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Hunger in MicronesiaAll too often, poverty’s defining factor is income. However, other factors such as access to healthcare, public transportation and education all impact poverty as well. Micronesia’s well-deserved reputation as a paradise wrongly implies that poverty and hunger aren’t an issue. The islanders face a complex grouping of problems affecting food availability and agriculture despite the picturesque locale. Micronesia is comprised of 607 islands in the Northwestern Pacific. The country is represented in four states: Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. It is home to about 112,000 citizens with a median household income of $7,336 as of 2019, primarily earned through the agriculture, fishing and tourism industries. This article will highlight the issue of hunger in Micronesia and list three potential solutions.

Hunger in Paradise

The issue of hunger in Micronesia has varying causation through the states. Although, some of the primary culprits throughout the country are climate change, a lack of affordable food and rapid urbanization. The effects of climate change in Micronesia is increasingly apparent; the resulting damage effects produce and agricultural land at an alarming rate. Wells in developing areas can become unusable once saturated with seawater, limiting potable water sources for drinking and cooking. Naturally abundant crops like breadfruit and taro suffer from rising sea levels too, with the intrusion of saltwater into their root systems limiting crop-yields or rendering them inedible. In the case of taro root, it takes between two and three years for the plant to be harvestable, so the damage is often long-lasting.

Rising sea levels have also forced residents to relocate or become further removed from services like emergency food supplies. Additionally, the geographical layout of the islands leads to heavy rainfall throughout the year and increases the number of typhoons, exacerbating coastal erosion. Unfortunately, many Micronesians live in these sinking coastal areas.

Additional Challenges

The loss of land and local produce has led to a search for non-agricultural jobs, leading to rapid urbanization in the country. This change has traditionally meant increased dependence on imported food as opposed to local crops, typically exported to the U.S., Japan and Guam. While convenient, these imported foods lack nutritional density, and often lead to health problems, increasing the rates of obesity in Micronesia. Today, as much as 70% of the daily diet in Micronesia can come from imported sources.

Solutions to Hunger in Micronesia

Unfortunately, issues like climate change seem to be here to stay. But, there are solutions to hunger and poverty in Micronesia. Below are three potential solutions:

  1. Increasing Education and Employment Opportunities: This hunger-reduction method will likely be challenging and costly, but increasing opportunities would boost the Micronesian economy and increase social welfare as a result. The Micronesian government might increasing internet accessibility or by rejuvenating the domestic food industry.
  2. Investing in Agriculture: Investing in nation-wide food production is likely to reduce hunger. For example, hydroponics can help combat the need for more farming land. Micronesians might use this technology to prevent saltwater from ruining the soil. Additionally, Micronesia might incentivize its citizens to buy local produce by increasing taxes on imported goods.
  3. Investing in Desalinization Systems: When specified to the region, purification and desalinization systems can improve the quality of drinking water, especially after natural disasters. Similarly, the Micronesian government might consider investing in solar-powered filtration systems. Lastly, Micronesia might increase its supply of drinking-water by increasing regulations on sewer facilities to prevent water contamination.

Identifying the issues and creating potential solutions is just the first step to ending poverty in Micronesia. Hopefully, Micronesia will choose to implement its plans and to invest in its future citizens. However, it will take foreign aid and the work of NGOs to fully tackle the problem of hunger in Micronesia.

Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Botswana
For a wealthier African country, the prominence of hunger in Botswana may be surprising. Botswana is considered a high middle-income country with several strong industries, particularly mining diamonds. The exports of diamond mining produce roughly 70% of the country’s GDP. Despite being wealthy in diamonds, however, the country is poor in food. Compared to such behemoths as the diamond industry, agriculture makes up a minuscule 3% of the economy. From 2016 to 2018, 70% of Botswana’s population faced moderate to severe food insecurity and 26% were malnourished, most of these cases occurring in poor, urban communities. The country has a large wealth gap between its wealthy and poor citizens, and it is the poor that shoulder the burden of food insecurity and malnourishment.

Inconsistent Food Production

One of the root causes of food insecurity is poor and inconsistent food production. Botswana’s farmers are hampered by a tempestuous climate that threatens frequent droughts. The Kalahari Desert extends into the country and the arid climate causes large temperature fluctuations; this makes growing crops extremely difficult. There are few crops that can grow in even the most favorable conditions in Botswana. The four main crops that can be raised are maize, millet, cowpeas and sorghum. Even though these crops can survive, however, only 0.65% of Botswana’s land is suitable for farming, and on this fraction of farmland, droughts are still frequent. In 2018, drought eliminated 75% of the nation’s crops.

Due to these unfavorable conditions, most agrarian practices revolve around herding cattle. 85% of agricultural output in Botswana comes from animal products. Only recently, because of several droughts shrinking herds, has the number of people living in Botswana surpassed the number of cows, which are essential for many rural Botswanans. Drought can kill most of a herd and destroy a farmer’s livelihood. In a four-year time period from 2011 to 2015, the cattle population of Botswana dropped from 2.5 million to 1.7 million because of severe weather.

A Reliance on Imports

Some Botswanans eat beef from their own cattle, but they still must look elsewhere for the remainder of their diet. Because they cannot produce much on their own, much of Botswana’s food is imported from surrounding countries, mainly South Africa. In 2018, Botswana brought in $380 million USD worth of food from South Africa to feed its people. While it is beneficial that Botswana’s next-door neighbor can supply them with a majority of their food, supply chains are not as reliable as domestic production. This has become evident as the COVID-19 pandemic has burdened South African production and supply chains. Hunger in Botswana is expected to rise over the coming months.

Next Steps

There is a serious lack of consistent food production in Botswana, and it is responsible for the malnutrition and food insecurity that plagues many citizens. Looking to combat this issue, Go Fresh!, an award-winning startup company, has brought grade-one vegetable production to Botswana. Using greenhouses and hydroponics, the company is able to produce quality vegetables throughout the entire year. With this new technology, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and other large vegetables can be grown locally instead of coarse traditional crops. Hydroponics also reduces the amount of water needed in the arid climate: plants require 2% the water of normal commercial farming. As modern farming technology continues to improve, Botswana will be able to shoulder a greater load of food production, helping to aid the crisis of hunger in Botswana.

Brett Muni
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in the DesertThe desert is an ecosystem that does not have adequate moisture and nutrients to grow food. People living in these areas often rely heavily on food imports because of this lack of fertile soil. Approximately 5 percent of land in the Middle East and North Africa regions has sufficient amounts of water. That small amount of viable land has suffered mismanagement, resulting in shortages and limitations in agricultural regrowth after natural disasters and war. Fortunately, scientists and organizations around the world are developing ways to boost food security in the desert. Luckily, there are two programs in Syria and the United Arab Emirates that are attempting to feed people in arid regions.

Hydroponics in Syria

The prolonged war in Syria has destroyed the once-booming agricultural industry, diminishing food security in the desert. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated the loss of the agricultural exports sector to be around $16 billion. This number does not include the destruction of fertile land and crops that fed the people of Syria.

British scientists brought green technologies to Syrian refugee camps to promote food security in the desert. Through these programs, refugees learn how to grow crops where fertilized soil is not available. This process uses recycled materials like mattresses; another process uses an indoor planting technique called hydroponics. Hydroponics is a growing technique that uses nutrient-rich water mixtures instead of soil to grow fruits and vegetables.

These projects allow people in refugee camps to become self-sufficient in terms of agriculture. Individuals can use these skills for future gardening and farming once resettled. The project has taught almost 1,000 people sustainable agriculture practices such as growing tomatoes, eggplants and peppers in refugee camps. Using technologies to grow vegetables in places with infertile land will help individuals and countries develop sustainability.

Pure Harvest in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The United Arab Emirates has a climate of severe heat. The high temperatures and harsh conditions present serious issues for conventional farming methods. Due to this extreme climate, the country imports roughly 80 percent of the total amount of food consumed. The emergence of sustainable and innovative agriculture occurred from the need for alternative farming methods.

Pure Harvest began the pursuit of climate-controlled hydroponic greenhouses in 2016. This company aims to help the UAE become more self-sufficient in the government’s efforts to improve food security in the desert. In 2018, the company’s soccer field-sized facility in the Abu Dhabi desert produced its first tomato plants. Since then, it has produced approximately two tons of tomatoes per day.

The success of the first greenhouse has gained positive attention around the world. More desert communities are interested in building greenhouses to increase food security in the desert. Not only do these greenhouses allow crops to grow in arid parts of the world, but they are also producing enough of a surplus to create an agricultural market economy to the desert.

The war-torn areas and severe climates pose threats to food security in the desert, and technology is a crucial tool for mitigating these threats. Innovative methods such as hydroponics in refugee camps and building greenhouses on infertile land are just the start of a transformation that will provide more self-sufficiency and food security in the desert.

Ashleigh Litcofsky
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Aquaponics in South Africa

Aquaponics is an emerging, innovative and resilient method to raise both fish and vegetables concurrently without soil and with little water. Aquaponics combines conventional aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). The system imitates a natural wetland. The fish waste acts as a natural nutrient source for the plants and the plants filter the water. The water continues to cycle between both as the crops grow.

Aquaponics in South Africa

South Africa is currently experiencing drought conditions. Though aquaponics is new in South Africa, it has the potential of addressing food insecurity on a larger scale. It may serve as an alternative to traditional methods that are less environmentally sustainable. Growing crops traditionally requires fertile soil and large, consistent amounts of water. Traditional fishing leads to the depletion of fish in the ocean. With aquaponics, once the initial water supply enters the system, there is no need for additional water. The plants do not require soil. Climate conditions have little effect on the aquaponics system, though the fish may need a sustained warm temperature.

The installation of aquaponics can be on a large scale for market sale, or a small scale to feed a village. Even a small system can provide a surplus to sell for income beneficial to families living in poverty. Small-scale systems can be set up in a limited space, such as a backyard or a village common area. By 2018, 190 freshwater farms and 30 saltwater farms were in production in South Africa. Many farmers start small because of the start-up costs and may move to a larger system after developing their practice.

What Are the Benefits of Aquaponics?

Tilapia is the most common fish raised via aquaponics in South Africa. Leafy greens (lettuces) are the most common vegetables. Seventy-five percent of the aquaponics systems in South Africa serve the purpose of hobby farming or producing food for subsistence or human consumption, as opposed to producing for market sale.

Goals for those interested in expanding sustainability and food security with aquaponics in South Africa include raising awareness of the benefits and advancing the technology of small systems to improve production. Farmers practicing aquaponics need to develop an understanding of managing water quality, including pH, nitrogen and oxygen levels. Systems can be fully automated or semi-automated requiring more maintenance effort. Moreover, farmers may purchase fish food or use natural manure sources at no cost.

Aquaponics can grow other vegetables including tomatoes, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, peas and beans. Farmers can harvest plants after one to three months while the fish take 9-10 months to mature. Proponents state that the vegetables flourish and grow more quickly than a traditional garden.

Aquaponics in South Africa Could Help Solve Malnutrition

Aquaponics offers an essential option for those who are at risk of malnutrition, who experience poverty and those who do not have access to sufficient water for traditional farming or gardening practices. An aquaponics system can be set up in rural or urban areas. A basic setup may begin with two repurposed bathtub basins, a water pump and piping or gravel to hold the plants and a properly plumbed system for drainage and recycling of water.

The highly nutritious and organically raised fish and leafy green vegetables provide protein, vitamins and fiber. These high-value crops create a much better alternative to high-starch, low-nutrition foods which may be more readily available when food is scarce. As an added benefit, with a closed water system, no run-off pollutes the environment.

A Need for Funding

In order to continue to boost sustainability and food security goals via aquaponics in South Africa on a larger scale, farmers will need funding to develop the technologies. Scientists are currently studying which systems (tunnels and greenhouses) provide preferable temperatures for different types of fish considering the climate in South Africa.

Though South Africa’s agricultural department plays a role in aquaponics education, proponents ask that the government of South Africa include aquaponics in their agricultural policies so that they may assist with funding. In addition, there is a need for aquaponics education in secondary and tertiary schools to increase knowledge and understanding.

Farmers and entrepreneurs will continue to develop sustainability and food security with aquaponics in South Africa. Aquaponics may provide the solution to climatic variables such as drought. The potential of aquaponics draws fishermen who recognize the decline in fish as a wild resource. In addition, aquaponics eliminates reliance on soil, which becomes depleted of nutrients from overuse. Aquaponics provides highly nutritious food sources that will combat malnourishment in impoverished areas.

Susan Niz
Photo: Flickr

Hydroponic_Systems
Hydroponic systems use water and nutrients to grow high-yield crops through a sustainable method that does not require soil. As an agricultural alternative, it uses less water and boosts local markets by providing food security. The methodology also creates opportunities for additional income in developing regions.

While advanced hydroponic systems remain impractical for some developing regions there is an alternative, simplified hydroponics growing system. Such a system is accessible with training and a small initial investment. Yields from simplified systems are lower than advanced systems but still outperform traditional farming methods and use 80 percent less water.

Simplified hydroponics can be taught to farmers and individuals with no prior knowledge. These farmers can generate income from small plots of land with vertical farm tools, even in urban areas. New jobs and farms supported by hydroponics contribute to a green economy.

The World Bank sees the potential for simplified hydroponic systems. Jonathan Coony, Program Coordinator for the Climate Technology Program at the World Bank writes, “These sustainable techniques enhance climate resilience while creating local jobs and fostering regional investment.”

hydroponic_systems

Research by students at MIT also noted that materials such as fish tanks, ceramic and aluminum containers can be appropriated into hydroponic systems at a low cost. In addition, some materials, especially in simplified hydroponic systems, can be locally sourced.

A pilot program for low-resource communities in Ecuador utilized simplified hydroponics to improve nutrition, especially among children. The diet of most poor Ecuadorians contains little to no fruits and vegetables.

Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses published a report of the pilot program, which organizers saw as an opportunity to improve nutritional options with simplified hydroponics.

The program’s objective was to consistently provide high-quality vegetables and train the community on how to use hydroponic systems. After two years, the program concluded and the report affirmed the viability of simplified hydroponics as “an effective alternative for integration into food security.”

Hydroponic systems can be utilized to grow crops for livestock as well. Hydroponics Kenya, a Nairobi-based company, sells hydroponic supplies and systems to the local community. According to the company, a 6m x 9m area can produce 500kg or 1,100lbs of fodder for livestock.

Hydroponics Kenya founder Peter Chege has been recognized by several NGOs for his innovations modifying hydroponic systems for the Kenyan climate with fabric and specialized trays. His business is growing and hiring more employees, “We are recruiting, and every week we sell five hydroponic systems,” Chege said.

Cara Kuhlman

Sources: InfoDev, Mission 2014 at MIT, Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses, The World Bank
Photo: Flickr1, Flickr