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

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

hunger in BrazilIn the working-class area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the largest urban garden in Latin America has plans to become the biggest in the world. The produce goes towards families in the area, helping to remedy food insecurity and hunger in Brazil.

Hunger in Brazil

Brazil is a large nation with a sizeable population of 212 million, so any social safety net shortcomings reflect on a larger scale, affecting millions. As of 2022, 60% of families in Brazil face some form of food insecurity; this equates to 125 million people.

The situation is not improving either as the number of those facing hunger doubled from 19.1 million to 33.1 million over the past two years, according to The Brazilian Report. Hunger in Brazil now is similar to rates from 30 years ago.

Urban Garden in Rio de Janeiro

Beginning in 2013, the Manguinhos community garden started in a patch of land previously used as part of the Rio Olympics. Around one football field of land became a workable garden thus far, BBC reports. Prior to its transformation, the land was infamous for being a slum, home to many displaced persons struggling with addiction.

There are currently 35 gardeners who assist in managing the land. They receive a monthly stipend of $95 in addition to access to fresh produce which they can take for free. The majority of the produce, however, goes to the tables of families in need in the area. Currently, the garden feeds 800 families a month. The food is always pesticide free, a rare option in the area.

Julio Cesar Barros, a soil and crop expert leading much of the project, stresses the importance of providing organic food in low-income areas. “Why do poor people have to be doomed to eating poisoned food? My goal is to stop organic food from just being for the elite,” he says.

Plans for the Future

The Manguinhos urban garden does not plan to stop at being the largest urban garden in Latin America. By the end of the year, the garden could expand to nearly 27 acres, according to BBC. This development would make it the largest urban garden in the world.

The plan is to donate half of the produce to those in the area in need, while the other half will be sold at inexpensive prices. All of the money will be divided amongst the gardeners, according to BBC. As such, the garden acts both as a means of accessible fresh and healthy food and as a source of income for those that dedicate their time to maintaining the land.

The Manguinhos urban garden is an innovative and sustainable way for Rio de Janeiro to combat growing food insecurity in Brazil. Once expanded, the garden should be able to feed 50,000 local families by 2024.

– Eleanor Corbin
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

Russia-Ukraine Wheat Agreement Russia and Ukraine are two of the largest grain producers in the world, combining to supply 30% of the world’s wheat and barley. A continuous flow of these goods is critical as the two countries account for over half of all wheat imports in 36 countries, according to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The Russia-Ukraine war put a stop to the export of these goods with Russia blocking Ukrainian ports since February. Fortunately, with the help of the United Nations and third-party countries, Russia and Ukraine were able to strike a deal allowing wheat and grain exports to leave the Ukrainian port in Odesa. The Russia-Ukraine wheat agreement went into effect on Monday, August 1, 2022.

Food Supply Threat

Port blockages posed a clear threat to food supply lines around the world, specifically in the Horn of Africa. Because wheat was unavailable from Russia and Ukraine, countries had to pay more for shipping from further away countries. Additionally, any vessels traveling through the black sea were in imminent danger, resulting in higher insurance premiums and an overall increase in food costs.

The situation was untenable, with it being an estimated 47 million people face acute hunger, USIP reports.

Fortunately, with the help of the United Nations and third-party countries, Russia and Ukraine were able to strike a deal allowing wheat and grain exports to leave the Ukrainian port in Odesa. The Russo-Ukrainian wheat agreement went into effect on Monday, August 1, 2022.

The Agreement

Two countries concluded the agreement last month, after two months of negotiation. United Nations and Turkey brokered the talks, with both Russia and Ukraine taking a seat at the table. The Russia-Ukraine wheat agreement should last 120 days, however, there’s an option to renew it indefinitely if both countries agree, according to BBC.

The reason for the nearly month-long delay between agreement and enaction of this deal comes from the difficult logistics that had to be ironed out. Ukrainian military mined the waters in Odesa to prevent Russian ships from entering. As a result, this makes travel by cargo ship incredibly difficult.

The Ukrainian military worked to finalize a route through the black sea suitable for cargo ships and devoid of mines. Second, all cargo ships entering and exiting Ukraine will go through inspection for weapons, upon Russia’s request. This inspection will happen at the Joint Coordination Center in Turkey, according to BBC.

Now that the agreement has gone into effect, Ukrainian officials announced that there are 17 ships carrying 600,000 tonnes of cargo waiting for inspection, BBC reports.


Under the Russian-Ukraine wheat agreement, Russia has agreed not to take any military action on Odesa or the ships coming in and out of the port. Ukraine has agreed to use its naval vessels to guide all ships in and out of the mined waters, according to BBC.

As mentioned before, Russia had concerns over weapons being smuggled into Ukraine. To alleviate these concerns Ukraine agreed to mandatory inspections of all ships, which Turkey, as a third party, will conduct.


The Russo-Ukrainian Wheat Agreement is a major first step in building relationships and restoring food supply lines. However, there are still some concerns. First, there are concerns that Russia may not have agreed to this deal in good faith. Less than 24 hours after the deal was agreed to, Russia launched two missile strikes on Odesa port.

There are worries that Russia may continue to disrupt shipments through military action. Second, even with guidance from the Ukrainian navy, sea mines still pose a significant threat to cargo ships in the water. As a result, insurance premiums for vessels hoping to transport grain under this agreement will remain incredibly high and continue to put upwards pressure on the cost of food.

– Benjamin Brown
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

School Feeding in West AfricaThe COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across West Africa to shutter their doors. These widespread school closures had a deleterious effect on the education and well-being of western Africa’s most vulnerable children. Youth were not only deprived of an education but also a chance to receive a meal through their country’s school feeding program. As schools gradually reopened as COVID-19 rates subsided, school feeding in West Africa provided an avenue for children to receive nutritious food, a commodity that some children only attain through their educational institution.

What is School Feeding?

School feeding refers to a meal provided at a child’s school at no cost to the child’s family. According to the World Bank, it is “most frequently designed as a social protection measure for poor and vulnerable communities with the key outcome being an improvement in education through increased enrolment, reduced absenteeism and enhanced gender equality.”

With a full stomach, school feeding often leads to children’s increased ability to concentrate and learn. Additionally, per the World Food Programme (WFP), “every $1 invested in school meals has a $9 return on investment.” Finally, school feeding provides incentives for families to send girls to school instead of keeping them at home or marrying them off early.

Thus, initiatives to support school feeding in West Africa are crucial because of their remedial effects on the harmful repercussions of school closures. Fortunately, international organizations are partnering with government authorities to provide increased funding and efficacious implementation for school feeding in West Africa. Specifically, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Liberia have benefited from foreign assistance.

Home-Grown School Feeding in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is an impoverished West African nation bordered by Guinea and Liberia. According to the WFP, in 2022, more than 65% of residents living on less than $1.25 per day.

As food prices skyrocket across the nation, school feeding programs remain essential for children and their families. In 2021, the government of Sierra Leone launched an initiative to transition the nation to a home-grown model, according to the WFP. This novel type of school feeding allows local agricultural workers to directly supply schools with fresh produce.

Of note, the WFP is assisting the government by launching a pilot program in the town of Tawuya. The pilot initiative has been a blessing to local female farmers. Adama, a Tawuya resident and mother of seven, told a representative of the organization that the “WFP created a means for us women to earn money regularly.” Overall, the WFP’s intervention in Tawuya has enabled many families to overcome food insecurity.

The McGovern-Dole Program in Senegal

Currently, 751,000 Sengalese citizens are food insecure and 17% of children younger than 5 are malnourished. In response to the food security crisis in Senegal, Counterpart International, an organization focused on establishing enduring relationships with at-risk communities, announced in October 2021, that the nation would be the recipient of a $25 million McGovern-Dole program award. The McGovern-Dole program is an initiative by the United States Department of Agriculture to curtail childhood hunger by providing food and financial assistance to developing nations.

The new initiative seeks to bolster school attendance, literacy and community health through school feeding and enhance the Senegalese government’s ability to implement the program. In a 2021 article in Counterpart International, Brian Dotson, Director of Food Security at Counterpart International, commented “…this project will provide a vital safety net for food-insecure families living in poverty in Senegal…”

Save the Children’s $25 Million Project in Liberia

According to the 2021 Global Hunger Index, Liberia ranks 110th out of 116 countries. In an effort to ameliorate hunger in Liberia, Save the Children launched a $25 million school feeding program on June 2, 2022

The funds from Save the Children will help the Liberian government implement its “Liberia Empowerment Through Attendance, Reading, and Nutrition (LEARN) Project.” Although this is a program implemented by both the government and NGOs, the majority of its funds are supplied through donors. Thus, Save the Children revitalized the LEARN program which has distributed more than 10 million school meals to more than 45,000 Liberian children.

Western African Governments Take the Lead

As these three programs demonstrate, school feeding in West Africa is indispensable. While international organizations have largely funded and implemented these programs, western African governments have also taken action to strengthen school feeding.

According to Brookings, 27 countries from across Africa voiced approval for a United Nations school meals coalition that aims to exceed pre-pandemic school feeding levels. Specifically, President Patrice Talon of Benin and President Macky Sall of Senegal have allocated additional funds for their nation’s respective school-feeding programs. Additionally, the African Union, a collective organization of 55 nations, endorsed home-grown school feeding and marked 2022 as the “Year of Nutrition.”

– Alexander Portner
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

How Vertical Farming in Mexico Can Address Food InsecurityMexico is a large country home to more than 130 million people. Of the population, roughly 44% live in poverty and about 10.4 million Mexicans endured severe food insecurity in 2018. COVID-19 worsens these issues, exacerbating concerns of food security and availability. Researchers are now studying the effects of vertical farming as new companies attempt to introduce vertical farming in Mexico.

What is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is a method of production in which crops are grown within stacked layers on top of one another. In contrast to traditional methods, where food grows across a singular plane such as a field, the vertical method enables fruits and vegetables to grow in more confined spaces, such as skyscrapers, multi-level warehouses and even shipping containers. In these environments, plants are exposed to artificial lighting and controlled temperatures to produce the best yield. The purpose of this method is to grow more food within smaller areas.

How Can Vertical Farms Help Mexico?

Vertical farming has gained traction in recent years because it gives people the opportunity to grow food in urban cities and areas where the population is rapidly increasing. Estimates indicate that Mexico’s population could rise to 150 million citizens by 2050, therefore, it is important to ensure that food production increases over the next several decades. While vertical farming allows growers to be closer to their consumers, it also alleviates some of the problems brought by agricultural farming. For example, Mexico loses billions of liters of water every year because of the poor irrigation of traditional farming methods. By introducing more vertical farms in Mexico, water waste in agriculture will drastically reduce.

Water reduction is not the only benefit of vertical farming as there are several negative aspects of traditional farming that indoor farming completely avoids. Introducing vertical farms in Mexico can lead to a decrease in fertilizer and pesticide use, which will reduce water, soil and air pollution. Additionally, since vertical farms are much closer to urbanized areas, there will not be as great of a need for agricultural machinery or transportation to deliver goods. This will reduce overall carbon emissions.

In Mexico, 34% of food produced through agricultural farming never reaches the consumer because of problems that occur during production, processing, storing and transporting. Implementing more vertical farms in Mexico can help address this problem by reducing the need for agricultural farming. Additionally, vertical systems can create job opportunities for many people, leading to profitable activities that can positively impact the nation’s economy. Overall, vertical farming can improve the quality of life for many Mexicans by giving them access to locally produced fresh food.

What are the Downsides?

Although vertical farming has a lot of potential in Mexico, it is not without drawbacks and cannot fully replace agricultural farming. This is because indoor farming technology is limited to producing specific fruits and vegetables, primarily leafy greens. While one might be able to produce lettuce, kale and different types of herbs, there are several plants that cannot grow under the artificial conditions that vertical farms create. Potatoes, corn and other root vegetables, for example, rely on traditional agricultural farming.

Limited variety is not the only issue that vertical farming presents. Because vertical farms consume so much energy and electricity, setting them up can cost millions of dollars. In urbanized areas, starting up indoor farms can be more expensive, making marginal profits lower and leading to fewer people who want to invest. Another issue with indoor farming is that it relies too heavily on technology. One day without power or LED lighting can be absolutely devastating and result in the loss of thousands of plants. Despite this, companies are starting to open up vertical farms in Mexico, with some expanding dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Verde Compacto

In recent years, several businesses have emerged in response to Mexico’s need to address food insecurity. One example is Verde Compacto, a vertical farming company that uses shipping containers to grow crops. This method enables founders Juan Gabriel Succar and Jorge Succar to grow 5,000 square meters worth of lettuce within “a 30 square meter sea freight container.”

The business is now working on a project to reduce its LED light use by 75%. Today, Verde Compacto is collaborating with its consumers to build container farms best suited to their needs. It is also looking to bring down the price of produce in countries outside of Latin America, expanding to regions such as Northern Europe in light of the pandemic.

Karma Verde Fresh

Another vertical farming company is Karma Verde Fresh, a startup based in Monterrey, Mexico. Since its founding in 2016, Karma Verde Fresh has developed its own method of indoor farming and has successfully increased its number of vertical racks by almost 90%. In 2019, the company opened its first laboratories, two at the campuses of the Autonomous University of Nueva León and one at the Antonio Narro Agrarian Autonomous University in Coahuila.

During the pandemic, Karma Verde Fresh signed a contract with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture to collaborate and build cultivation systems in food banks in Mexico’s most impoverished regions. The partners are now working to institute a Vertical Agriculture Tech and Trainer Certification Program in Mexico City. Karma Verde Fresh’s current goal is to install vertical farming systems in universities across Mexico, Central America and Chile between 2021 and 2023.

Ultimately, vertical farming is slowly integrating itself into Mexico’s future and is capable of addressing many of the nation’s problems. The benefits vertical farming hold for the nation is truly promising, potentially inspiring other countries to follow suit.

– Eshaan Gandhi
Photo: Flickr

GM golden riceRice is a staple crop in Asia that provides 30-72% of the energy intake in the region. Many children in these countries rely on meager amounts of rice and almost nothing else. Enter genetically modified (GM) rice. GM golden rice is a revolutionary modified rice crop, characterized by its golden color and vitamin A fortification. This biofortified crop works to alleviate the issue of malnutrition in Asia, especially among children.

Vitamin A

In Bangladesh, China, India and elsewhere in Asia, there is a vitamin A deficiency problem. Annually, vitamin A deficiency results in the death of several million children and blindness in 250,000, according to a study done by WHO. Half of these children die within 12 months of losing their sight.

GM golden rice allows for beta-carotene (a Vitamin A precursor) synthesis in the edible portion of rice. This process may prove to be a promising remedy to this widespread vitamin deficiency. The body can actually use beta-carotene in the edible portion of rice, rather than the rice’s leaves. Not only is it usable, but it can supply 30% to 50% of a person’s daily vitamin A requirement.

Other Benefits

Besides the nutritional benefit, GM golden rice also lasts longer than its non-GM counterparts. A Purdue University researcher found that some GM foods have an increased shelf life by a week longer than it would have originally. Foods that can stay fresher longer help impoverished regions store food and aid food distribution across long periods of time.  

Furthermore, modified foods, like GM golden rice, are routinely screened for safety. Simon Barber, director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit at EuropaBio, the European biotech industry association, stated that before anything may be imported into Europe and used as animal feed or as an ingredient in food for humans, it had to travel through a security approval process.

In addition, the two genes inserted into GM golden rice, plant phytoene synthase and bacterial phytoene desaturase, are innocuous to the human body. Further, Dr. Russesll Reinke, IRR Program Lead for Healthier Rice,  stated that test trials in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. found this rice to be safe for consumption.


As technology rapidly evolves, people will have reservations about the unfamiliar processes involved. However, GM golden rice has continued to be a proven and effective supplement for adequate nutrition. With new technological solutions, like GM golden rice, food shortages can continue to decrease.

Justin Chan
Photo: Flickr