Latin American FarmersIn recent years, the nutrient-rich superfood – quinoa – has emerged as a strong competitor for space on grocery shelves. Though the nutty grain certainly has its place in high-end grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, few consumers know that quinoa’s popularity boom has been critical in alleviating poverty for farmers in Latin America.

Quinoa is native to the Andean region of South America, and is known there as the “mother of all grains.” The hardy plant thrives there despite extreme altitude and high-risk climate conditions. It has been shown that quinoa can also thrive in a variety of Asian, North American and European climates – though none of these have seen the benefits as much as Latin America.

Countries such as Ecuador and Peru are some of the top exporters of quinoa, which is grown primarily by small-scale farmers in mountainous regions. As the grain has gained popularity and reputation as a superfood, farmers in these lower-income regions have seen a higher demand for their production. In such a reliable market, growing quinoa helps previously vulnerable Latin American farmers achieve a more steady income. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared quinoa a key component in global food security, for both present and future generations.

In Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador – the three major Latin American exporters of quinoa – the area of land set aside for quinoa cultivation has more than doubled within the last 30 years. Imports to the U.S. from Latin America hover around an astounding £70 million annually. Not only have Latin American nations started selling more quinoa to high-income nations, but they have started selling it at a far steeper price. In between the years 2006 and 2013, the price of quinoa around the globe tripled. Such a lucrative market is clearly beneficial for farmers in these areas of the world.

Historically, demand for raw goods like quinoa has led to the exploitation of low-income countries and only corporate interests have seen real benefits. However, studies have proven that this is not currently the case. The rural region of Puno, where 80 percent of Peru’s quinoa comes from, has seen enormous economic growth and improved welfare as a result of the superfood craze. Not only that, but despite the dramatic price increases, studies have found that people living in communities where quinoa is part of the traditional diet can still afford to eat the grain at similar or even higher rates.

In Puno, households cut back on less nutritious, high-fat foods in order to accommodate the price increases on quinoa; as a result, their health improved. The health benefits of quinoa serve to empower rural poor in Latin America, as well as other impoverished regions around the world. Bolivia declared 2013 the “Year of Quinoa” because the sustainably-grown grain is incredibly nutritious. Quinoa is the only plant food containing all essential amino acids, vitamins, trace elements and no gluten, making it the perfect base for an affordable, nutritious diet. It is also high in fiber and lysine.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared quinoa a key component in global food security, both currently and in the future. As Latin America maintains a strong monopoly on quinoa, it is increasingly helping its farmers live healthily and sustainably – and will surely continue for years to come.

Kailey Dubinsky

Evaptainer: How the Science of Sweating Can Increase Food SecurityThe founders of Evaptainers have harnessed the science of sweating into a device that could help the 7 million people in the world who have no access to refrigeration. While the typical fridge requires electricity for vapor compression refrigeration, the Evaptainer uses evaporative cooling to keep food cold and extend its shelf life without any electricity.

The Evaptainer brings modern-day technology to an idea that has been around for several millennia. At its most basic level, a refrigerating device that uses evaporative cooling contains an inner chamber that holds food. The outer chamber contains an evaporative medium, such as sand, between the outer and inner containers. Water is poured over the evaporative medium, which cools as it evaporates.

The science is simple. To evaporate, water must absorb heat energy from the environment in order to become hot enough to change its state, either from solid to liquid or liquid to gas. The heat the water draws from its environment, called latent heat, cools the environment from which it draws heat.

In the case of the Evaptainer, this process cools the inner container that holds the food. Evaptainers can cool the 60-liter inner container by up to 35 degrees Fahrenheit, extending the shelf-life of food from around two days to two weeks, in hot weather.

Bishop Sanyal, a MIT professor not affiliated with Evaptainer, told MIT Technology Review that Evaptainers could help increase food security. However, he sees the $25 unit price as posing a possible problem for families’ ability to access the devices. For example, the average family in Morocco makes $60-$100 per month as explained by Sanyal, so paying $25 upfront could be a challenge. Nonetheless, if families are able to make the investment, having an Evaptainer could save them money in the long run.

Another challenge Evaptainer faces is that humid air can evaporate less moisture than dry air. As a result, in past 40 percent humidity, the device cools significantly less than it would in its optimal environment of 30 percent humidity or less.

For now, at least in optimal environments, Evaptainers have the potential to improve the quality of life of those who have no access to electricity or refrigeration and reduce the amount of spoiled food waste. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, such progress represents about $310 billion annually in developing countries alone.

Laura Isaza

Photo: Flickr

On May 28 of this year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization signed an agreement with the World Union of Wholesale Markets designed to reduce food waste and improve food security for the world’s urban poor.

According to the FAO, about one third of food produced for human consumption each year is lost or wasted. It estimates that over 40% of root crops, fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted, along with 35% of fish, 30% of cereals and 20% of meat and dairy products. This figure tallies up to an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food with an economic value of $1 trillion. These losses are quickly becoming concentrated in cities, where over half of the world’s population lives. Moreover, this figure will increase by 2050, as two-thirds of the people on earth are expected to live in cities.

Getting food to the urban poor is a novel challenge. Many low-income families live in “food deserts,” areas where there is no easy access to food, much less fresh food.

Eugenia Serova, head of the FAO’s Agro-Industry Division, said in a press release, “more efficient wholesale markets, and overall urban market outlets, can result in more affordable means to reach the city poor with healthy food.”

According to Ms. Serova, this new agreement is as much about learning how to deal with the future as it is about handling the challenges of the present: “If close to 90 percent of the expected increase in the global urban population in the next two decades will take place in cities in Africa and Asia, it makes much sense to build solid knowledge on how to strengthen urban market systems.”

WUWM has agreed to work with the FAO to tackle these challenges with an eye toward sustainability and inclusiveness.

Donald Darnall, a member of the board of directors of WUWM, said, “Some 60 percent of wholesale markets we’ve surveyed said managing food waste was their number-one challenge for the next five years . . . Our markets are embracing ‘good practices’ to reduce waste and we see this as an opportunity to develop improved waste management strategies and share solutions.”

The two agencies hope to develop a set of better practices for wholesale markets in urban settings. The goal is a more efficient flow of information and a dramatic reduction in food waste and loss. The partnership also hopes to improve producers’ access to markets, make food handling safer and more consistent and eliminate urban food deserts.

WUWM is connected to wholesale marketers in 43 countries, giving it access to an enormous amount of data. With this much data and expertise at their disposal, the FAO and WUWM are well on their way to finding new methods of improving efficiency, ensuring better quality of produce and ultimately cutting waste.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: UN News Centre, World Union of Wholesale Markets Seattle Pi Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN
Photo: Flickr

By the end of 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognized 38 countries that were able to reduce by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger. The result meets the objective for the first U.N. Millennium Development Goal. In 2014, more nations continue to successfully reach the goal.

On 16 June 2014, the FAO recognized China, Morocco and Chile for their exceptional efforts in the fight against global hunger and for achieving the first U.N. Millennium Development Goal, bringing the total number of nations to 40.

China has made significant strides. In 1990 – 92, 272.1 million people suffered from hunger; today that number has been reduced to 158.0 million. The progress accomplished by the Chinese is even more remarkable when looking further back into the nation’s history. In 1979, more than one third of the people in China were hungry and that number has declined to less than 10 percent, which is lower than in the United States. And the country has moved from a recipient of aid to a major global aid donor.

Morocco was also congratulated and formally acknowledged by the FAO for its hunger reducing policies. Impressively, undernourishment in the country dropped from 6.7 percent in 1990-92 to under 5 percent in 2011-13.

The FAO recognized Chile as well. Chile had already achieved the first Millennium Development Goal in 2013. The FAO awarded Chile with a diploma for achieving the 1996 World Food Summit target, which is a more challenging goal to achieve. The 1996 target stipulates that a country decrease the number of hungry people by half in 2015 as compared to the level in 1990. Chile was able to attain this by decreasing undernourishment in the population from 9 percent in 1990-92 to less than 5 percent in 2011-13.

Of the first 38 countries that reached the U.N. goal in 2013, currently 18 have also achieved the World Food Summit target.

The success of these three nations and the other 37 countries demonstrates how governments across the world are taking effective steps to fight hunger and are achieving tangible results. While the task of eliminating hunger may appear daunting, the FAO emphasizes the fact that the goal can be accomplished and that these nations are models for achieving it.

During the ceremony, the FAO also recognized regional movements that have formed to meet the U.N. Zero Hunger Challenge, which seeks to completely eradicate hunger. The organization expressed its support for the 2025 Latin American and Caribbean Hunger-Free Initiative and the African Union’s endorsement of the zero hunger goal for 2025.

While these achievements are pivotal, the FAO continues to stress the need for a continued global effort to reduce hunger. Despite the progress made, more than 840 million people go hungry everyday.

In order to engage continued commitment to fighting hunger and specifically ending malnutrition, the FAO and the U.N. World Health Organization, WHO, are organizing a global governmental meeting, titled the Second International Conference on Nutrition, which is scheduled for November 2014.

-Kathleen Egan

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,, Africa Top Success

In the past few weeks we have seen the rapid spread of what could become a devastating threat to the world’s banana population – a fungus known as Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4).

TR4 is a soil-born fungus that attacks plant roots and is now known to be deadly to the Cavendish banana, which is the world’s most popular and valuable banana crop, making up 95% of banana imports.

The fungal banana disease began its devastating journey in Southeast Asia, decimating tens of thousands of crops in Indonesia, China, Malaysia and the Philippines. TR4 has most recently been discovered in Jordan and Mozambique, indicating its spread beyond Asia to Africa and the Middle East.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that there is already a risk that the fungus has spread to the world’s most important banana-growing areas in Latin America. These countries include Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia, where hundreds of thousands of people rely on the banana trade to make a living each day.

Not only is the banana an essential component of more than 400 million people’s diets, it is also an essential component of their monetary livelihood. According to one estimate, TR4 could destroy up to 85% of the world’s banana crop by volume, decimating thousands of plantations across the globe and severely impacting the $8.9 billion banana trade.

One leading banana expert, Professor Rony Swennen claims, “If [TR4] is in Latin America, it is going to be a disaster, whatever the multinationals do. Teams of workers move across different countries. The risk is it is going to spread like a bush fire.”

The FAO has further warned that TR4 represents an “expanded threat to global banana production” and that virtually all export banana plantations will be vulnerable in the coming weeks unless TR4’s spread can be stopped or new resistant strains developed.

The Cavendish banana is not the first to fall prey to such a fungal epidemic. Prior to its cultivation, the Gros Michel banana had been wiped out by a similar strain of the Panama disease.

Current researchers are attempting to discover new banana varieties that are resistant to the fungus or develop disease-resistant GM strains. However, a concerted effort between the industry, research institutions, government and international organizations will be necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Bloomberg, The Independent
Photo: Flickr

On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.  Since then, the newly formed nation has been engulfed in internal conflicts, claiming the lives of up to 10,000 people.  The violence has caused over 870,000 South Sudanese to flea their homes, of which over 140,000 have escaped to neighboring countries.

The displacement has disrupted the nations already unstable agriculture sector. Markets have been disrupted as the food supply chain is broken and foreign investors try to avoid the conflict.  According to United Nations estimates, 3.7 million people were already facing food insecurity, but the new wave of violence that erupted in December of 2013 has raised this figure to almost 7 million. There is a major food crisis in South Sudan.

The timing of the conflict could not have been worse as local farmers are gearing up to plant their crops for the incoming season.  Constant relocation is forcing millions to rely on scarce food aid.  In some cities like Malakal, desperate populations have begun raiding aid supply stored in warehouses.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that if farmers miss the planting season, it would compound food insecurity issues for this year and 2015.

Farmers that remain tied to their land are facing a shortage of agriculture inputs such as seeds and tools to cultivate their crops.  The FAO is seeking $77 million to assist the Republic of South Sudan in implementing an emergency response plan.  Their aim is to deliver farming tools, seeds and fishing equipment to 545,000 households in some of the more war-torn states of the country.  The FAO has collected just 6 percent of its total donation goal.

To complicate matters further, migrant animal herds are now intermingling with displaced human populations and their livestock.  These unvaccinated animals have potential to transmit disease and cause further complications for public health and food safety initiatives.  To combat the collapse of the vaccine supply chain, the FAO is working to build capacity within local communities and deliver basic health support.

The UN mission in South Sudan is increasing its support with 266 peacekeepers being flown in on February 4, 2014.  In total, the UN has over 12,500 peacekeepers and 1,323 police on the ground.  The UN through the FAO and the World Food Program have teamed up with ACTED, OXFAM, Save the Children, Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps, and Joint Aid Management to provide much needed assistance throughout the country.

For anyone seeking to get involved in the food crisis in South Sudan, through volunteering and donations, please visit the World Food Program.

– Sunny Bhat

Sources: New York Times, UN News Center, BBC
Photo: WFT