Category Archives: Agriculture

Climate Change and World Hunger

By David Braughton

Climate Change and the World’s Poor

For the 821 million people across the globe who face chronic hunger, climate change is no theory, but an ever-present reality.  Fully 80% of the world’s chronically hungry and malnourished people live in rural areas, surviving only on the food they grow from their rain-dependent farms.  Variability in the amount of rainfall, when the rain falls, days between rainfall, or daily temperatures – all the result of climate change – can quickly transform what is at its best a marginal existence into almost certain starvation.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2018 report, The State of Nutrition and Food Security in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, devotes 75 pages of its 112 page publication documenting climate change as a major contributor to the recent increase in global hunger and food insecurity following a decade-long decline in the number of hungry people around the world.  In 2014, the incidents of chronically hungry people had declined from 945 million to an estimated 784 million. By 2017, the count had risen to 821 million, an increase of 37 million people!

With respect to climate change, the 2018 FAO report offers 4 key messages:

  • Climate variability and exposure to more complex, frequent and intense climate extremes are threatening to erode and even reverse the gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition.
  • Climate variability and extremes are a key driver behind the recent rise in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe food crises.
  • Severe droughts linked to the strong El Niño of 2015–2016 affected many countries, contributing to the recent uptick in undernourishment at the global level.
  • Hunger is significantly worse in countries with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture. (FAO 38)

Climate change occurs over decades, even centuries, and may not be readily observable.  What can be observed are climate variability and extremes, the incidents of which have more than doubled since 1990, which climate change produces.  Averaging 213 events a year between 1990 and 2016, extreme heat, droughts, floods and severe storms have compromised the availability, access to, and stability of food production around the world.  Climate-related disasters have become so frequent that they now make up more than 80 percent of all major internationally reported disasters. (FAO 39)

Over the past century, the world has become measurably warmer and the incidents of extreme heat more numerous, resulting in lower labor output, increased mortality rates, and lower crop yields.  Rainfall has similarly become less predictable with vast areas of the globe experiencing below normal levels and other areas receiving above normal levels. The result has been long-term drought in large sections of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, and flooding in other areas, such as South and Southeast Asia.   When the rains come, how long they last and when they stop is also changing.  For example, the FAO states that “in the Afram Plains region of Ghana, farmers are noticing delays in the onset of the rainy season, mid-season heatwaves and high-intensity rains that cause flooding, which are resulting in crop loss, low yields and reduced availability of household food.” (FAO 45)

Tragically, 95% of low- and moderate-income countries experienced climate extremes between 2011 and 2016, with 40% of these countries, such as Côte D’Ivoire, experiencing 3 or 4 extreme events during this period. (FAO pg. 54) Why is this tragic?  Because the more climate shocks that a country experiences, especially if its people are already poor or of modest means, the higher the likelihood of chronic malnutrition and serious hunger.  Nearly 600 million of the estimated 821 million people who don’t get enough to eat on a daily basis, live in a country that has experience floods, droughts, storms, extreme heat, or all the above!

The consequences of climate shocks (climate variability and extremes), as the FAO report calls them, are often devastating and only serve to exacerbate people’s tenuous grasp on survival.   In nearly every instance, countries, which have experienced climate extremes, have also experienced increased food insecurity and malnutrition.  The amount of goods and services available to people quickly dwindle, further reducing their ability to cope and adapt to these changes.  Long term or recurrent extremes can result in loss of livelihoods and destitution and may prompt mass migrations.  A downward spiral begins that is difficult to reverse. As the climate changes even more, people become less and less capable of adapting.

Promoting Resilience

Resilience, put simply, is the capacity to bounce back after a disaster or setback.  The FAO 2018 report discusses the need for coordinated planning and policy development, scientific risk assessment, and system change, as fundamental to improving people’s resilience around the globe.  The FAO suggests a number of short-term interventions in the way people grow their food, the kinds of food they grow and the importance of local participation, and gender-based approaches.  Many, if not most of these suggestions are already being implemented through Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) funded programs.

In Sudan, BGR is partnering with Oxfam America to help 500 households return to farming and to adopt improved farming techniques that will not only produce enough food for their needs but provide a surplus that can be sold at market.  Farmers will be provided with crop seeds and agricultural tools and trained in water harvesting techniques as well as suitable methods of vegetable gardening that enable farmers to increase production. (Sudan)

A partnership between BGR and Oxfam India, “Prosperity through Resilient Agriculture,” funded entirely by BGR, focuses on women farmers in 25 villages.  Women are helped to access government assistance while learning climate resilient farming practices to increase crop yields.  As women become proficient in the new techniques, they train other women in their community, thus assuring the eventual spread of both better harvests and a surplus crop that can be sold at market! (India)

BGR has joined with Action Against Hunger to promote agricultural diversification and food access in the Preah Vihear province in Cambodia.  This innovative project again trains model farmers (most of them women) in 22 villages in agroecology for home gardening and climate-resilient rice production. Model farmers have their own garden and commit to training other women once they’ve mastered the basic approach and shown real results. (Cambodia)

The FAO report makes clear that while the global situation is dire, it is not hopeless.  We have the technical knowledge and resources to reverse the recent increase in malnourished and starving women, children and men.  What is needed now are more organizations like BGR and people like you who support us to be:

… inspired by the vision of a world in which debilitating poverty has finally been banished; a world in which all can avail themselves of the basic material supports of a meaningful life—food, clothing, housing, and health care; a world in which everyone can achieve a satisfactory level of education and freely pursue that which gives their life value and purpose; a world in which all people dwell in peace and harmony with one another and with the natural environment.

May I be a good doctor for those who suffer from illness,
a guide for those who have gone astray,
a lamp for those who dwell in darkness,
a source of treasure for those in poverty and need.”
Vows of Samantabhadra, Avatamsaka Sutra

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. 

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Learning about Home Gardens, Nutrition, and Public Speaking in Vietnam

By Randy Rosenthal

With so many problems in the world, it sometimes feels like nothing we do can makes a difference. But Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) is showing that by improving the lives of individuals, we can in fact make a difference. A great example of this is BGR’s partnership with Helen Keller International (HKI) on the Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) project in Vietnam, which is now in its third year.

With BGR support, during 2018, HKI expanded their EHFP project to the provinces of Hoa Binh, Son La, and Lai Chau, which is one of the poorest areas of Vietnam. In July, the latter two provinces were heavily hit by tropical storm Son Tinh, which caused flash floods and landslides, but the program’s goals were successfully reached in all areas. These goals focused on alleviating hunger mainly through training mothers and pregnant women about nutrition and horticulture.

Many women were trained in making home gardens, so they won’t have to spend so much time and effort foraging for vegetables in the forest. This includes simple gardening practices like introducing raised beds and use of fences, as well as the use of organic fertilizers and herbal pesticides. They also learned about the importance of having a diversity of vegetables, whereas many only grew cassava or corn, due to previous problems with worms and summer water shortages. Subsequent data reported that 95% of households with pregnant women and children used their home gardens.

Mrs. Giang Thi Ly, a 24-year-old Hmong mother in Lai Chau province, said that it previously took her half a day to go to the forest to pick vegetables, but now it “only takes a few minutes to have clean and fresh vegetables for family meals.” She also said that she was now able to know which vegetables are rich in iron and vitamins, as she and several hundred other women were trained to name at least three vitamin-A rich foods and at least three iron-rich foods. They were also given training in proper handwashing, which prevents many illnesses.

These women were also trained in public speaking and other communication skills, with the overall aim of empowering women in Vietnam. One participant, Mrs. Linh, a 28-year-old mother living in Hoa Binh Province, who was chosen to be a nutrition facilitator, said, “I have completely changed myself to do things I have never done before.”

In addition to such nutrition, horticulture, and communication training, seeds were given to a targeted 618 households, and more than 7,000 ducks and chickens were vaccinated for infectious diseases and then given to 346 households, so they could have a steady supply of eggs. These families now not only save money, but many households were even able to earn extra income by selling surplus produce at local markets.

Finally, two nutrition day festivals celebrated the new awareness of nutrition and health care, with over 1000 local people attending. In group sessions, people developed a full-day menu using locally-available, nutrient-rich foods particularly for pregnant women and children under two. Also at these festivals, 300 children under the age of five were examined by local doctors regarding their nutrition status, and mothers of any malnourished children were counseled by nutrition specialists.

Taken altogether, the BGR–HKI partnership in Vietnam has clearly improved the health and lives of many mothers and children, and in doing so it has improved Vietnamese society. By supporting such projects as HKI’s Enhanced Homestead Food Production, Buddhist Global Relief is showing us that by focusing on alleviating hunger and malnutrition through specific strategies in poor areas, we really can make a difference.

Beneficiary stories

1. Mrs. Giang Thi Ly

“Thanks to EHFP, we can have various nutritious vegetables for our family’s health.” Mrs. Giang Thi Ly is a 24-year-old Hmong mother who lives in Chu Va 8 Village, Son Binh Commune, Tam Duong District, Lai Chau Province. Since her participation in HKI’s Enhanced Homestead Food Production project, she has found a way to improve her family’s meals with the fresh vegetables she planted in her home garden to diversify the family diet.

Before, her family only had a small, 800 square meter garden, and she only grew corn or cassava because of concerns such as worms, water shortages in the summer, and lack of seeds. As a result, her family did not have a variety of vegetables and fruits easily available for meals. They often had to spend entire days collecting vegetables from the forest. When, however, she attended HKI’s training courses on agriculture, she learned about soil technology, bedding, seed preparations, herbal pesticides, and fertilizers.

More importantly, after she completed the training courses, her family was provided with eight different kinds of seeds to sow in the spring. Her garden now has more than eight different kinds of vegetables. “Now, I don’t have to go to the jungle to harvest vegetables. Instead of spending half of my day collecting vegetables, I only spend a few minutes picking fresh and safe vegetables for my family’s meals. Thanks to HKI, we can have a variety of nutritious vegetables for our family’s health,” she shared.

Thanks to the project, Mrs. Ly and her family have increased their knowledge about agricultural technology and feel their quality of life has improved. She is thankful that HKI and Buddhist Global Relief have invested in improving the agriculture and nutrition of her community.

2. Mrs. Bui Thi Linh

“Thanks to HKI’s project, I have completely changed myself.” Mrs. Bui Thi Linh is a Muong woman living in Chieng 1 Village, Tan Lap Commune, Lac Son District, Hoa Binh Province. She is 28 years old and lives with her husband, five-year-old child, and parents-in-law. As one of the project’s outstanding trainees, she was chosen to be a nutrition facilitator for Chieng 1 and Chieng 2 villages.

Before, Mrs. Linh was timid and shy when giving presentations to a crowd. Like other women in the village, she was afraid of strange people, and sometimes she avoided sharing her experiences around nutrition because she did not want to speak before an audience. Thanks to HKI, however, she had the opportunity to participate in training courses and learn about nutrition and facilitation skills. After these training courses, she was coached and mentored by technical teams from HKI, the district, and the commune health station. She became confident speaking to people in public places because she wanted to share the information she had learned about nutrition and safe food production.

“In the first session,” she shared, “I felt totally confused and had no confidence. After receiving feedback from the support team, however, I tried my best to improve. I prepared more carefully and I practiced with my co-facilitator at home. In the second session, I felt more confident and more active. I know how to encourage participants to talk and be involved in activities.”

Thanks to HKI and BGR, Mrs. Linh has learned more about herself and developed confidence in skills she never realized she had. “I have completely changed myself to do things which I had never done before,” she said.

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.

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. Continue reading

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint through Change of Diet

By Randy Rosenthal

Embed from Getty Images

 

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. Continue reading

Increasing Food Security for Families in South Darfur

By Tricia Brick

BGR’s partnership project with Oxfam Sudan, “Increasing Household Food Security in South Darfur,” provides needed seeds, agricultural tools, and field training to people in the South Darfur region of Sudan, who for over a decade have endured devastating violence and human rights violations as well as climate-related agricultural disruptions. In 2014, a rash of violence by government forces led to the displacement of more than 100,000 people across the Darfur region, as well as to the destruction of water sources, food stores, and other essential infrastructure.

A 2016 Buddhist Global Relief grant enabled Oxfam Sudan to provide groundnut and sorghum seeds and hand tools to 510 farming households in seven villages in Belail Locality, South Darfur. The project also trained 150 farmers in water-harvesting practices. Continue reading

Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability

Winning the peaceAn increasingly hungry world is increasingly unstable. A new report issued by the World Food Program USA—Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability—presents an unprecedented view into the dynamics of the relationship between hunger and social instability.[1]

Based on exhaustive interdisciplinary queries of a database of 90,000,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, the report explores the underpinnings and drivers of humanitarian crises involving food insecurity and conflict. Continue reading

My Visit to Kenya’s Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center

By Daniel Blake

Woman trainee with her son

“Poverty starts with the stomach.” These words, spoken to me by Samuel Ndiritu, the co-founder and director of Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya (GBIACK), encapsulate the truth of BGR’s core mission. This past November, I was fortunate enough to make a remarkable visit to GBIACK, where I was hosted for an afternoon by Samuel and his wife and GBIACK co-founder, Peris Ndiritu. Their work is quietly transforming local agricultural practices in Kenya and beyond, one farmer and one acre at a time.

Built in 2009, GBIACK is situated about 50 kilometers east of Nairobi in the small but bustling village of Thika. Sitting upon the 1.5 acre farm is a dormitory for trainees, a front office, a seed bank, a kitchen and dining hall, a sewing classroom fully equipped with machines, a library, and a charming gift shop where crafts made by residents are sold to the public. The center serves as a model for the kinds of Grow Biointensive (GB) techniques that Samuel and Peris (with support from BGR through our partner, Ecology Action in California) hope to impart to program participants. The potential of the GB system to help local farmers lies in its being a “closed loop” system, where farmers preserve and bank the seeds yielded by crops, while carefully cultivating healthy compost to treat the soil. In this way farmers can become self-sufficient and can subsist without purchasing products such as genetically modified seeds or chemical fertilizers.
Continue reading