In China, 56 million people in rural areas live in poverty and almost 150.8 million are malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. Malnutrition is the consequence of a poor diet and can lead to stunted growth and weakened immunity. Further to this, schools in rural China lack access to vital equipment for the preparation of healthy meals. A great number of communities also lack sufficient nutritional education. One of the greatest social issues in China today is the “opportunity gap between rural and urban children,” an issue that organizations like the China Foundation for Rural Development (CFRD) work to alleviate. Founded in 1989 and based in Beijing, the CFRD is a non-governmental organization focusing on those living in China’s most secluded communities. Targeting the main causes of poverty, the CFRD works to “improve health, promote educational equality and improve rural livelihoods.”
Malnutrition in Rural China
Although China has made significant progress in improving the standard of living across some regions, there are still remote communities, particularly in mountainous areas, where great income disparities remain. Responsible for managing 95% of the cultivated land, more than 200 million smallholder farmers work across this vast rural landscape, producing most of the food consumed across China.
In 2014, UNICEF reported that 20 million Chinese children lived in poverty, based on the official poverty standard of $1.80 per person per day. Furthermore, just 10 years ago, 13 million children in China went unregistered and were unable to access basic but vital social services.
Malnutrition poses a significant threat to children growing up in rural communities. For almost half of them, three meals a day is a “luxury” and most have no choice but to survive on starch-based diets with little to no meat or vegetables. This results in deficiencies in energy, protein, calcium and vitamin A. Due to the enormous population size of China, statistics on child nutrition are nationally substantial.
The Work of the China Foundation for Rural Development
Having adopted the slogan “Persistence Brings Change,” the CFRD has the mission of helping “resource-deficient poor communities enhance their capacity for self-sustainability.” The organization aims to do this by improving basic conditions and standards of primary social service.
The CFRD has implemented numerous programs that address the issue of childhood malnutrition in rural communities across China. One of these is the Nutritious Meals Program, which improves nutrition in three stages: the production of nutritious meals, the establishment of “Love Kitchens” within rural schools and education in underdeveloped areas around the importance of nutrition.
The initiative includes a daily nutritional supplement for children during school hours, including one egg and one carton of milk. The standard Love Kitchen equipment is installed in schools and includes electric stoves, rice steamers, disinfection cabinets and exhaust fans. In addition, the program provides nutrition training and education regarding malnutrition.
The Nutritious Meals Program operates in 17 provinces across China, including Sichuan, Yunnan and Hubei. The program has also had an international influence, with similar food programs running in Cambodia and Ghana to aid students.
Impact of the China Foundation for Rural Development
Since 2008, the CFRD has provided more than 1 million students with around 57 million nutritious meals. The organization has also established 2,172 Love Kitchens in many provinces across China. Moreover, it has provided 762,000 nutritious meal packages for 605,000 people in 20 provinces.
The Give2Asia website tells the story of Alimunisa, one of the children who have benefited from the work of the organization. The fourth grader from Aktau County comes from a low-income household (yearly income equating to about $775) that is registered as one of the “poor households in China.” Alimunisa says the household meals rarely contain meat or vegetables. She, therefore, “looks forward to school where she eats meals she wouldn’t normally get at home. Her favorites are the marinated chicken eggs and milk donated by the Nutritious Meals Program.” The nutritious meals have made “school more enjoyable” and also improved Alimunisa’s academic performance.
In 2004, the CFRD began expanding its work to include other countries. In these nations, its work includes responses to natural disasters or extreme weather events. With CFRD programs, children across China and other nations have a better chance of escaping poverty and living a higher quality of life.
– Bethan Marsden