. The company also looks to increase sustainability by working with the Rainforest Alliance, another NGO. In 2018, Nespresso launched its AAA Sustainability Program in Zimbabwe. It focuses on training farmers and providing technical expertise and agronomic advice. Although it has found multiple programs worldwide, Zimbabwe was chosen explicitly after droughts and economic instability destroyed its capabilities to cultivate the cash crop.

The Economy of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s economy saw a 231 million percent inflation in July 2008 after a land reform program passed, causing its economy to crash. According to the World Bank, Zimbabwe’s GDP fell by 8.1% in 2019 and has continued to fall due to COVID-19. In 2019, 6.6 million of Zimbabwe’s residents were extremely poor and food poverty was prevalent.

However, around 17% of Zimbabwe’s GDP is agricultural, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Coffee is a vital crop to the GDP. At peak production in 1989, Zimbabwe produced 15,000 tons of coffee. It sunk to 500 tons in 2017, according to the Telegraph. The loss of this significant part of the economy pushed millions into poverty and took away many jobs.

Understanding the Country’s Environment

Zimbabwe’s environment is ideal for cultivating coffee. It has cold temperatures, lots of rainfall and fertile lands. Coffee production has fallen mostly due to a lack of knowledge about growing the plant and droughts brought on by global warming. Coffee is a delicate tree, taking between two and three years to start flowering and nine months following this to have harvestable cherries. This is why Nespresso’s programs work to educate on sustainability and provide raw funds for farmers to use amongst economic instability.

In training, the main points of contention are drilling holes to plant trees, shading the trees properly and pruning branches. They also include eliminating bugs and disease, watching soil deficiencies and crop hygiene, according to National Geographic. The temperamental nature of coffee makes it essential to know exactly how to sustain it in the best way using efficient machinery and methods.

The Benefits of Nespresso

Nespresso plans to invest 1.3 million euros. It pays farmers in U.S. dollars instead of the Bond Notes that many use instead of currency. This allows them to buy better products and services globally. This will not only work to revitalize the economy through spending, but it will increase agricultural exports. The program currently works with over 2,000 farmers, training them on how to grow and paying them above-market rates for the coffee.

Since Nespresso has started working with these farmers, there was a 7% increase in production. Also, quality has risen by 51%. According to the Telegraph, Zimbabwe could soon double its coffee production, reaching 10,000 tons of coffee shortly. Furthermore, AAA programs have specifically targeted female farmers to provide equal opportunities, with 47% of the farmers being female.

In the long term, increased coffee production could help the country in multiple ways. Along with a GDP boost and increased jobs, the stimulation of coffee products helps put more children in school, provide healthcare access, increase efficiency and equipment and preserve biodiversity.

Overall, for those living in poverty in Zimbabwe, the rise of the crop that once drove the economy will provide immense relief. By bringing stability, jobs and globalization, the door to better opportunities starts with coffee. Nespresso’s program has opened that door to many small farmers in Zimbabwe.

– Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Pixabay

Paraguay's COVID-19 ResponseParaguay is a landlocked country in South America surrounded by Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. As many South American nations grapple with the spread of the coronavirus, Paraguay appears to have control of the disease. In total, the country has only had a few dozen deaths from the disease. Here are five facts about Paraguay’s COVID-19 response efforts.

5 Facts about Paraguay’s COVID-19 Response

  1. Paraguay, with a population of about 7 million people, has had about 5,338 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths. This is drastically different from its neighboring countries of Bolivia and Brazil. Bolivia has about 11 million inhabitants, with 76,789 recorded cases and 2,977 deaths. Similarly high, Brazil has a population of roughly 210 million, with about 2.71 million confirmed cases and 93,616 deaths.
  2. According to epidemiologist Dr. Antonia Arbo, the reason that Paraguay’s COVID-19 response has had success in mitigating the effects of the virus is because of the stern measures put in place by the government as well as the “good behavior” from its citizens.The government of President Mario Abdo Benítez was one of the first in the region to implement containment measures after just the second confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 10.”
  3. Unlike other responses, Paraguay’s containment measures are effective due to the “fast and forceful” nature in which authorities acted. The country was in a consistent lockdown from March 20 until May 3. During this time, the Ministry of Health increased testing and improved contact-tracing capabilities. This allowed the country to initiate a “gradual reopening program.” Additionally, the country is still maintaining precautions even while they ease social distancing restrictions. Masks are still mandatory and medical professionals conduct temperature checks in the entrances to public spaces.
  4. Despite these successes in Paraguay’s COVID-19 response, the country’s economy has definitely suffered. In January, prior to the pandemic, most predicted the economy to grow as agriculture began to bounce back following the droughts and floods of 2019. Since then, however, the lockdown has severely impacted the country’s economy. There was a stark decrease in overall consumption, investment, imports on capital goods, tourism and trade. Though it is difficult to accurately predict the exact impact of the recession, experts predict that the GDP will decrease by 5% in 2020.
  5. The pandemic halted a project between Paraguay’s government and the Food and Agriculture Organization, which would have provided more opportunities for rural communities. Many Indigenous community members in Paraguay live in abject poverty and have no choice but to earn income through marijuana crop cultivation. Unfortunately, this has resulted in severe deforestation. The joint plan, named the Poverty, Reforestation, Energy and Climate Change (PROEZA) Project, intends to provide aid to these vulnerable, low-income families. However, this project has halted for the time being due to the pandemic.

Going forward with Paraguay’s COVID-19 response, as the country’s economy prepares to reopen, Paraguay is working to reduce the deficit and repair the damage to public finances. It is hopeful that with the implementation of social plans for low-income households, Paraguay will be able to truly prosper.

Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Iraq
Decades of conflict in Iraq have effectively destroyed what was once the center of human civilization. Many view Iraq as a country very costly to the U.S.—another war from which the U.S. must recover. However, the international community’s job is not done. Today, millions of Iraqis are displaced and suffer from food insecurity, a problem that the government has struggled to control. This article will delve into the background of food insecurity in Iraq and what various groups are doing to combat it.

Governance Issues

The oil industry accounts for 90% of Iraqi government revenue. The crash of oil prices caused a $40 billion deficit in the Iraqi budget, cutting this revenue in half. Iraq’s government has been unable to properly fund various institutions. Combined with a 66% rise in population since 2000, this has placed immense stress on the country’s food supply. Constant conflict and the corrupt management of resources have hindered any ability to keep up with this population boom. USAID labels just under one million Iraqis as food insecure. The World Food Program, however, estimates that this number is closer to two million.

While much focus is on obtaining aid from the international community, Iraq has not necessarily focused as much on reforming its own institutions governing agricultural industry networks. Iraq’s State-Owned Enterprises are involved in every step of food production, processing and distribution. The government attempts to distribute food products and support the industry through its bloated Public Distribution System (PDS), which in 2019 cost $1.43 billion, and its yearly $1.25 billion effort to buy wheat and barley from Iraqi farmers at double the international price. Despite these expensive programs, Iraq still ends up importing 50% of its food supply.

Inefficient growth, processing and distribution methods and a reliance on food imports place Iraq in a delicate position. They are susceptible to global food chain supply network failures and the threat of a budget collapse due to the crash of oil prices. Such an occurrence would likely cause the food system to implode without the current level of government intervention. These governance issues, on top of decades of conflict and displacement, have exacerbated food insecurity in Iraq.

The Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many of the aforementioned issues confronting the Iraqi food supply. Cases in Iraq have skyrocketed during May and June as Iraqis faced the decision of staying home without reliable state support and suffering from lack of income or holding onto their jobs and risking infection.

The pandemic has worsened the already pervasive levels of poverty and food insecurity. Inefficient state institutions and bureaucracy have combined with the pandemic to display the fragility of the Iraqi food supply. There have already been severe shocks in the global supply chain. For a government that relies on imports for 50% of its food supply, this pandemic could cause the crisis of food insecurity in Iraq to spiral. The Iraqi government has faced issues of governance for decades. The pandemic has only emphasized these issues while placing millions of Iraqis at further risk of conflict and disaster.

Humanitarian Efforts

The stark problem of food insecurity in Iraq has caught the eye of many different aid organizations, both in the U.S. government and the intergovernmental level. USAID, the primary U.S. foreign aid organization, has spent years trying to help meet Iraqis’ basic humanitarian needs, especially in the face of seemingly endless conflict. USAID has provided almost $240 million in emergency food assistance to Iraqis since FY 2014. This money goes toward food vouchers, food baskets and cash for food, all under the coordination of the World Food Program (WFP), which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) established with the UN General Assembly.

USAID has also supported WFP efforts to create an electronic distribution platform for Iraq’s PDS, which would allow Iraqis to update their locations, use biometrics for identification and improve overall access to food supplies. The WFP, in turn, supports 280,000 internally displaced Iraqis and 76,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, providing monthly food support mainly through cash transfers. It also provides local, healthy food for over 324,000 schoolchildren in Iraq. The organization is currently looking to expand cash transfers and food access to over 35,000 refugees and 10,000 internally displaced people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAO has worked with the WFP in Iraq by focusing on agricultural sustainability. To improve food security and Iraqi self-reliance, the FAO has supported livestock production through capital, seeds, fertilizer and resources to counter disease. It also uses “cash-for-work activities” to enhance local markets and support infrastructure in addition to its efforts to promote labor-saving technology to counteract food insecurity in Iraq.

Looking Forward

Poor food access has been an issue for many years, but the pandemic is making the situation worse. Constant conflict and a lack of effective governance are both serious obstacles to creating a stable food environment for Iraqis, but there is a significant commitment from the international community to shore up Iraqi agricultural sustainability and provide support to individual Iraqis. While many are still in dire need of access to food, organizations like these provide hope for the fight against food insecurity in Iraq.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in DominicaThe Commonwealth of Dominica, better known as simply Dominica, is an island nation located just north of Venezuela in the Caribbean sea. Dominica is known for its breathtaking views and tropical climate. Unfortunately, the country struggles with issues of malnutrition that have led to other pressing health problems. Hunger in Dominica has largely gone unreported due to the small size and population of the country. Understanding the issues of hunger in Dominica can help the United States and other supporting countries better understand how to assist the struggling country.

Hunger in Dominica: 5 Fast Facts

  1. Obesity: Hunger in Dominica has directly led to obesity in many people throughout the country. Studies show that 35.6% of women and 19.9% of men are considered obese in Dominica. The high rates of obesity are most likely due to a deficiency in the consumption of vegetables. Compared to the global and regional averages, people in Dominica are consuming significantly fewer vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids.
  2. Anemia and Diabetes: Anaemia is a condition in which people suffer from an iron deficiency in their blood. The rates of anemia are steadily growing in Dominica. Reports show that about a quarter of all women in Dominica suffer from anemia. Furthermore, diabetes is also a growing issue. This may be due to the consumption of high levels of some fats, such as polyunsaturated. It was reported that 13.6% of women and 8.6% of men in Dominica have been diagnosed with diabetes.
  3. Dependency: Much of Dominica’s access to food comes from outside countries, such as the United States. Because Dominica has a small population (about 71,000 as of 2019), it is difficult for people to produce their own food that is healthy enough to sustain life. The dependency on other countries started in 1986. At this time, the country’s population steadily decreased until it reached one of its lowest points at the end of the decade. Dominica people consume about 55% of imported food, leading to a mainly Western diet. As a result of this, Dominica is susceptible to similar health issues as their Western counterparts, such as diabetes.
  4. Effects of Climate Change: Because of its location in the Caribbean, Dominica is susceptible to various natural disasters, most notably hurricanes. Hurricanes damage the economy of Dominica, as the country is subsequently unable to export goods essential to its economy. CO2 emissions have also affected the area, as they have been increasing steadily. In 2014, Dominica produced 1,909 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. These changes have affected the production of resources, which has also affected the citizens’ diets.
  5. Outside Assistance: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is active in Dominica through various relief efforts. The FAO provided support for Dominica following the tropical storm in 2015 that cost the country millions of dollars in damages, and have been working to regulate the food imports to prevent hunger in Dominica. Their relief efforts have been working in Dominica from 2016 to 2019. They hope to develop long term strategies to teach citizens how to maintain a healthy diet. They also can assist the country’s financial stability in the event of another natural disaster that greatly affects the economy.

Dominica is a country in the Caribbean that has steadily been struggling with consuming more nutritious foods for sustainable health. Compared to the rest of the world, hunger in Dominica is not a pressing issue. However, because of the country’s dependence on imports, Dominica people see a high rate of obesity and related health issues. Coupled with the effects of climate change, Dominica can benefit from developing long term strategies to assist its citizens.

Alondra Belford
Photo: Flickr

 

Hunger in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has experienced notable progress in several developmental areas. The country has achieved improvements to primary education, a reduction in childbirth rate and decreasing poverty levels. However, food insecurity remains a consistent problem. Hunger in Sri Lanka is a major obstacle to the nation’s socio-economic development. According to the
2019 Global Hunger Index, Sri Lanka scores 17.1, ranking 66 among 117 qualifying countries.

The Numbers

According to a UN report, more than 800 million people worldwide were estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2017. Over 90 million children under five are underweight. Sri Lanka ranked poorly on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) and global food security index, two major indicators of food security in any country. Food and Agriculture Organization report from 2014 to 2016 found an average calorie deficit in Sri Lanka of 192 kcal per capita per day. In South Asia, only Afghanistan (36.6%) and Pakistan (30.5%) had higher rates of food inadequacy.

A study by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) revealed that more than 13% of minors in Sri Lanka were malnourished between the period of 2006-2010. The survey found that 23% of children between six and 59 months of age were stunted, 18% wasted and 29% underweight.

AHRC also found that remote and underdeveloped areas suffer more from hunger than larger cities. Although Sri Lanka has moderate percentages of food accessibility (54.5%), availability (52.8%), quality and safety (49.5 %), it is still struggling to achieve the United Nation’s goal for zero hunger by 2030.

Causes of Persistent Hunger

A food-insecure family lacks access to an optimum quantity of affordable and nutritious food. The immediate and obvious impact of food insecurity can be observed in physical health. Children struggle to concentrate in school and adults find it hard to perform well in their job. The household hunger scale (HHS) measures food insecurity in Sri Lanka on the basis of three factors: lacking access to food, sleeping hungry because of not having enough to eat and household members spending the whole day and night without eating anything.

There are several drivers behind hunger in Sri Lanka. Stagnant growth in crops in recent years has created a shortage of essential food. As the population continues to grow, this problem worsens. Furthermore, 35% of crops end up being wasted, never reaching hungry people. Rising food prices are also a concern in Sri Lanka. Changes in import duties and non-tariff barriers have caused increases in food prices as well.

Unemployment is also a major factor behind food insecurity and hunger in Sri Lanka. Many families have one or more members unemployed. One report shows that around 30% of the households depend on casual wage labor for their livelihood and food security. Around 90% percent of households in the city of Jaffna and 75% in the Vavuniya District were unemployed around 2012.

Initiatives to Address Hunger

Agriculture is one of the key ways to combat hunger and malnutrition. Different policies are intended to help fulfill Sri Lanka’s food requirement, including the National Climate Change Policy and the National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impact. A climate-smart agriculture system is working on increasing climate-resilient crops, rainwater harvesting, crop diversification and use of technology.

Under the National Nutrition Policy, every Sri Lankan citizen has the right to access adequate and appropriate food — irrespective of geographical location or socio-economic status. In addition to these efforts, global agencies like the World Food Program are working to combat hunger in Sri Lanka. UNICEF is also working to improve child and maternal nutrition.

Additional Ways to Combat Hunger

Socially vulnerable groups — like the elderly or female-headed families — are more prone to food insecurity. Sri Lanka’s government and other organizations should supply food vouchers to these vulnerable groups.

Because livestock production in Sri Lanka offers vast opportunity, the government should also encourage training and veterinary services to promote livestock production. In addition to this, privatizing the fish industry could help generate employment.

 

Moving forward, the government and other humanitarian organizations need to make reducing hunger in Sri Lanka a priority. Policies like the ones listed above are crucial for reaching the U.N.’s goal of zero hunger.

– Anuja Kumari
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in East AfricaAn apocalyptic scene—swarming locusts blanketing the sky. This is an image the world is mostly unfamiliar with. In fact, locusts are the oldest migratory pest in the world and are often associated with destruction.

A Snapshot of the Problem

There can be as many as 80 million locusts compacted into just a half square mile, and they bring with them devastating effects. In only one day, one square kilometer of these pests can destroy the agricultural produce that could sustain 35,000 people. The FAO states that during plagues, like the ones that occurred in East Africa during 2020, locusts can damage the livelihood of a staggering 1/10 of the world’s population.

Locust migration occurs in a cycle of boom and bust. This biological uncertainty makes it hard for countries to garner the funding, political will, knowledge and capacity to proactively address the threat through long-term infrastructure. However, failure to detect and control locusts proactively can result in devastating plagues. These can require millions of dollars to address and have catastrophic effects on food security, particularly in East Africa. The experience of one Somalian farmer portrays the catastrophic impact these pests have. Abdirahman Hussein Mohamoud relies on his farm to support his family. In May, he lost his entire $5,000 investment in crops to locusts. In his own words, his hard work “has all come to nothing.”

Possible Solutions

The FAO tries to combat the threat of locusts through early detection and warning with its Desert Locusts Information Service. USAID works towards strengthening the government’s capacity to address the threat of locus proactively in addition to the $19 million of US humanitarian response to reduce the size and impact of swarms. However, there is still an overwhelming lack of policies addressing locusts in East African countries. For this reason, there is a heavy reliance on pesticides for rapid response.

The use of pesticides, while incredibly effective for killing locusts, can negatively impact the health of humans and the environment. In Uganda, desert locusts are a common food source and the people often consume them immediately after the use of harsh pesticides. A number of community health advocates are raising concerns with the lack of adequate training and information on the potential impact these pesticides can have on human health. Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre in northern Kenya, Dino Martins, warns that mass spraying can harm biodiversity as well. Martins points to the need to create more sustainable alternatives to controlling locusts such as biopesticides of pheromones.

Impact of COVID-19

While locusts pose a major threat to food security in East Africa, COVID-19 has made poor communities even more vulnerable. Resources for aid are stretched thin with a high priority on coronavirus relief. Despite this, countries in East Africa have maintained the control and monitoring of desert locusts as a national priority.

However, the slowdown in the global supply chain and cross-border mobility is raising concerns about the difficulty of acquiring pesticides for controlling locusts and protecting food security in East Africa. In March, an order of pesticides from Somalia to Ethiopia was delayed due to cargo flights being cut back. This showcases the dangerous impact COVID-19 can have on controlling the epidemic of locusts. Cyril Ferrand, the FAO’s Resilience Team Leader for East Africa, states access to pesticides is the biggest challenge facing their ability to control the impact of these pests.

Governments are exempting restrictions on movement for locusts control groups, recognizing their need to continue work. The FAO has stated they have been able to continue their efforts despite restriction. For instance, they have been able to treat more than 240,000 hectares with pesticides in East Africa. FAO has also trained 740 people on how to conduct ground control operations for locusts. So far, FAO has raised half of the $300 million it expects to need for pesticides.

Leah Bordlee
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in SamoaWith a population smaller than 200,000, Samoa is a small island in the south-central Pacific Ocean. Samoans gained their independence from New Zealand and Germany in 1962, and now inhabit the westernmost islands within the archipelago. Although the United Nations has not identified Samoa as a “Least Developed Nation” since 2014, food insecurity and hunger remain in Samoa as lingering consequences of poverty, natural disasters and foreign dependency.

Lack of Resources

Samoa lacks arable land and agricultural resources; almost three decades of devastating natural disasters, including the 1990 Ofa and 1991 Val cyclones, have flooded and destroyed much of the once arable land in Samoa. Samoan hunger rates rise following such incidents. However, in 2015, despite a cyclone hitting that same year, Samoa was declared one of the 40 countries that have cut hunger rates in half within thirty years. As of 2016, 81.9% of Samoans lived in rural areas, yet only 2.8% of the country’s 1,097 square miles of land was arable. For Samoans, barren land has made agricultural innovation one of the only, yet most complex, options. In 1994, 22.1% of the Samoan GDP was derived from agricultural sales and other food production. By 2019, agricultural contribution to GDP fell to 9.8% due to a lack of farming land, knowledge and financial incentive.

Lack of Quality Food

Imported foods provide increased caloric quantity, not quality; from 1961 to 2007, the surge of imported foods made 900 extra calories available per person per day, largely curbing hunger in Samoa. Overall calorie availability nearly doubled during that time, yet dietary fat availability rose at a disproportionately fast rate of 73%. Imported foods, like meats and vegetable oils, rose from 10 calories to 117 per Samoan per day. Yet, the caloric intake of traditionally consumed and locally produced food like coconuts, starchy vegetables and fruits rose negligibly. Overconsumption of calories and high-fat foods are linked to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, all of which are on the rise in Samoa.

Obesity, diabetes and malnutrition coexist. In 2013, 45.8% of Samoans had diabetes, compared to 22.3% in 2002. In 2017, an estimated 89.1% of Samoan adults were overweight and 63.1% obese. Yet, an estimated 4% of children aged five or less experienced acute malnutrition or wasting, and 5% experienced stunting in that same year. Such rates are related to tariff liberalization, which continues to increase accessibility to non-perishable, mass-produced foods. Samoan’s overconsumption of processed macronutrients and sodium has led to obesity, masking the underlying micronutrient deficiencies and severe undernourishment.

Lack of Financial Equality

Education, income and access to healthy foods are interconnected. The percentage of Samoans living below the food poverty line had dropped from 10.6% of the population in 2008 to 4.3% in 2014; incidences of extreme hunger and poverty have steadily declined due to heightened caloric availability. However, Samoan financial inequality continues to climb as a result of the globalization that also has nearly eliminated extreme hunger. Samoa imports goods at a much higher rate than they export goods, leading to a lack of cash in the economy as well as a lack of job opportunities for those not directly connected to the global trade market.

Those living at or below the food poverty line typically lack formal degrees and belong to the 8.7% of Samoans who are unemployed. Cultural and historical circumstances have made imported food, regardless of their quality, more desirable than traditionally consumed foods. Wealthy and impoverished Samoans alike have developed an appetite for imported foods. The most vulnerable in the population, however, do not have a choice in what they consume.

Initiatives Tackling Food Security in Samoa

An alarming uptake in cases of overnutrition and resulting chronic diseases have occurred in Samoa. As a result, strides have been taken in addressing the root causes of food insecurity and the remaining hunger issues. An example of this is the recently launched 2019 Agriculture and Fisheries Productivity and Marketing Project. This project aims to improve food production infrastructure and implement sustainable agricultural practices over the next several years. By improving data collection of food insecurity, chronic disease and poverty rates, this project will localize Samoan food production industries. The project’s emphasis is on creating a more interconnected food landscape; this will not only continue to eliminate hunger in Samoa but will also increase cash flow and decrease chronic disease rates in the country over time.

Until then, groups like Caritas will continue to serve as a lifeline. Caritas runs two programs that prepare Samoans for natural disasters by training locals and installing emergency supplies throughout the island for distribution. The group was able to help more than 1,476 Samoans in 2012 suffering from hunger after Cyclone Evan.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Flickr

African CropsGlobally, there are about 7,000 domesticated crops. But, today, just four crops–rice, wheat, soybean and maize–account for two-thirds of the consumed calories worldwide. These crops are incredibly nutrient-hungry and added to the common practice of mono-cropping, which has led to the degradation of a third of the Earth’s soil. It is estimated that the global population in 2050 will increase to 10 billion; food production will have to likewise increase by 50 percent to avoid mass hunger. Many scientists think that previously ignored African crops, aptly nicknamed “orphan crops,” are the answer to preventing the oncoming crisis.

4 Wildly Underrated African Crops

  1. Moringa Trees – Also known as the drumstick tree, Moringa trees are a fast-growing species whose leaves, roots, flowers and seeds can all be used for a variety of purposes including as a dietary supplement, water purifier and food. Eight species of it are native to Eastern African countries and it is also endemic to Southeast Asia. Although completely obscure to most Westerners, it is considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to be one of the most economically valuable African crops. The Moringa’s tiny leaves are incredibly nutritious, being filled with antioxidants, iron, vitamin B6 and more, and are generally ground into powders or packed into capsules to serve as a natural dietary supplement. Its seed pods, which can be consumed both raw or cooked, are also exceptionally high in vitamin C: just one cup of them provides 157 percent of the daily requirement. The seed pods can also be processed into a sweet, non-drying oil.
  2. Bambara Murukku – Ranked as the third most important legume of Africa after peanuts and cowpea, the Bambara is grown mostly by subsistence farmers in semi-arid Africa, thus making it known as a poor man’s crop. Its nuts, which are rich in carbohydrates and protein, can be eaten boiled or roasted or ground into a powder to make flour for usage in bread and cakes. Additionally, Bambara groundnut does not require fertilization as it is self nitrogen-fixing, making it an ideal crop for nutrient-poor areas. Furthermore, the plant is drought-tolerant, making it an ideal crop in the face of climate change.
  3. Teff – A staple crop of Ethiopia and Eritrea, teff makes up two-thirds of those residents’ protein intake. Resembling a skinny wheat stalk, its tiny, thin grains are used for making bread and porridges and its straw is often utilized as a construction material for reinforcing mud walls. It comes in a variety of colors, with the white grains considered the most prized and the red grains fetching the lowest price. The demand for teff has been the fastest-growing of all the African crops in this article in recent years with exports rising by 7 to 10 percent annually. This has been largely due to the media hailing it as the next super grain as well as an apt gluten-free flour option. The export of injera, the Ethiopian pancake made out of teff flour, has also enjoyed an upward trend in recent years. Ethiopian companies, such as Mama Fresh, regularly fly their injera overseas to eager customers.
  4. Okra – Although it is disputed whether okra has originated from either West Africa or Southeast Asia, it is generally agreed that it is one of the most important African crops. Grown mainly for their pods and leaves, its fibers can also be used as a construction material, for handicrafts such as baskets or as a kindling fuel. The plant is incredibly adaptable and resilient and can thrive in just about any condition and climate. High in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium but low in calories, the okra has much potential in Western markets as diet food. It has, until recently, been all but unknown outside of its native land. More research and experimentation needs to be conducted on it to unlock its full potential. Currently, researchers are investigating its possibility of being used as a commercial oilseed and medicinal mucilage.

From custard apples to bread trees, there are hundreds more other under-utilized crops in both Africa and around the world. The status quo of the global diet is far too dependent on a mere handful of plants. In order to prepare for and feed the ever-growing population of this planet, people must become more open and adventurous in various culinary tastes by incorporating these orphan crops into daily meals.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr