Beans to Reduce Food InsecurityFoods accessible to low-income populations often face stigma. For instance, there are many who consider food items like beans as plain or last-resort options. However, beans are far from plain. Across the globe, these legumes are staple foods in many diets, and there is compelling evidence supporting their potential to reduce global food insecurity.

Food Insecurity

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) describes a person as food insecure when they “lack regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.” According to the Economic Research Service of the USDA (ERS), around 1.3 billion people in low and middle-income countries met this definition in 2022.

According to the World Bank’s 2023 data, 61.1% of low-income countries are experiencing more than 5% food price inflation. Rising food prices lead to people being unable to afford basic necessities and resorting to skipping meals, sometimes for days. Unfortunately, the cheapest foods are often the least nutritious, increasing the risk of malnutrition and diseases like diabetes. Natural disasters and geopolitical crises in developing countries can disrupt food production and trade, resulting in food shortages. Lack of sanitation can also compromise accessible food supplies, leading to the spread of diseases.

Food insecurity affects both child and adult health. The Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates for 2022 show that, globally, one in five children under the age of 5 suffer from stunting. These children are at risk of experiencing cognitive delays that impact their development into adulthood. Malnourished adults are less productive, making them more susceptible to diseases and less capable of working.

The Benefits of Beans

Beans, considered one of the “pulses” harvested for their high protein, fiber and low-fat content, offer a host of benefits to the dinner table and beyond. Incorporating beans into diets can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes. These nutrient-rich legumes provide numerous advantages, making them a valuable addition to a healthy diet.

In addition to their nutritional value, beans are a cost-effective option. Beans and other pulses are cheaper than animal-based proteins and one can store them dried or canned for longer periods of time, reducing food waste. The high levels of complex carbohydrates and fiber in beans provide lasting energy and satisfaction.

Beans are an environmentally-friendly option as compared to meat. It takes 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses, whereas it takes 800 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. Moreover, beans are highly adaptable and can thrive in various weather conditions. This makes beans a practical solution for reducing food insecurity in regions that experience harsh weather conditions.

The Issue of Labels

Despite its benefits, beans still attract stigma. For many, this food is a quintessential poverty meal and is disregarded in favor of meat. In her piece on the subject, Nikesha Elise Williams recounts her husband’s perception of the food and how he felt he “had no choice but to swallow and stomach” it. Unfortunately, Williams’ experience is not uncommon. Perceptions like these create negative associations with beans and may even deter people from eating this healthy source of high-quality nutrients.

Beans Around the World

Despite the stigma surrounding beans, the food remains a part of many cultures due to its nutritional and cultural values. People cook staple meals with beans in countries like Mexico, Italy and Zambia. The following are few of the different ways in which cultures around the world enjoy beans.

  1. Frijoles De La Olla: Stewed beans form the basis of many traditional Mexican dishes, simple yet delicious and commonly served with rice and tortillas.
  2. Pasta e Fagioli: A dish of pasta, beans and sauce, part of Italy’s “cucina povera” or “peasant food” tradition, known for its simplicity and accessibility.
  3. Kabulangeti Beans: Sugar beans popular in Zambia, cooked with tomatoes, onions and spices, featured in various traditional meals and widely available.

Organizing Around Beans

Many are starting to realize the potential of beans to reduce food insecurity. There are entire organizations centering beans as a poverty solution.

Slow Food, an Italian-based organization founded in 1989, aims to ensure access to nutritious and safe food for all.” The organization’s Slow Beans network is aimed at educating people on the benefits and traditions of eating beans. In 2020, it launched the Let It Bean! campaign in collaboration with Meatless Monday. It aimed to increase knowledge of how to cook beans and support local bean producers. Slow Food started in Italy but is now active in more than 1,600 areas of the world.

The Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) is dedicated to improving food security, income and health for smallholder farmers and urban dwellers across Africa.” PABRA works in 31 countries in Africa. Its work includes breeding more resilient and nutrient-dense bean varieties, helping farmers maximize bean production in an affordable and environmentally-friendly way. The organization also helps farmers sell their beans in the world markets.

Looking Ahead

In the face of food insecurity, beans prove to be a powerful ally. Rich in nutrients and cost-effective, these legumes offer multiple health benefits while being environmentally friendly. Organizations like Slow Food and the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance are championing beans as a solution to poverty and malnutrition, promoting education and innovation to harness their potential. By challenging stigma and embracing the cultural and nutritional value of beans, communities worldwide can take a significant step toward reducing food insecurity and building a healthier, more sustainable future.

– Yesenia Aguilera
Photo: Flickr

ugly foodSome countries are creatively battling hunger and food waste by repurposing and rebranding unappealing produce as “ugly food” in Africa. Two projects in Kenya and South Africa demonstrate an interest in reducing food waste to relieve food insecurity.

The Serious Problem with Food Waste

While hunger remains a pressing issue around the world, nearly one-third of all food that is grown or produced is thrown away before it can reach anyone’s dinner table. On the African continent, nonprofits and governments are confronting food waste as a barrier to relieving widespread hunger. These groups focus on improving data collection, promoting sustainable practices and improving food policy to reduce food waste after production.

Adaptability and innovation are key. The Minister for Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development of Zimbabwe, Joseph Made, recently stated, “Obviously, new strategies and approaches are needed to reduce food losses and waste, especially due to the rapidly changing nature of agri-food systems and rapid urbanization.”

A New Approach to Reducing Food Waste

One increasingly popular approach to food waste is encouraging the use of unappealing or “ugly” foods. Ugly foods are fruits, vegetables or other food products that farmers, markets and shoppers reject due to discoloration or misshapenness. While perfectly edible and nutritious, these foods are unmarketable, so markets throw them away. In countries such as the U.S. and France, a growing number of businesses are buying ugly produce from farmers and markets and reselling them to shoppers who want to end excessive food waste.

Nonprofit Work Meets Ugly Food in Africa

In many African countries, nonprofit organizations are finding ways to repurpose unappealing foods to reduce food waste and end hunger. In South Africa, for instance, food waste is a huge problem. About 44% of all foods wasted in South Africa are fruits or vegetables. However, Slow Food is a nonprofit changing that. Through an initiative called World Disco Soup Day, Slow Food sponsors festivals in many cities around the world, including Johannesburg, where ugly vegetables are brought in to make an eclectic, community soup. By feeding the community, World Disco Soup Day raises awareness about food waste and teaches people how to use unappealing produce.

Similarly, according to the United Nations, “farms in Kenya reject up to 83 tons of perfectly nutritious vegetables simply because they are considered too ugly and off-putting for consumers.” An initiative sponsored by the World Food Programme is trying to change that by feeding schoolchildren with fruits and vegetables that would have been thrown away. This project in Nairobi, Kenya has been able to provide school lunches for over 2,200 students.

While still new, the ugly food in Africa movement is growing as a means of reducing food waste and hunger. Organizations like Slow Food and the World Food Programme are leading the way by using creative approaches to feeding communities.

– Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Unsplash

Nicaragua, although having made tremendous progress in recent years, is still one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America. According to the World Bank, 24.9% of Nicaraguans lived in poverty as of 2016. Of those people, 200,000 lived in extreme poverty making less than $1.90 a day. As a result of poverty and harsh climate conditions, hunger in Nicaragua is a prominent issue. Even though approximately 70% of the population works in agriculture, 300,000 people still require food aid. Located in what’s known as the Dry Corridor, Nicaragua faces erratic weather patterns prone to climate shocks that are consistent threats to stable food production. However, in spite of the unfavorable conditions, many organizations and programs are on the ground working to fight hunger in Nicaragua.

5 Initiatives to Fight Hunger in Nicaragua

  1. The World Food Program (WFP) offers various programs and services to alleviate hunger in Nicaragua. Since 1971, WFP has implemented strategies to improve food security. By supporting the National School Meal Program, the organization helped provide meals to more than 182,000 schoolchildren in April of 2020. Following a five-year plan that spans from 2019 to 2023, WFP aims to find long-term solutions to hunger in Nicaragua. Along with direct food assistance, WFP promotes creating efficient and sustainable agricultural practices by providing technical assistance in implementing weather-resilient farming methods, improving degraded ecosystems and developing technology for accurate climate information.
  2. The organization Food for the Hungry believes that chickens can be a catalyst for solving hunger. Food for the Hungry stated that chickens rank close to the top of its annual gift catalog because of their uses in decreasing hunger. The nonprofit sponsored a program in El Porvenir, Nicaragua called “Happy Chicks”. This initiative taught the locals skills related to running a poultry farm, which is a creative and sustainable way to provide daily meals to the community and, especially, children. These skills help communities learn to operate self-sufficiently.
  3. Indigenous women have a history of banding together to develop more sustainable agricultural practices. Slow Food is an organization that values the protection of food culture and understands the importance of responsible food production. The organization partnered with communities of indigenous women in Nicaragua to encourage cooperation in improving the quality of agricultural systems. Women in the organization shared ideas about planting and harvesting crops, while also promoting economic autonomy through marketing and commercializing excess products.
  4. The Caribbean Coast Food Security Project (PAIPSAN) is collaborating with communities on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua to fight hunger. The organization provides assistance to those who would normally not have access to adequate technology or resources to engage in sustainable agricultural practices. PAIPSAN encourages farmers to utilize climate-resistant seeds and organic fertilizers, while also promoting innovative and environmentally friendly pest and disease control practices. The program also provides educational services to increase awareness of improving nutrition.
  5. Food assistance programs are a popular way of directly fighting hunger in Nicaragua. Food assistance programs generally provide a stable source of food for those in need. Hope Road Nicaragua works alongside other organizations, such as the Orphan Network and Rise Against Hunger, to provide 3,000 children with meals that include vitamin-dense rice and soy packs, beans, vegetables, chicken and tortillas.  The Rainbow Network is another food assistance program. It has set up 489 feeding centers, reaching approximately 13,581 people. The Rainbow Network also works with The American Nicaraguan Foundation to train community members on how to cook and operate the feeding centers. The American Nicaraguan Foundation itself is an organization that has provided more than 297.3 million meals to Nicaragua’s most vulnerable in the past 25 years. Along with its network of more than 700 partners, the foundation coordinates a variety of programs and allocates resources dedicated to poverty relief.

Nicaragua has made progress in recent years. However, vulnerable groups still need assistance with fighting hunger, a direct result of poverty in the country. In order to address this, many organizations are working to foster the idea of food sovereignty and fight hunger in Nicaragua. 

Melanie McCrackin
Photo: Flickr