Tunisia’s Food CrisisTunisia, a North African country with a population of 11.8 million, is facing a dire food crisis in the wake of the Ukraine War. Recently, the country has struggled with various political and economic strife, including 14 government changes in the past decade and a slow economic revival. Reliance on foreign grain exports further exacerbates Tunisia’s food crisis. This makes it particularly susceptible to the dangerous effects of foreign conflicts. In addition, the government has issued decrees that imperil citizens’ freedom of expression.

Import Reliance and War

According to a report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), moderate to severe food insecurity affected around 25.1% of Tunisians from 2018 to 2020. Government food subsidies protected many Tunisians from the expensive cost of foreign imports and agriculture in the country for products such as vegetables and fruits is self-sustainable.

However, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the government was unable to continue providing sufficient subsidies as the prices of their imports skyrocketed, which led to Tunisia accepting an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $750 million.

In addition to the insecurity introduced by COVID-19, the war in Ukraine presents a significant threat to Tunisian’s food supply. Since the Tunisian diet relies heavily on grains and Tunisia imports around 50% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia, the Ukraine war has disrupted regular imports and accelerated hunger within the country.

Inside Tunisia

Statistics tell researchers about the numerical values of a food shortage. However, they cannot properly show the real living conditions of the crisis. Inside the personal lives of Tunisians during recent times of food shortage, bakers are running out of ingredients for bread and the lines of customers in the bakeries continue growing. Food insecurity in Tunisia has even affected citizens’ religious practices; during Ramadan, feasting happens nightly during iftars, but with supply limitations, it was often a struggle to fulfill them.

On March 20, Tunisian President Kais Saied enacted Decree-Law 2022-14, which sentenced those who hoarded state-subsidized products, such as cartels hoarding flour, to 10 to 30 years in prison. This decree’s goal is to protect against ongoing price gouging of grain products. In addition to the president’s decree, the government has also focused on police raids of warehouses and placing the blame for empty grocery store shelves on small businesses.

Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization that fights for human rights, suggested that President Kais’ anti-speculation decree could endanger citizens’ freedom of expression because it claims to target the spread of misinformation. Instead of simply protecting citizens from misinformation, the decree prevents citizens from speaking out about food shortages for fear of prosecution.

World Bank Loan

On June 28th, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a $130 million loan to help alleviate the devastating effects of Tunisia’s food crisis in the wake of the Ukraine war. Emergency support will be provided, such as imports of wheat and barley for dairy production.

In the long run, the loan could assist Tunisia to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on foreign grain imports. This decision also pushes for the reevaluation of weaknesses in the grain value chain, which greatly contributes to food insecurity globally.

– Caroline Zientek
Photo: Flickr

Decreasing Food Waste
Food waste is any food fit for human consumption that one disposes of or uses for a differing purpose either due to choice or circumstances such as food expiry. In a 2014 report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that food waste compounds the severity of poverty because it negatively impacts hunger, “nutrition, income generation and economic growth.” An essential point of the report is that the need for decreasing food waste is a global issue and food waste occurs at every level of the food supply chain.

The Global Issue of Food Waste

In lower-income countries, the barriers to decreasing food waste include, “managerial or technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage, transportation, processing, cooling facilities, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems.” For middle-income to higher-income countries, food waste often occurs on the consumer side, for example, improper meal planning that leads to food wastage. In addition, policies, such as agricultural subsidies, can lead to the excess production of certain crops. Food safety regulations may also lead to the wastage of food that is still fit for human consumption.

To visualize the dizzying scale of food waste, the FAO reported in 2021 that “17% of total global food production” goes to waste. The UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021 confirms this, highlighting further that in 2019 global food waste equated to 931 million tonnes of food waste, 61% of which occurred at the household level. The report finds that “household per capita food waste generation” is similar across all nations, developing and developed. In brief, food waste is an issue that spans across class and country lines — a global crisis that requires a global solution.

How the FAO is Fighting Food Insecurity

The FAO is fighting food insecurity through education and collaboration with other governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private partnerships. Among these educational endeavors, the FAOs’ SAVE FOOD initiative aims to reduce food waste in SAARC countries (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) by educating smallholder farmers on proper post-harvest management practices. Post-harvest loss occurs at high rates of 20%-40%, mainly due to a lack of awareness and knowledge, which can affect “food availability, food security and nutrition.” Especially in countries with “traditional fruit and vegetable supply chains,” namely Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, the SAVE FOOD initiative prioritizes post-harvest management training.

How the Private Sector Fights Food Insecurity

Private sector partners are addressing food waste-created food insecurity at all levels, from the production of food to its consumption. One of these partners, GrainPro, is decreasing food waste through its high-tech “GrainPro Cocoon” in Bangladesh, one of the FAO’s prioritized SAARC countries. The GrainPro Cocoon decreases food waste because it preserves dry grains, spices and seeds “in an airtight and moisture-tight container.” The containers are uniquely suitable for Bangladesh and other countries prone to flooding. GrainPro containers are easily transportable and can protect contents from flooding up to as high as a meter.

Under a Bangladeshi Department of Agriculture Extension project in partnership with the official GrainPro partners of Bangladesh, Allied Agro Industries and ACI Motors, 800 units of the GrainPro Cocoon went out to Bangladeshi farmers. Farmers who used the GrainPro Cocoon to store paddy seeds saw a “20% increase in production” due to improved seed quality, which positively impacted farmers’ income. For a country with about 48% of the population economically relying on agriculture, this continued collaboration will enable people to escape extreme poverty.

10x20x30 Initiative

The World Resources Institute’s (WRI) 10x20x30 Initiative is a compelling development in decreasing food waste. The initiative began in 2019 by the WRI Champions 12.3 coalition, which is a joint team of “executives from governments, businesses, international organizations, research institutions, farmer groups and civil society” all committed to reducing food waste. This coalition aims to reach U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, namely to reduce by 50% “global food waste at retail and consumer levels” while minimizing “food loss during production and supply.”

In 2020, the WRI rallied 12 food retailers and foodservice providers, including “six of the world’s largest food retailers” and secured commitments from these providers to recruit 20 of their own respective suppliers to focus on achieving SDG 12.3. The commitments led to nearly 200 food suppliers globally committing to cutting their food waste in half by 2030.

A remarkable amount of progress is visible in decreasing food waste as a result of the commitments of the international community. Going forward, global participation in decreasing food waste must continue in order to reach the global goals of combating hunger and achieving zero poverty.

– Chester Lankford
Photo: Flickr

Reduce Poverty and Hunger
In September 2021, the White House introduced two of USAID’s new programs to reduce poverty and hunger. USAID, the U.S.’s international development agency, provides aid to countries to support various sectors such as agriculture, trade and human rights. The latest programs of USAID include the Gender Responsive Agricultural Systems Policy (GRASP) and its latest collaboration with the Eleanor Crook Foundation’s Global Nutrition Financing Alliance. GRASP will provide African female policymakers with a three-and-a-half-year virtual leadership development fellowship to empower women in food systems. USAID’s collaboration with the Eleanor Crook Foundation will mobilize $100 million over five years to reduce COVID-19’s impact on food insecurity and reduce malnutrition worldwide.

GRASP: African Women in Agriculture

According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women account for 43% of the world’s agricultural workforce. Although women make up nearly half of all global agricultural workers, they may not receive equitable opportunities in developing countries. In some regions of Africa, women make up 60% of domestic farm labor. Despite their participation, African women hold limited leadership roles in food systems.

Issues regarding legal ownership of land, fair compensation and access to financial resources hinder African women’s leadership in agriculture. According to Feed the Future, “women tend to own less land, have limited ability to hire labor and face impediments to accessing credit, agricultural extension services and other resources.”

GRASP intends to address gender inequality within African agriculture by empowering female policymakers and inciting change in food systems. With help from USAID, GRASP will provide 100 women with mentorships, networking opportunities and virtual leadership programs targeted to create food-secure communities. By empowering African women in leadership, GRASP strives to develop improved and equitable food systems beneficial to all.

USAID and the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance

USAID has also joined the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance in mobilizing $100 million to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition in low- and middle-income countries. The Eleanor Crook Foundation (ECF) and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC0 initially established the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance. The partnership combines public and private sectors to address the pandemic’s effect on malnutrition.

The ECF projects a 50% rise in severe malnutrition due to COVID-19’s economic and existing food programs disruption. USAID’s partnership will help catalyze comprehensive approaches to decrease food insecurity. The alliance will prioritize health and food systems along with food-oriented small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The collaboration seeks to address the financing gap among SMEs, bolster women-led businesses and advance food safety. The alliance also seeks to end malnutrition by 2030.

USAID’s Promising Next Moves to Reduce Poverty and Hunger

USAID’s latest programs will benefit not only those in need but also the rest of the world. GRASP can open new markets by supporting African women in agriculture. The program will also expand leadership and business in African food systems. With accessible development opportunities, African women can create social and economic change to address global poverty and food insecurity.

Additionally, USAID’s alliance with the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance will help reestablish the world’s progress to reduce poverty and hunger. The alliance’s monetary aid will also function as a sustainable investment in global food systems. In helping the world’s poor and hungry through programs like GRASP and the Global Nutrition Financing Alliance, USAID helps the world get back on track.

– Dana Gil
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Costa RicaCosta Rica, officially known as the Republic of Costa Rica, is a Central American country located just south of Nicaragua. Over the past decade, many Central American countries, including Costa Rica, have had struggles with malnourishment. Hunger in Costa Rica was a national issue between 2011-2013. According to a report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 8.2 percent of the population of Costa Rica was “chronically malnourished.”

Poverty in Costa Rica

Costa Rica does not have a problem producing food. When there are foods it cannot produce they are imported. Costa Rica’s food problem is that citizens cannot afford the food they need. Estimates placed the unemployment rate at 18 percent, a bad mix with the fact that Costa Rica already has a high cost of living due to its location.

However, by 2017, there had been massive improvements and reductions in hunger in Costa Rica. The International Food Policy Research Institute found that by 2016, Costa Rica has already reduced its proportion of undernourished citizens to just 3.8 percent.

As mentioned before, the economy was the biggest factor that contributed to hunger in Costa Rica. Costa Rica has focused on building its economy over the past five years. In fact, Costa Rica has grown its economy by 3.5 percent annually at that time.

Increasing Business

One of the ways its economy has grown is to make the business environment more attractive. Costa Rica has reduced its licensing requirements, which will take away some of the hurdles for new business owners. Costa Rica has also focused on growing its trade market. Exports and imports together make up about 72 percent of GDP. The majority of these exports are bananas, coffee and sugar.

Although increasing the economy has helped reduce hunger, a new type of malnourishment is becoming a problem: obesity. Almost a quarter of the adult population is obese, and more than 60.4 percent of people are deemed overweight. Even the adolescent population is suffering from obesity: 8.1 percent of children under five are overweight.

Many Costa Ricans do not view obesity as a problem because being bigger is seen as “normal”. There is a term used called “gordita.” A gordita is a type of Mexican pastry, and the word is used as a slang term used affectionately for someone who is overweight. Costa Rica, as well as the rest of Central America, has a growing problem with obesity. Just like its struggles with hunger, the country will find a solution to this rising problem.

Scott Kesselring
Photo: Pixabay

Southern Africa_Food
Particular regions of southern Africa are currently grappling with food crises caused by record-setting droughts. On top of this, a new crop-eater is singling out these vulnerable areas. In doing so, the crop-eater’s presence causes concern for a new food crisis in southern Africa.

The pest is called a “fall armyworm,” though it is far more caterpillar-like than that of a worm. The first report of an infestation came from South Africa’s agricultural department in early February, when they noted its arrival and unfamiliarity.

The fall armyworm does not originate in Africa and is instead proven to come from the Americas. Experts believe the invasion may have arrived on ships of maize imported from the Americas during the El Nino between 2015 and 2016. The same El Nino jumpstarted the droughts that southern Africa is still currently wrestling through.

Farmers have likened the infestation of this new, strange pest to “one of the 10 plagues in the Bible […] It’s widespread and seems to be spreading rapidly.”

Indeed, there are several problems caused by the fall armyworm that may induce a new food crisis in southern Africa.

The Dangers

  1. While the fall armyworm feeds off of a variety of crops, such as cotton, soybean and tobacco, it is primarily targeting southern Africa’s primary food staple — maize.
  2. An armyworm-infested crop is not noticeable until it’s too late. The pest conceals itself from farmers by digging straight into the stem of the maize. Up to three-quarters of the crop can be destroyed without visibility.
  3. The worm has spread to six countries in eight weeks. The armyworms eventually develop into moths that are capable of traveling long distances. Each moth can lay up to 2,000 eggs, and each egg has a rapid life cycle.
  4. The fall armyworms are invading right on the heels of a horrific drought. A food crisis in southern Africa on top of an already-existing food shortage could be catastrophic.

Currently, the fall armyworm has traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique. New reports are currently developing in Nigeria and Ghana. Unfortunately, the Americas—where the fall armyworm originates—first reported infestations in 1957 and have still been unable to find solutions to eradicate them. They are considered second only to the red locusts in terms of the amount of damage they are able to inflict.

The most farmers can do now is try to control the invasion through pesticides and careful watch for larva in the leaves of their crops.

In the meantime, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is holding an emergency meeting on this matter later this week in Zimbabwe.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr