Category Archives: Food insecurity

Why Is There Hunger in the Midst of Plenty?

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In an interview on Democracy Now!, Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, raises the question why, when the planet is producing more than enough food to feed everyone, millions still face chronic hunger and starvation. The answer he gives points to fundamental structural flaws in the global food system.

Preparing complementary foods for children in Diffa, Niger
(Photo courtesy of Helen Keller International)

On December 10, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme, the world’s premier humanitarian organization combating global hunger and food insecurity. In his acceptance speech, David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, said that he saw the Nobel Committee’s decision to grant the prize to the WFP as entailing “a call to action”—action to ensure that hunger is finally vanquished from the face of the earth. However, he warned, we are currently heading in the wrong direction. A combination of factors—multiple wars, climate change, the use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and the coronavirus pandemic—is pushing 270 million people ever closer to starvation. Thirty million of these, he said, are completely dependent on the WFP for their food.

He pointed out that the present may be “the most ironic moment in modern history,” a time when we find a grim chasm between the potential promise of the world’s wealth and the appalling fate that weighs upon a sizable portion of humanity. The world economy today has a value of $400 trillion, yet 270 million people hover on the brink of starvation, facing horrific illness and death. It would take only $5 billion to save the 30 million lives that utterly depend on the WFP, yet the agency struggles just to raise even this much, a tiny fraction of the world’s military spending.

While Beasley applauds the work of the WFP in saving lives, he does not find his job an easy one. He says: “I don’t go to bed at night thinking about the children we saved; I go to bed weeping over the children we could not save. And when we don’t have enough money nor the access we need, we have to decide which children eat and which children do not eat, which children live, which children die.”

In its report on the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize, the progressive news program Democracy Now! featured an interview with Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Early in the interview, Salvador raises the question why it is, when the planet is producing more than enough food to feed everyone, so many millions face chronic hunger and starvation. The answer, he states, lies in the rules governing the global food system. The global food system, as presently configured, allows those in positions of power and privilege to make major decisions that deprive others, less powerful, of the resources they need to eat and thrive. Thus if hundreds of millions of people go hungry year after year, this is not because we are short on food; rather, it is because too many lack the means either to purchase food or grow their own food.

Salvador points out that the modern food system is designed as a business model. This model is not intended to guarantee that everyone gets to eat, but to ensure that those who invest in the system receive the financial returns they expect on their investments. It is not only wealthy investors who benefit from the system but even middle-class folk in economically affluent countries. In the U.S. and other developed countries, almost any middle-class family can obtain from the shelves of their local supermarket virtually any food item grown anywhere on the planet. But in other enclaves far from our sight, hundreds of millions suffer the consequences of the pleasures we take for granted. When we consume even simple everyday items like coffee, tea, and chocolate, we seldom realize that we enjoy these things through the labor of people who have been deprived of the basic resources critical to a satisfactory standard of living. Those out of sight may be out of mind—for us—but we should remember the billions of ordinary folk around the world (and even in the U.S.) who face a harsh reality each day, all year round.

One of the most abhorrent features of the global food system, mentioned by Salvador, is land grabs. In a traditional agrarian economy, farmers own small plots of land on which they grow crops for their own use and to sell at the local market. This allows them to subsist, not in luxury, but with a sufficient degree of stability to weather the storms of daily life. However, in countries in Africa and Asia, desperate poverty and official government policy often compel subsistence farmers to sell their small plots of land to state enterprises or large multinational corporations. These then consolidate the plots into large estates devoted to specialized cash crops for sale to the global North. As a result, local populations lack the land to grow the essential crops they need for direct consumption and to earn an income. Rendered landless and penniless, they have no alternative but to toil as wage laborers barely able to get by from one day to the next, usually under degrading conditions. And those who don’t get to work lose their line to food.  

Salvador cites Africa as an example of sheer economic pillage conducted under the guise of legitimacy. Though often depicted as a global basket case, the continent, he says, produces more than enough food to feed its entire population. However, what is occurring in many African countries is that “governments are making land lease deals with foreign companies or other nations, namely China, so that the production of Africa is literally appropriated to meet the needs of other countries that have the capital to compete for that land and for the production of that land against the interests of native Africans.”

Another form of food deprivation mentioned in the interview is the deliberate withholding of food as a weapon of war, a weapon that can be as lethal as bombs and bullets. The prime example he cites is Yemen, where a civil war is being conducted as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The conflict in Yemen is widely considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, precisely because of its impact on the civilian population. To subdue their rivals into submission, both sides in the conflict have imposed food blockades that have pushed millions to the edge of starvation. At times, as many as 8.4 million people have been at risk of starvation, with acute malnutrition threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children under the age of five.

Salvador does not make specific suggestions about the kinds of policy shifts that are needed to tackle hunger on a global scale, but his remarks suggest that a far-reaching overhaul of the international food system is mandatory. Whatever official policy changes are implemented must be guided by a moral imperative. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 25, adopts this moral stance, asserting that food is a fundamental human right. What we must do now, on a global scale, is take up the task of feeding the entire world population as a shared moral challenge, a challenge that must be met if we are to truly measure up to our humanity. People must always take priority over profits.

We can’t complain that we lack the funding to meet this demand. If we had the moral will, funds would not be an obstacle. After all, nations around the world—especially the major powers—invest hundreds of billions in their military forces and weapons of war. The U.S. itself has a defense budget of almost a trillion dollars. It would take only a tiny fraction of this to guarantee that everyone eats, that no one starves, that no child has to be reduced to a heap of skin and bones.

However, acts of humanitarian aid are not enough to redeem our humanity. People should be able to obtain the food they need in a way that affirms their inherent dignity. This means that they obtain their food through their own resources, not through charity. They would either grow their own food on land that they themselves possess or earn enough to live on a nutritious diet. To achieve this goal, the current dominant model of industrial agriculture, often cruel and destructive and blindly driven by the profit motive, needs to be gradually replaced by an alternative model, the most promising being that of agroecology. This is a model that gives precedence to the needs of small-scale farmers. Its output is at least equal to that of industrial-scale farms, yet it preserves the natural environment, centers the diet around vegetables and fruits rather than meat, and reduces the enormous carbon footprint generated by industrial agriculture. Whether we make the changes needed will mean, for many millions, the difference between a death sentence and reprieve.

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. Continue reading

BGR Provides Emergency Aid to Yemeni Victims and Rohingya Refugees

By Tom Spies

In the second week of December, BGR made emergency donations to the World Food Program USA to provide assistance to two communities facing severe food shortages.  An emergency donation of $8,000 will help the World Food Programme provide aid to the people of Yemen; the other donation, of $4,000, will provide food assistance to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now living in displaced persons camps in Bangladesh.

In Yemen, over the past two years a sustained air assault by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and millions of people internally displaced. An outbreak of cholera, the worst in the world, has affected hundreds of thousands of people, 30 percent of them children. One child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes due to preventable diseases. Continue reading

Children: The Face of Hunger

By David Braughton

Introduction

Look into the eyes of someone who is hungry and one out of five times it will be a child under age five staring back at you. The child will probably bear little resemblance to the graphic images found on the internet of a little wizened skull with sunken eyes sitting atop an emaciated body that more resembles a skeleton than a small living being grasping for life. What you will see is an otherwise ordinary kid who appears stunted (too short for its age) and wasted (underweight for its age). Or, you may see a child who is both too short and, at the same time, obese, another seemingly paradoxical symptom of chronic malnutrition.

Stunting and wasting represent two key markers of child malnutrition.  In 2017, there were 151 million children who were abnormally short for their age.  There were also 51 million kids who were seriously underweight for their age and 38 million who were overweight.  What is particularly alarming is the growing number of children who are overweight and stunted, although no reliable statistics are available to determine the true scope of the problem (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank). Continue reading

Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability

By Charles W. Elliott

An 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

The World Reverses Progress on Global Hunger

By Charles W. Elliott

The newest U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”) Annual Report on food security sends a “clear warning signal” of a troubling trend that reverses a long period of progress combating world hunger.

After A Prolonged Decline, World Hunger and Food Insecurity Worsen

FAO 2017 Food Security Report Cover

The 132-page data-rich report, The State of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2017: Building Resilience For Peace And Food Security [1] notes that for the first time in many years the number of chronically malnourished people across the globe—as well as those suffering from acute hunger—has increased from the prior year, reversing a prolonged historic decline in world hunger. The number of undernourished people jumped from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Every continent except Europe and North America has suffered an increase in prevalence of malnutrition. The report identifies a variety of causes for this reversal and highlights the interrelationships between global hunger, armed conflict, and climate change.

Emerging from the data is a stark picture of 44,000,000 more people now suffering from severe food insecurity than there were just two years ago. In fact, nearly one in ten people around the world, about 689 million people, now suffers from severe food insecurity. (see Report, Table 2). The people of Africa suffer the highest levels of severe food insecurity—27.4 percent of the population, four times that of any other continent.
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BGR Donates to Help Puerto Rico and Rohingya Refugees

By BGR Staff

This past week the BGR Board voted to approve emergency grants of $5,000 each to two organizations working with people in distress: to Oxfam America, which is hard at work in Puerto Rico, filling in where the U.S. government effort has been slow and inadequate; and to the World Food Programme, which has been providing urgently needed food aid to the Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in their native Myanmar and taken refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. The statements that follow have been adopted from reports by the two organizations.

From Oxfam America, on the situation in Puerto Rico

Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, millions of its residents, who are U.S. citizens, have been struggling to survive without food, clean water, or electricity. Although they have the resources, the U.S. government’s emergency response has been slow and inadequate. For this reason, Oxfam America has stepped in to make sure the island’s 3.4 million residents receive immediate aid. Continue reading

Bolstering a Food Budget for Hungry Kids in Haiti

BGR Staff

This past May BGR approved a six-month renewable grant to the Art Creation Foundation for Children, in Haiti, to bolster its food program, which a budget shortfall had forced to be cut in half. This is a brief report on the project.

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Kids enjoy a meal together

The Art Creation Foundation for Children is an arts-based non-profit organization created for the personal growth, empowerment, and education of children in need in Jacmel, Haiti. The Foundation provides art instruction, tutoring, medical care, daily food and water, and educational expenses for students in the program. Its mission is to build a passionate community of future leaders, visionaries, and dynamic thinkers who are empowered to better their lives and their world through the arts and education. “Rather than hand out a temporary fix,” they say, “we focus on empowering our students with the tools to create their own reality and decide the course of their lives.”
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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.
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

US Projects

23. Detroit: Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit is a 501(c)3 nonprofit (registered 2014) operating in one of the most neglected cities in the US, where 20% of the residents are food insecure and the city’s jobless rate is 14.3%. Residents have limited access to grocery stores due to an unreliable mass transit system and buy their food at gas stations or convenience stores with bulletproof windows in monitored transactions. The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is to promote food sovereign so that the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within city limits. The long-term strategy is to foster healthy relationships with food by increasing knowledge of food and farming, nurturing leadership skills, cultivating community connections and capacity, changing the value of food, and developing food assets.

The goal of this year’s project is to enable urban farmers to increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables and to facilitate educational and community events that promote healthy relationships of people to good nutritious food. The first objective is to support more than 1500 family, community, school and market gardens that will produce 150 tons of produce for predominately low-income families. The second objective is to facilitate 19 educational workshops and community events that will engage approximately 400 residents. Annually renewable project.
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