The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World

By David Braughton

In September, 2015, United Nations members participating in a summit on sustainable development adopted a bold and far-reaching agenda whose goal was nothing less than the promotion of prosperity and the elimination of global poverty and hunger by 2030.

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations Sustainability Summit, September 25, 2015)

This year, as last, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, issued a report documenting progress towards the 2030 goal.  This year’s report,  The State of Nutrition and Food Security in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, provides an overview of hunger and malnutrition from two perspectives: the prevalence of undernutrition (a statistical estimate of chronic hunger within a population) and a more subjective accounting of food insecurity using a survey called the Food Insecurity Scale.  The report goes on to examine the impact of global warming and climate change as a leading contributor of increased hunger, particularly in Africa and South America.

In this and future articles, we’ll share findings from the FOA report, examine hunger’s effect on kids and pregnant women, and delve further into how climate change is contributing to the reversal of a ten-year decline in the number of hungry people worldwide. Finally, we will look at some of the countries where BGR is sponsoring projects to see how their people are doing and why these projects are so essential.

Both the FOA’s 2017 and 2018 reports reach the same alarming conclusion: after a decade-long decline in the number and percentage of hungry people around the world, the trend has started to reverse. By 2014 the number of chronically hungry people had declined from 945 million to an estimated 784 million. By 2017, the number had risen to 821 million, an increase of 37 million people! According to the FAO, the two primary causes for this reversal are war and armed conflict, and climate change, which affects both the food supply as well as food access.

The FAO found that hunger and malnutrition are most acute in Africa, where an estimated 20% of the population (256.5 million people) do not have enough to eat. In some areas of sub-Saharan and eastern Africa, the percentage of people who suffer from chronic food deprivation and malnutrition soars to 31%. Countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo represent the impossible plight of children, women and men trying to survive on the equivalent of less than $1.90 a day.

In Asia, although a staggering 515 million people struggle with hunger, the actual percentage of the population that is undernourished has stayed steady at 11.4% over the past three years.  Likewise, the rates of malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean, have remained relatively constant, except for South America where the number of chronically malnourished people rose from 19.3 million in 2014 to 21.4 million in 2017! http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/

To complement statistical estimates of chronic hunger and malnutrition, the FAO adopted a tool used by countries to measure food insecurity and adapted it for use on a global scale. The Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) asks people to report directly on the constraints they face in accessing food, providing a real time picture of hunger around the world.

Unlike more traditional prevalence estimates, the Food Insecurity Scale represents individuals’ actual experience. While the overall numbers between the two measures are roughly the same, the regional differences are striking. In Africa, for example, the number of persons who experience hunger (severe food insecurity) has grown from 260 million to 375 million. In Asia the total number has actually gone down slightly, but in South America, the number of people reporting severe food insecurity  has gone up from 30.8  million to 36.7 million over the past 3 years! http://www.fao.org/3/I9553EN/i9553en.pdf#page=28

For no population group is the problem of acute and chronic hunger more evident than it is for kids. Malnutrition and hunger kill approximately 3.1 million children annually (UNICEF, 2018). Over 160 million children experience stunting (low height for age). According to the World Food Program, 66 million primary school-age children across the developing world attend classes hungry. The alarming increase in childhood and adult obesity and advent of Type II diabetes is another consequence of limited access to healthy and nutritious food, an issue we’ll explore in depth later.

In its 2017 report, FAO examined war, armed conflict, and political instability as major causes of chronic food deprivation. In this 2018 report, the FAO addresses the issue of global warming, climate change, and climate variability as contributing factors. The glint of hope that traces the lines of both reports is the realization that conflict and climate change are primarily man-made problems, and while we may not be able to eliminate either, we can do something to ameliorate them! The twin goals of eliminating poverty and chronic hunger by 2030 remain, although we clearly have a long way to go.

Thank you for your support!

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief. During his professional career he led a number of nonprofit agencies involved with mental health, trauma and child development. 

Top photo courtesy of Helen Keller International; middle photo courtesy of Rachana, Cambodia.

 

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Reducing Your Carbon Footprint through Change of Diet

By Randy Rosenthal

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What’s the best way to reduce your carbon footprint? A new influential study recently published in Science says: Go vegan.

The study is described as “the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.” To come to their conclusions, the authors J. Poore and T. Nemecek looked at data covering nearly 40,000 farms and 16,000 processors, packagers, and retailers. This means they studied the impact of the meat and dairy industry, from the bottom up, rather than the previous top-down approach using national data, which is why this study is so profoundly revealing. In doing so, they determined that without meat and dairy consumption, we could reduce global farmland use by more than 75% and still feed the world.

This conclusion rests on their finding that livestock uses 83% of all available farmland and produces 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet meat and dairy consumption provide only 18% of our calories and 37% of protein. Based on this study, it seems that eliminating meat and dairy consumption from our diets is the best way to reduce our environmental impact. According to Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Does this mean that we should all become vegan? (That is, those of us who aren’t already.) By looking more closely at the research, it appears the answer is yes—that is, if we truly want to help the environment and alleviate global hunger. But how likely is this to happen? After all, there’s a lot of money in the livestock industry, and many powerful people will want to keep things as they are. Aware of this, the authors of the study say that, cumulatively, their findings support a self-moderating approach, in which “producers monitor their own impacts, flexibly meet environment targets by choosing from multiple practices, and communicate their impacts to consumers.” And yet the authors also emphasize that the mitigating impact will ultimately be decided by consumers, not producers. That is, the market will follow changing diets.

Even so, new research may not be enough for people to change their habits and make new lifestyle choices. After all, we’ve known for decades (at least) that eating less meat and more vegetables and fruits makes us healthier, yet today we have more meat consumption and more obesity and health problems than ever. It seems that knowledge alone isn’t enough. That’s why some people commenting on the study have proposed that we tax meat and dairy products, and also require labels that reveal the environmental impact of products. Both of these methods have been successful in curbing tobacco consumption over the past decades.

But is consuming dairy and meat products equivalent to smoking tobacco? Many people might disagree, even those who care about the environment and are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. They might buy an electric car, but they might not be ready to give up cheese.

The good thing is that they don’t have to. That is, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. While the authors do say that consumer avoidance of high-impact products is crucial in making a positive change, the main take-away suggests strategic adjustment, farm by farm, not a knee-jerk reaction to go on a vegan-proselytizing mission. Simply reducing our meat and dairy consumption would be a start in the right direction, and that might be a more realistic approach, at least to begin with.

Also, the authors found a variability in environmental impact based on where and how the meat and dairy is produced, which is crucial for implementing this moderate strategy. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land results in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than cattle raised in a natural pasture. (The emissions come from enteric fermentation, manure, aquaculture ponds, and also from slaughterhouse effluent.) Therefore, the authors conclude, if we replace just the most harmful half of meat and dairy production with plant-based food, we would receive two-thirds of the benefits we’d obtain by getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Thanks to Poore and Nemecek’s study, we now know that eliminating meat and dairy from our diet will not only make us healthier, it will make the planet healthier. If we use more land to raise vegetables, fruits, crops, and other non-animal-based food products, we can feed more people while causing less damage to our environment. Sounds like a win-win.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard University, where he recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies, with a Buddhist Studies focus. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He edits at bestbookediting.com.

Joy at the Father Jeri School in Haiti

By BGR Staff

Two years ago, BGR received a generous donation from one of our supporters with a request that we use the funds to sponsor three three-year projects. One of the beneficiaries has been the Father Jeri School in the Ti Plas Kazo community in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The school, constructed and operated under the auspices of our partner, the What If? Foundation, has been offering impoverished children in Port-au-Prince a wonderful opportunity to receive a quality, affordable education. BGR is close to completing its second year of support, and will soon begin its third year, the final year of the grant. The school was recently visited by Margaret Trost, founder of the What If Foundation, who sent the following report to the school’s supporters (including BGR):

A few weeks ago, I walked through the doors of the Father Jeri School for the first time since it opened. To say I felt overwhelmed with joy would be an understatement. It was everything I imagined and so much more.

I arrived during lunchtime and the sounds of children playing outside and eating in the cafeteria filled the air. As I stood in the courtyard taking it all in, I remembered back to when the school was just an idea that seemed almost impossible to bring into form.

But here it was in front of me. Alive and vibrant. Three stories full of eager students. 351 of them! Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. 8 full-time teachers, 39 subject specific part-time teachers, and 23 staff members. Everyone engaged in their work. And food program meals streaming into the cafeteria with hundreds more plates prepared for other hungry children in the neighborhood. So much going on. So much energy. So much school spirit.

I visited chemistry, math, and history classes, enjoyed the enthusiastic singing of the kindergarten children, and watched students practice their dance routine for Haiti’s Flag Day. Every inch of the school was being used and enjoyed. Even on the weekends, classrooms are filled with students participating in Na Rive’s after-school program.

It was palpable how cherished the Father Jeri School is, how proud the students are to be a part of it, and what an invaluable resource it is for the community. The school is changing lives, providing hope, making a difference every day.

Throughout my trip, I kept thinking of you and how you’ve helped make all of this possible. Without your support, this school would have remained just a good idea.

Your donations pay for scholarships, teachers, books, and uniforms. They pay for fuel to keep the generator running and food program stoves burning. And meals – you pay for hundreds and hundreds of nutritious meals every day that mean everything to a hungry child. Every donation of every size matters in this work.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to move an idea into reality. It takes all of us: Our extraordinary partner Na Rive, our devoted staff and board at What If Foundation, and every one of you. It’s all of us sharing our hearts and resources, being vehicles of love, united in our desire to make a difference for some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

I feel so grateful to be part of this tangible and transformative work. Thank you for being a part of it too and for your ongoing support of the What If? Foundation.

With love and joy,

Margaret Trost

Founder, What If? Foundation

Girls’ Education as a Key to Combating Climate Change

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Project Drawdown describes itself as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The Project brought together a group of top researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model “the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.” The resulting plan provides “a path forward that can roll back global warming within thirty years.” The solutions to reversing climate change, the website says, “are in place and in action.” The purpose of the Project is “to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible.”

Somewhat surprisingly, in the Project’s ranking of solutions to climate change, in the sixth place is educating girls. This item ranked higher than several of the more familiar solutions often proposed by the experts. It ranks higher than solar farms and rooftop solar (nos. 8 and 10, respectively), regenerative agriculture (no. 11), nuclear power (no. 20), electric vehicles (no. 26), LED lighting (no. 33), and mass transport (no. 37).

In describing the impact of girls’ education in reversing climate change, Project Drawdown says:

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health…. Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Despite these benefits, there are still formidable barriers—economic, cultural and social—preventing some 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. The Drawdown website suggests measures that need to be adopted to change all this: making school affordable; helping girls overcome health barriers; reducing the time and distance to get to school; and making schools more friendly toward girl students.

Almost from its inception, BGR recognized the relevance of educating girls to our mission of combating global hunger and malnutrition. But the discovery of the link between girls’ education and climate change is new to us and reinforces our commitment to this major BGR program policy.

Our current projects that support the education of girls include the following:

  • School Lunches for Marma Girls in Bangladesh: providing healthy food at least once a day for the 121 indigenous girls of Marma ethnicity now studying at Visakha Girls’ School, thereby helping the girls maintain good health so they don’t miss classes and can sustain their concentration (partner: Jamyang Foundation).
  • Food Scholarships for Girls to Stay in School: the GATE (Girls Access To Education) program in Cambodia, which provides educational scholarships to girls pursuing primary and secondary education, and its sequel, CATALYST, which supports girls who have graduated high school and are pursuing higher education at universities and vocational training institutes (partner: Lotus Outreach).
  • A Girls’ Home and Women’s Social Service Center in India: sponsoring the education and training of 30 teenage girls in danger of child marriage or unable to finish high school and university due to poverty; they are being instructed in nursing, social work, and law as well as in job training so they can become agents of change and help others when they return to their villages (partner: Bodhicitta Foundation).
  • Educating Girls in Nicaragua: Sponsoring the education of 112 girls, including six who are attending university, covering tuition and/or registration fees; and the government-mandated school uniform. Additionally, each girl receives bi-annual parasite medicine treatment and a free physical to ensure that they are healthy (partner: North Country Mission of Hope).
  • Technical education for girls in Sri Lanka: Providing access to skills development for approximately 60 girls selected from low-income families to equip them with employable vocational skills in computer technology (partner: CENWOR).

Other projects supported by BGR in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Haiti, and Vietnam educate both boys and girls together–but all include a significant percentage of girl students. While the endeavor to prevent dangerous elevation in carbon emissions will require multiple strategies, as well as strong national determination expressed in effective governmental policies, it is heartening to see the education of girls occupying such a high position among those recommended by Project Drawdown.

Supporting Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

The Buddhist Humanitarian Project: An Appeal to the Global Buddhist Community

The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group traditionally resident in the Rakhine State in Myanmar, have fled their country because of the extreme violence directed against them by the Myanmar military. Their villages have been burnt, their people (including elders and children) shot in cold blood, and women subjected to sexual cruelty. The violence, sadly, has been supported by extremist Buddhist monks, contrary to the Buddha’s teachings on loving-kindness and communal harmony. Close to a million refugees have sought sanctuary in neighboring Bangladesh, where they are being accommodated in overcrowded, unsanitary makeshift camps with pressing needs for food and health care. The refugees want to return to Myanmar but are afraid for their safety.

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The global Buddhist community has a responsibility to show that such violence is not the Buddhist way.

The Buddhist Humanitarian Project is an initiative of the Clear View Project, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Berkeley, California, under the leadership of Hozan Alan Senauke, former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. The project has launched a new website to garner support for the Rohingya refugees.

To learn more about this project and its activities, you can visit the website at:

http://www.buddhisthumanitarianproject.org/

At the website you can learn the various ways you can help to ameliorate this heartrending crisis.

  • Among other things, you can sign a letter to the Myanmar State Sangha Council and government officials, urging them to reject the violence and support the refugees.
  • You can donate to respected nonprofit organizations working on the ground in the Rohingya refugee camps. The website offers a list of reliable organizations.
  • You can also share this information on social media and by email with friends and members of your sangha or community.

 Your support can say to Rohingya peoples and to the world that the rain of the Buddha’s compassion falls on all beings equally.

To learn more about the crisis and how to support the refugees, visit:

www.buddhisthumanitarianproject.org

Hot Breakfasts for Schoolkids in Jamaica and Haiti

By BGR Staff

In Caribbean island nations like Jamaica and Haiti, it is not unusual for bright, eager kids to show up for school without having eaten breakfast; perhaps they have had only a cup of herb tea. It is hard, however, to learn on an empty belly! Determined to do something about this, over the past few years BGR has been partnering with the Trees That Feed Foundation, a U.S.-based organization dedicated to growing breadfruit trees and other trees that can be grown to feed people. TTFF also purchases breadfruit powder to provide breakfast cereal for schoolchildren.

TTFF used the grant provided by BGR for its 2016–17 funding cycle to purchase over 3,000 pounds of porridge mix from two vendors in Jamaica and one in Haiti. The dry mix ingredients include breadfruit flour, cornmeal, powdered cow’s milk or coconut milk, spices and sugar. The mix is packaged in one- or two-pound plastic bags, appropriately labeled. The near-instant powder is mixed with water, cooked for 5 to 10 minutes, and served as a hot breakfast cereal in the morning prior to the start of the school day. Needless to say, the young students learn much better after a good breakfast.

The BGR program supported ten schools, five in Jamaica and five in Haiti. This program is vital because the governments in these two countries do not support “basic” schools, that is, kindergarten and pre-school. There were approximately 925 beneficiaries, ranging in age from 3 to 6 years. Half were male and half female. The beneficiaries of this program, however, were not only the young schoolchildren who got a nutritious meal. The beneficiaries also included the teachers and the school cook.

Needless to say, the teachers benefited by gaining a classroom full of young students who are nourished and eager to learn. But the cook also benefited. When TTFF founders Mary and Mike McLaughlin traveled to Jamaica in February 2017 and visited the Jeffery Town Basic School, they saw the little children licking their porridge bowls clean. Then the cook, an older lady, came up to Mary and thanked her. Mary replied, “Oh it’s wonderful to help the children.” The cook said “No, you’re helping me … this job (as school cook) is my only income.”

TTFF is intentionally paying a price somewhat above fair market value for the breadfruit flour and porridge mix. The local suppliers are very small capacity producers—and the foundation hopes to support them as their main customer for 2 to 3 years, with the expectation that they will make a modest profit and reinvest in their business, lowering costs, improving quality and increasing capacity, ultimately to make their business fully self-sustaining. A win-win situation all the way around!

School Lunch Program for Marma Girls in CHT

by BGR Staff

 In 2016, BGR provided a grant to the Jamyang Foundation to support the free school lunch program at the Visakha Girls’ School in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The grant covered the period from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. This article, based on the final report from the Jamyang Foundation, describes the challenges faced by the school and the benefits of the project.

 

Visakha Girls’ School is located at Dhosri, a remote village in the district of Khagrachari in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. The school was founded in 2005 and began offering free education for girls with the generous support of the Jamyang Foundation, which is under the direction of the American bhikshuni, Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. Initially, the Visakha Girls’ School offered classes to students in the 1st grade only. Later, more classes were gradually added. Now the school offers classes up to 5th grade.

The school still faces significant challenges. For decades the indigenous people throughout the Hill Tracts have been the subjects of genocide perpetrated by the Bangladesh military. The situation is critical and has required the UN and others to intervene several times, but for the most part the situation has received little or no international attention. Land grabs and aggression against the indigenous population occur continuously and any resistance to these injustices is met with extreme retaliation, including rape and murder by the Bangladesh army. The indigenous peoples of the CHT are victims of forced displacement and discrimination in all aspects of life in Bangladesh. The theft of their lands continues to have enormous social, economic, and political consequences for the people. Educating Marma girls is one of the only ways to protect them from exploitation and strengthen them to face the difficulties that lie ahead.

Visakha Girls’ School currently has 125 students, all girls, with an age range from 5 to 13 years. The girls study in classes from pre-school to 5th grade. All students receive free education, daily lunches, and school supplies such as books, notebooks, pens, pencils, and so on. The school employs six full-time teachers and one cook. The girls are mostly from the ethnic Marma community, one of several Buddhist minorities who are native to the CHT. About 10 percent of the girls are ethnically Chakma, another Buddhist community that is native to the area. Centuries of economic injustice, social deprivation, and cultural marginalization have brought these minorities to the brink of extinction in a predominantly Muslim country.

Visakha Girls’ School is located in a remote place where no educational opportunities are available for the girls’ desperately poor families. The families survive by subsistence farming on the hill slopes and narrow stretches of land between the hills. Their homes are scattered across these small hills, which makes it difficult for them to reach essential services for social development or to create economic opportunities.

The community that the school serves often suffers terrible injustices perpetrated by state actors due to ongoing conflicts in the CHT. Many of the families are internally displaced refugees. In this situation of perpetual unrest, girls are the most vulnerable population. Girls are less likely to receive basic education and health care and they are the most likely to suffer in the conflict situation. Before Visakha Girls’ School was started, almost all the girls lacked access to even a basic level of education. Thanks to the establishment of this school program, now almost all school-age girls in the neighborhood attend school. Many of them are also furthering their education after finishing 5th grade at Visakha Girls’ School.

Project Benefits, Successes, and Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for these girls is that they must walk for hours over hilly terrain to reach the school. They are already tired even before they arrive at school. Due to chronic poverty, they are weak and often sick. Often they come to school hungry. The free lunch program at the school is of great benefit to them. The nutritious lunches help them stay healthy, so they can focus on their studies while at school. Since the lunch program was introduced, their health has greatly improved, their school attendance has dramatically increased, the dropout rate has dropped, and their overall performance in their educational program has improved. They demonstrated this with their scores in the state-run evaluation test for 5th grade students. The food program also incentivizes families to send their girls to school rather than employ them at home for domestic labor.

Along with their education the lunch program at Visakha Girls’ School is the most essential support the girls receive. The Visakha Girls’ School received a generous grant from BGR for its lunch program in 2016-17. The funds were funneled through Jamyang Foundation. With that grant, lunches were offered to students daily. The meals included freshly cooked rice, dhal, and locally grown vegetables. The BGR grant was used to pay the salary of the cook, and to purchase cooking pots, kitchen utensils, storage cabinets, and so on. Since meat is not served, vegetable sources of protein are offered instead.

Personal Stories

Here are the stories of three girls at Visakha Girls’ School:

  • Ushyang Marma Marma is a 3rd grade student. Her parents are day laborers and earn extra cash by collecting and selling firewood from the forest. She and her two sisters attend Visakha Girls’ School. Her parents cannot afford the financial burden of educating these girls. She is grateful that she and her sisters receive free education and lunches at school. The lunches and the opportunity to attend school are a great help to her family.
  • Mamanyeu Marma is a 5th grade student. There are 11 members in her very poor farming family. Her parents never received any education at all. Four of her other sisters also attended Visakha Girls’ School. Her eldest sister is now a 2nd year college student. Despite the poverty of her family, she is hoping to receive a college education, too, so that she will be able to help her family. All of these advantages have been possible because of Visakha Girls’ School. The free education and free lunches at school have made a very significant difference in her family.
  • Ushainda Marma is a 4th grader. Her father is a poor farmer. There are five sisters in her family. Her home is 2 km from the Visakha School. Before the school lunch program began, she got tired and hungry after walking this long distance each day. The school lunch program benefits her and her family a lot. She does not need to worry about whether her family has food or not, because now she gets at least one meal a day and education at school. She aspires to become a teacher when she grows up.

Conclusion

The lunch program is a great help for the families and girls who attend Visakha Girls’ School. It is beneficial in all the ways described above. It helps to draw students to school and helps with retention. In an area plagued by chronic poverty, malnutrition, lack of basic hygiene, poor transportation, and other challenges, the school lunch program supported by BGR has been a dream come true for the girls. We deeply appreciate the kind help of BGR. Thank you.