Category Archives: Global Hunger

Connecticut Walk to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

On November 8th, BGR held its fourth Walk to Feed the Hungry in Willington, Connecticut. This walk differs from other walks in that it is not held in a place with public exposure but on the property of the Lao Lane Xang Buddhist Temple, set on a quiet road in the woodlands of rural Connecticut. Our host was the abbot of the temple, Ven. Bounlieng Sychoumphonh. Monks from Nepal and Sri Lanka also participated, as did the nuns from Chuang Yen Monastery. About 50 laypeople from different parts of Connecticut and vicinity turned up for the walk.

Group Photo

This walk is conducted differently from other walks: not as a procession through the streets or park, but as a slow and silent walking meditation, in single file, winding around the extensive property of the temple.

Alongside the Woods

The walk started at the side of the temple, continued alongside the woods, then around the back of the property, onto the road in front of the temple, and then toward the back, in an oblong shape.

File Along the Road

The walk was followed by a sumptuous meal generously offered by the Lao Buddhist community connected with the temple. Monks recited blessings before the meal, and then Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi spoke after the meal. He explained the inspiration behind BGR and described several of the projects supported by donations from the walkers.


Reciting blessings.

As in previous years, the walk in Connecticut was organized by Yuhui Alison Zhou, with assistance from her friends.

Receiving Blessings

Lay devotees, Yuhui Zhou in foreground.

Youngest Walker

The youngest walker.

Climate Change and Food System Shocks: Threats of Cascading Catastrophe

Charles W. Elliott

Food System Shocks
A global pre-eminent insurance market is waving red flags about the risk of climate-change shocks to our world food system that could quadruple the price of basic food commodities, cause widespread famine and social instability, and  bring down governments. Are world capitals paying attention?

Adding to the chorus of voices warning of threats to the global food system caused by climate change is global insurer Lloyds, which recently issued its report, “Food System Shock: The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply“.  Food System Shock is one in a series of Lloyd “emerging risk” reports that address risks that are “perceived to be potentially significant but which may not be fully understood or allowed for in insurance terms and conditions, pricing, reserving or capital setting.”  This is not the first risk report on climate change issued by Lloyds (see, Lloyds’ Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change (2014)), nor the first to address global food security (see, Lloyds’ Feast or Famine (2013)).  But it is the first by Lloyds to connect these two, explicitly addressing the impacts of climate change on food production and follow-on effects to society in a globalized economy.

As with other Lloyds’ emerging threat reports, Food System Shock employs scenario modeling, in which events occur that are based on plausible expert data-based assumptions.  In this case,  a “production shock” is posited to occur within one year affecting several agricultural commodities in various regions of the world:

Experts in the fields of food security and the economics of sustainable development were asked to develop a plausible scenario of a global production shock to some of the world’s staple food crops, and to describe the cascade of impacts that could result.

The climate-change event driving the scenario is a strong warm-phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)  in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean.  Climate models indicate that climate change increases the probability and amplitude of these events. See, e.g.,  “Climate Change Could Double Likelihood of Super El Ninos.” The scenario event causes flooding in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, drought in India, Australia, and Southeast Asia, and intense rainfall in Bangladesh and eastern Pakistan that submerges cropland.  As a result,  severe impacts to agricultural production of rice, soybeans, corn, and wheat occur.  The analysis modeled the impacts to global commodity prices as a result of these production losses and export control responses by individual countries. In the scenario, corn and wheat prices rise to triple from 2000 prices; rice prices rise 500% in India.  Countries on the World Food Programme (WTF) food insecurity watch list become unable to import food.  Food riots break out in urban areas across the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America. Government instability results in a number of countries.  The U.S. stock market falls by 5%; main European markets fall 10%; more than a $1 trillion of market value is wiped out.

As the report tersely concludes:

In summary, quadrupled commodity prices and commodity stock fluctuations, coupled with civil unrest, result in significant negative humanitarian consequences and major financial losses worldwide.


There is little doubt that a systemic production shock to the world’s most important food crops as described in this scenario would generate a cascade of economic, political and social impacts. What is striking about the scenario is that the probability of occurrence is estimated as significantly higher than the benchmark return period of 1:200 years applied for assessing insurers’ ability to pay claims against extreme events.

Masked by this dry language, the insurance industry is, and should be, deeply worried. Our global connectedness is both a strength and a deep vulnerability. We are reminded that we are all interconnected in fundamental ways. What happens in one ocean affects us all. The cascading consequences revealed by this scenario modeling demonstrate an urgent need to build more robust resilience throughout the global food production, supply, and distribution system.

But even this is likely to enable only a weak adaptive response to the impacts of the climate change dynamics already “baked into” the levels of CO² we have released and will inevitably release into the atmosphere. What we need, of course, is collective action that will swiftly end the burning of fossil fuels and prevent the worst effects from emerging.

Absent from the Lloyds’ report is any sense of the scale of human suffering that would be wrought from these consequences. It is as though the sheer magnitude of the damage and chaos that would result cannot be directly spoken of. Yet we should not speak of a million starving people without pausing to understand what that truly means for each person, each family, each community that would be so badly hurt.

The world’s climate change negotiators will descend upon Paris on November 30, 2015 for the 21st U.N. Conference on Climate Change.  After decades of delay and inaction, we hope that they will finally keep in mind the millions of the poor and those most vulnerable to climate change disasters, most of whom have never burned a gallon of gasoline or a pound of coal their entire lives.

Food, Dignity, and the Commons: Frances Moore Lappé

Charles W. Elliott

Frances Moore LappeCommon Dreams has published an insightful interview with activist and author Frances Moore Lappé that illuminates the foundations of the struggle for a just global food economy: democracy and human dignity. Ms. Lappé is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking work on global hunger, recognizing that world hunger is not the result of insufficient food supplies but rather our industrial model of food production and the inability of the poor to access the available abundance of food or its means of production. In short, the problem of global hunger is the problem of poverty, the mal-distribution of political and economic power, and inequality. Acting upon this recognition, rather than a myth of scarcity, undermines multinational corporate attempts to more deeply entrench industrialized control over the global food supply.

Lappé argues that a solution to this inequality-driven hunger is the expansion of “living democracy”, exercised individually and collectively by each person’s daily choices of how we live, thus “infusing the power of citizens’ voices and values throughout our public lives.”  Continue reading

Asia’s Quiet Land Transfers

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

January 2015: Indian farmers protest against displacement. Photo: National Alliance of Peoples Movements

The April 2015 issue of Against the Grain, the online bulletin of GRAIN, an international organization that supports small farmers in their struggle for social justice, features a report titled “Reform in Reverse: Laws taking Land Out of Small Farmers’ Hands.” The report details the changes in laws and land policies that in recent years have been gaining momentum in Asia, to the detriment of small-scale agriculture. Traditionally, Asia’s agricultural base has consisted of small farmers, who are among the most efficient and productive in the world, able to produce 44 % of the world’s cereals. This agricultural system, however, is being undermined from within by an agenda that puts the profit of large agribusiness corporations above the well-being of millions of small farmers and the populations they feed.
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 4 (of 6)

BGR Staff

16. India: A Youth Hostel for Girls & Women

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The Bodhicitta Foundation is a socially engaged charity established in 2001 by the Australian Buddhist nun, Ayya Yeshe, to help Dalits (scheduled classes) and slum dwellers in the state of Maharashtra. Last year, BGR partnered with Bodhicitta in establishing a girls’ hostel for thirty girls aged 14–20, who are being trained as social and health workers or to qualify in a vocation. The girls, chosen because of their dedication to their studies, come from the poorest regions in India: 10 girls from Bihar, 10 from rural Maharashtra, and 10 from urban Nagpur slums. The girls are being trained for three years, after which they will return to their villages with the skills to empower other young girls. In this way, the thirty girls will become agents of change and establish institutions that will benefit hundreds of girls and women in the future. Such a project is especially important in India because investing in girls’ education can alleviate poverty and the ignorance that oppresses poor girls and women.

The other portion of the BGR grant to Bodhicitta supports a women’s job training and community center, where women receive education, loans, and business training to empower them to start their own businesses and gain income that will directly increase the well-being of their children, families, and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates space for awareness-raising, health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum. Year two of a three-year project. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 3 (of 6)

BGR Staff

11. Ethiopia: Promoting Crop Intensification

Farmers harvest teff by hand near Negele, Ethiopia. Photo: Eva-Lotta Jansson/Oxfam America

Our partner on this project is Oxfam America, a relief and development organization that works to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. This is a one-year addition to a previous two-year pilot project in the System of Crop Intensification (SCI), which aims at increasing food production in ecologically sustainable ways. The effort, focused on Ethiopia’s Central Rift Valley, seeks to promote environmental friendly, economically feasible, and climate-smart agronomic practices among small-scale farmers by increasing the uptake of the SCI methodology. Our partners will identify 250 target farmers willing to adopt SCI (40% female); train 20 experts; train farmers in SCI; provide trial inputs (seeds, fertilizer); organize farmer-to-farmer learning and showcasing events; provide technical support to farmers; and document practices and lessons learned. Oxfam will be working with a local partner in Ethiopia, Sustainable Environment and Development Action (SEDA). A one-year addition to a previous two-year project.
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 2 (of 6)

BGR Staff

5. Cambodia: Food Scholarships for Girls to Stay in School

Lotus Outreach, a trusted BGR partner since 2009, is dedicated to ensuring the education, health, and safety of at-risk and exploited women and children in the developing world, especially in Cambodia. The long-standing BGR-Lotus Outreach partnership provides rice support to primary, secondary, and tertiary students receiving scholarships via the GATE and GATEways programs. This year the grant to GATE will provide rice support to 52 impoverished families so their girls can attend primary and secondary school. The grant will also provide food support to 89 university students enrolled in the GATEways scholarship program–an extension of GATE for those students who go on to higher education.

An extra year of primary school in Cambodia increases a girl’s eventual wages 10-20%; and an extra year of secondary school will boost wages 15-25%. Students enrolled in GATE program are more likely to attend and stay in school, lowering their likelihood of turning to exploitative labor. In 2013, 90% of GATE scholarship recipients passed their exams and advanced to the next level. These girls, chosen from the poorest families, can now look forward to a bright future of hope and opportunity. Continue reading