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What Do the Poorest Eat?

By David Braughton

As a result of the war in Ukraine, climate shocks, economic instability, political conflict, and global pandemic, nations around the world are facing what the U.N. has called “a global hunger crisis of unprecedented proportions.”

A midwife feeds a malnourished infant at a site in northern Côte d’Ivoire through a BGR project with partner Helen Keller International (HKI). Photo courtesy of HKI.

Imagine living on less than $1.90 per day or $693.50 annually, the amount used by the World Bank and much of the international community to measure “extreme poverty.” Not that the world’s very poor have $1.90 in their pocket to spend. The poverty metric is based on consumption: a rough measure of what “subsistence” looks like for persons struggling to find enough food to eat, clean water to drink, shelter, health care, and other essentials.1

By contrast, in the U.S. per capita consumption of goods and services in 2020 was $42,645, or $116.80 per day. Even our pets fare better than the poorest of the poor. According to the ASPCA, the average American pet owner spends between $700 and $1,100 annually for food, health care, and sundries for their dog or cat, between $6.50 and $406.50 above the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty.

The World Bank estimates that there are between 657 and 689 million people today who meet the definition of “extremely poor.” These individuals make up the vast majority of the world’s hungry, the estimated 720 to 811 million persons who the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) determined faced chronic hunger in 2020. Tragically, the number of hungry persons has increased in the past three years, and today, as a result of COVID, the war in Ukraine, climate shocks, and political unrest, the total may be closer to a billion people.

To put things in perspective, the average moderately active adult male needs 2,500 calories a day and the average moderately active female 2,000 calories to maintain their weight. The FAO reports that for persons who are chronically hungry, the daily caloric intake is closer to 1,600 to 2,100 calories, a shortfall of 100 to 400 calories. Compounding the problem is that most of these calories come in the form of starches, such as rice, wheat, corn, or other grains, leaving the poorest of the poor with not only a caloric deficit but a nutritional deficit as well. If the goal is health rather than mere survival, people require not mere calories but a balanced diet, that is, a diet including a combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. According to the FAO, in 2019 the high cost of nutritious food coupled with persistent high levels of income inequality put healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people, in every region of the world. The figure for 2020 is expected to be still higher.

Most of the persons living in abject poverty are not dying of starvation, however, and the presence of chronic hunger is not always obvious. This is because our bodies respond to an inadequate diet by slowing down physical activity and, in the case of children, by reducing growth. In addition to increasing susceptibility to disease, chronic hunger has other negative consequences. It means that children may be listless and unable to concentrate in school, that mothers may give birth to underweight babies, and that adults may lack the energy to fulfill their potential.

While in numerical terms more people are chronically hungry in Asia and the Pacific, the most serious situation is in sub-Saharan Africa, where in 46 percent of the countries, the undernourished have a daily deficit of more than 300 calories a day.

So how do those in the poorest countries get by? What do they eat, if they are fortunate enough to eat at all?

To get some idea of this, consider the following three countries: Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere; the Republic of Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world, where the gross national income per capita in 2020 was $550; and South Sudan, where fully 65 percent of its population of 12.8 million people currently face a severe food crisis, the consequence of political conflict, drought, rising food prices, and now the war in Ukraine.

In Haiti, all a typical family will eat are rice and beans—but only if mother or father are able to work that day. If a parent is unable to work or sell homemade items, chances are the family will go hungry. According to USAID, 2.5 million Haitians, or 22 percent of the population, are currently facing acute food insecurity.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 27 million people out of 108 million—one-quarter of the nation’s population—face crisis-level or emergency-level food insecurity. Most families subsist on cassava or yuka, supplemented by insects such as caterpillars, crickets, or grasshoppers, along with an occasional banana or local vegetable, but violence, disease, and a crumbling infrastructure have put even these meager offerings beyond the reach of many.

Over half of the population of South Sudan stands on the precipice of starvation, a result of war, poverty, and disease. Drought and insect infestations have decimated the maize and sorghum crops used to make kirsa (flatbread) and dura(cooked maze and millet), two staples of the country. Without food assistance, many families cannot cope, yet due to funding shortages, the World Food Programme has recently had to suspend some of its aid, putting the future of over 1.7 million people at certain risk.

The Borgen Project asserts that ending world hunger by 2030 would cost $265 billion per year in additional expenditures. By way of comparison, the U.S. spent $668 billion in 2018 on its defense budget and $394 billion in interest payments on the national debt. This means that the resources are there, if we have the political will to reorder our priorities. So what is stopping us?

What is stopping us is the inability or outright refusal to recognize our common humanity: that the plight of others, no matter what they look like, where they live, what their religious beliefs, politics, or lifestyle may be, directly or indirectly affects us; that our survival as a species and the survival of the world depend upon a concern for and commitment to the welfare of all living beings, not just family, neighbors, or folks who agree with us or like us, or even our fellow human beings. In the final analysis, it is a mistaken sense of “self” that imprisons us in the view that someone or something else’s gain is our loss and that our personal well-being is paramount. It is this that allows us to rationalize our enormous expenditure on our military or the monetization of food, enriching some while consigning nearly a billion children, women, and men to food insecurity.

In contrast, an awareness of our common humanity compels us to advocate for adequate nutrition as a fundamental and inviolable human right that we are all responsible for ensuring. It is this awareness that underlies the work of Buddhist Global Relief and guides our efforts to combat hunger.

That is why we labor tirelessly to raise funds, which this year will support 54 projects, 18 of them focused on immediate food aid for hungry families in such diverse locations as Tanzania, Vietnam, Haiti, Uganda, Bangladesh, and Senegal. That is also why we invest in teaching subsistence farmers improved, climate-resilient agricultural techniques in places like Malawi, Kenya, Cambodia, India, Brazil, and here in the U.S.

If you share our vision, you can join us in reducing world hunger through your donations or by offering your time and talents as a volunteer. Please explore our website to find out more.

1. United Nations World Summit for Social Development, p. 4.

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief.

Cultivating Nutrient-Rich Fruits and Vegetables in the Andean Foothills of Peru

By BGR Staff

Wawasonqo, a BGR partner based in Peru, has been working since 2006 to break the cycle of poverty that affects rural children and families in the rural Andean foothills near the city of Cusco.

BGR partner Wawasonqo works with a local farming family to build a simple greenhouse in the rural Andean foothills.

Considered as a whole, Peru is a success story of modern poverty reduction. Between 2007 and 2019, the national poverty rate in Peru declined from 35.5 percent to 20.6 percent. Over the last ten years, chronic child malnutrition was lowered to 13.1 percent, a 50 percent reduction.

However, even as economic growth in Peru has thrived, many rural people have been left behind. In 2020, 46 percent of the largely indigenous rural population were poor, compared to 26 percent in urban areas. In many rural areas, a devastating 33 percent of indigenous children suffer from malnutrition, and levels of stunting due to extreme malnutrition have not decreased among rural children in the last decade, according to the World Food Programme.

Peru has also been severely devastated by the Covid pandemic. With more than 200,000 Covid deaths in this country of just under 33 million people, Peru’s death rate from the pandemic is the highest in the world, at nearly 650 deaths per 100,000 people. (For comparison, the U.S. has lost approximately 300 lives per 100,000 due to Covid.)

Wawasonqo, a BGR partner based in Peru, has been working since 2006 to break the cycle of poverty that affects rural children and families in the rural Andean foothills near the city of Cusco. For the past five years, BGR-sponsored projects have addressed chronic malnutrition in children and young people in the Piskak’uchu, Tiaparo, Olmiron, Palomar, and Chaquepay indigenous communities. In these rural areas, families’ cultivatable land is small, generally averaging between 1,000 and 2,000 square meters, and many people here use their land to raise products for sale, relying on inexpensive purchased food to feed their families. As a result, many children and families consume food of low quality, mostly noodles, rice, and potatoes.

Wawasonqo’s goal is to support families in creating new nutritional habits and customs to enable long-term food autonomy. The projects therefore generally proceed in two stages. The first stage involves raising awareness among families, especially mothers and pregnant women, about good nutrition and the importance of a balanced diet for their children’s growth, health, and well-being. Then, to support parents in putting this knowledge to work in nourishing their families, Wawasonqo provides hands-on education in the cultivation, preparation, processing, and preservation of fruits and vegetables.

Wawasonqo staff demonstrate composting techniques at workshops offered freely to the local community.

The projects provide families with training and resources to cultivate vegetables such as spinach, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, and tomato for home consumption, to provide much-needed nutrients in the families’ diets. Workshops are given on topics including organic agronomy, nutrition, preparation of dishes, and the making and sales of agricultural products such as jams, pickles, nectars, and preserves. Additionally, the projects support the construction of simple greenhouses. In these greenhouses, families use seeds provided by our partner to grow fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals.

The communities where Wawasonqo works are often small; the Chaquepay community, the focus of this year’s BGR project, is home to about 150 families. The trainings and workshops are freely offered to the entire community, and our partner estimates that a third of the households may participate.

Vicentina Quispe Solis and Juan Huaman Apaza are migrants from the heights of the Peruvian Andes; previously, they lived in the Q’esqa region, located some 14,700 feet above sea level. Together with their two young children and extended family members, the family lives in a modest house in the remote Kabrakancha area of Piskak’uchu. Construction of a greenhouse here involved the arduous leveling of a parcel of steep hillside. After the work was completed, the Wawasonqo trainers joined the family for a meal and, over a supper of chicken soup and boiled corn, together brainstormed ideas for marketing the organic produce they planned to grow.

Alipio Ramirez’s family has a long history in the Olmiron-Piskak’uchu-Kabrakancha region. He lives with his wife, Alicia Chata, and their children on a steep plot of land where harsh winds made building a greenhouse a difficult task. With persistence and ingenuity, the Wawasonqo trainers were able to work with the family to construct a weather-resistant and high-producing greenhouse. Eager students, the family were also teachers, sharing knowledge with neighbors and their Wawasonqo trainers about the cultivation of mushrooms, avocados, peaches, and other locally grown crops.

Crisologo and Eulalia Huaman are the parents of three young girls in the Huarocondo district. A local leader, Crisologo approached Wawasonqo to request that the greenhouse project be brought to his community and worked with neighbors to spread the education and resources provided by the trainings throughout the community. Percy Rodriguez Cámara, executive director of Wawasonqo, was moved by the commitment and collaborative spirit of this small community. “Their effort and perseverance inspires us to continue with the work of helping those who need it most,” he said.

BGR Board Approves 54 Projects for the 2022–23 Fiscal Year

By BGR Staff

This spring, BGR’s Board approved 54 projects serving thousands of people around the world. The project funding for BGR’s fiscal year 2022–23 amounted to $1,089,574.

BGR’s ongoing partnership with Maitreya Charity in Mongolia provides hot meals and educational support to children in need through the Asral Hot Meal Project, one of 54 projects approved for the coming fiscal year.

During the weekend of April 30 and May 1, 2022, the Buddhist Global Relief Board and staff reviewed and approved 54 project proposals from partners in 20 countries around the world for our 2022-23 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. The approved projects will relieve hunger, educate children, provide vocational opportunities and training for vulnerable women, and support sustainable agriculture among smallholder farmers. The projects will take place in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, and here in the United States.

Once again this year we were joined for part of the meeting by Board members from BGR’s European sister organization, Mitgefühl in Aktion (MiA), which is cosponsoring seven projects with us. These include sponsorship for the families of backpack medics in Myanmar; a girls’ home and community center in India; and a vocational training program for widows and single mothers in Cameroon.

The total spending to be allocated to grants comes to $1,089,574, which includes a contribution from MiA of $42,000, distributed equally over the seven cosponsored projects.

A majority of BGR’s projects are renewable year to year as our trusted partners continue to demonstrate the responsiveness and effectiveness of their work over time. This year, the Board approved three new projects, all from existing BGR partners.

In Sri Lanka, a project with our partner Shraddha Charity Organization will address an epidemic of chronic kidney disease among Sri Lankan paddy farmers. In the last two decades, more than 23,000 deaths have been reported from this virulent disease caused by water contaminated by agrochemicals. The majority of victims are middle-aged men who are the breadwinners for their families, and their passing devastates their family’s livelihood and food security as well as their children’s education. This new project will construct sources of safe water, including deep wells and state-of-the-art water-purification systems, in areas affected by contaminated water in the communities of Kandaketiya and Dakunamahatennagama in Sri Lanka. The project will also raise community awareness of the dangers of water contamination and educate the public about the risks of agrochemical use in farming practices. The project will directly benefit 2,173 people, half of them women and girls; an additional 1,000 people in these communities will benefit from access to new sources of clean drinking water.

A second new project with Shraddha Charity Organization will provide nutritious breakfasts for undernourished schoolchildren in Sri Lanka’s North Eastern Province, where rates of malnutrition are high due to widespread poverty and thousands of children arrive at school hungry each day. This new project will provide 166 poor schoolchildren, half of them girls, with a nutritious breakfast daily for the duration of the 2022–23 school year. The meals will give the children much-needed nutrients and energy to focus on their studies, offering them a path out of generational poverty.

In Cameroon, where Covid has amplified the ill effects of the ongoing civil war known as the Anglophone Crisis, it is estimated that more than a million people are living as IDPs (internally displaced persons), separated from their home communities and without access to their land, livestock, and other means of livelihood production and survival. In the villages of Bulu and Bokwaongo in southwest Cameroon, an influx of IDPs has led to food scarcity, increased food prices, and widespread hunger. To address this issue, long-term BGR partner CENCUDER is introducing an organic vegetable gardening project serving IDPs and others who are experiencing food insecurity. These include widows, single mothers, and young people whose families cannot afford to send them to school. The project will provide training and materials for the cultivation of huckleberry, tomato, eggplant, okra, amaranth, and other small-scale crops. Our partner’s aim is to support participants in harvesting sufficient crops both to feed themselves and their families and to sell on the market, enabling them to earn income for education and other fundamental household needs. The project will benefit 160 people, including 100 women.

To meet the additional stress that inflation is causing for our partners who are initiating direct food assistance projects, the BGR Board decided to provide each of these partners an additional 10 percent supplement to the grant. Thus, for example, if a grant was originally designated for $10,000 to a particular partner, the grant will be increased to $11,000.

We are deeply grateful to all our donors whose donations have contributed to our success, and to all the volunteers who devote time and energy to easing the burden of work on our Board and staff.

May the fruits of our work together be a light in the world, a source of ease, hope, and nourishment for those whom we serve.

We Must Hear Them

By Ayya Dhammadīpā

Where can we stand, but right here in this place, feeling the burning of the world? What else can we do but find the cool, still place within and the warm, gentle gaze for all people who live in fear, oppressed, enraged?

The Eastern Market in Washington, D.C. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith.

Stalls at the Eastern Market were filled with colorful fabrics, colorful foods, and colorful paintings of local landscapes, inviting folks to engage in the forgetfulness of shopping. The two of us—my daughter and I—walked through, casual and carefree on a Sunday in the District of Columbia. There was no need we were trying to fill, so we glided past the folks who were waiting in quiet desperation for cash-paying customers. We went on walking through the streets, though the day was so windy that the clothes fell from their hangers, and a tent lifted up and away from the tables it was meant to protect. Despite the turbulence, the folks behind the tables and under the tents felt compelled to stay, in the hopes of obtaining their weekly sustenance.

It was warm enough though, lacking the crispness of true autumn. So, when we arrived at the door, we were content to stand outside the restaurant and wait for the proper time. Eventually the minutes became 00 and the hour 11, and the server came to the door to let us in. It took her quite some time to open that door. She had to unlock the padlock, remove the chains, and turn the final deadbolt. It was a procedure that made clear the fear that lay behind those doors, the fear brought on by those whose desperation was not so quiet. This is the reality of the city, many people act out their frustration with the systems of economic and social oppression, and many others live in fear of those people.

On another day, a few weeks later, around the corner and down the block, we sat down in the hopes of eating foods like those of our Hispanic ancestors. The young, dark-skinned, dark-haired man filled the water glasses, smiled at the “thank you” I offered. Yet that was the only time I caught his downcast eyes. Betraying his inner world, the look on his face revealed his displeasure at having to pick up the dirty dishes. I felt the weight of my position, and the stark contrast of my experience as one with a white face and his experience as one with a brown face, though we are both Hispanic.

After this meal, my daughter and I planned to walk back through what we had already seen of the Market. We thought we already knew the place. Instead, I was confronted with another act of desperation. A man approached me, stood face-to-face, pleading for answers, earnestly seeking. Looking him in the eye was the only way to meet his thirst, his request for peace, his demand that the world be just for Black men like him. I told him that the world is an integrated set of conditions that harmoniously fit together to form what we see. I told him that, if we want peace, we must begin by being peace for ourselves. He spoke of guns and violence not far from where we were standing. I reminded him of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., and his exhortation that we stand in our places. He reminded me that the good Reverend Doctor was shot in the head. “No one heard him,” he said, wincing at his own words, his pitch rising with the strain, his face leaning in toward mine. “They heard him,” I said quietly. “We heard him.” The man paused, tilted his head, and seemed to have heard me. He asked for my name, and I gave it to him, knowing however that his seeking is not about me.

Where can we stand, but right here in this place, feeling the burning of the world? What else can we do but find the cool, still place within and the warm, gentle gaze for this man and all people who live in fear, oppressed, enraged? We mustn’t turn down their volume or walk only where we can’t see them. We must keep facing injustice wherever it appears, in whoever’s life we find it.

Later that day, I stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a grand tribute to a dead white man, carved in white marble. I looked out over the reflecting pool, recalling photos I had seen of the good Reverend Doctor speaking powerfully, urgently to the crowd of thousands of earnest seekers, so many years ago. 

My eyes stung with the truth of the former president’s words, though he was referring to the Civil War and I am referring to a different kind of “war,” the social and economic wars that are happening all over the world today.

“…in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men [and women and folks], living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract…”

I appreciate these words because they point to a skillful response that I can offer. They point to the idea that to truly lift people from oppression is to value them as human beings, even if, or perhaps especially if, they struggle. They point to the recognition that their lives are just as worthy of care and honor as anyone’s. They point to the fact that it’s my duty, not just the president’s duty, to use my voice, my resources, even my body to acknowledge that they have always had immeasurable human value and that their profound troubles matter. And when I do that, it helps to ensure that they are accorded their proper place. 

I invite you today to consider all the people, here in the U.S. and around the world, who are earnestly seeking your voice, your resources, your body to help the world recognize their immeasurable human value. We must hear them.

BGR Board member Ayya Dhammadīpā is the founder of Dassanāya Buddhist Community in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a fully ordained bhikkhuni in the Theravāda tradition and a Dharma Heir in Soto Zen. In addition to English, Ayya teaches in Spanish, an expression of her Latin heritage.

Expanding Educational Opportunities for Indigenous Buddhist Girls in Bangladesh

By BGR Staff 

The Expanding Education for Marma Girls project, with BGR partner the Jamyang Foundation, provides the gift of education for girls from the remote village of Dhosri and surrounding villages in Bangladesh.

The Visakha Girls’ School provides a free education for girls from impoverished families in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

The Jamyang Foundation, founded in 1988, supports innovative education projects for Indigenous girls and women in two of the neediest and most remote parts of the world: the Indian Himalayas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. For several years, BGR has sponsored Jamyang’s School Lunches for Marma Girls project in Bangladesh, feeding students at Visakha Girls’ School, which serves disadvantaged girls from the remote village of Dhosri and surrounding villages.

The Marma people are one of four Indigenous Buddhist groups living in hilly terrain along the Bangladesh/Myanmar border. As members of an ethnic and religious minority, they live in precarious conditions of economic impoverishment and political uncertainty. The girls who study at the Visakha Girls’ School come from extremely poor families and live in very remote villages where girls have few, if any, educational opportunities. Their families generally eke out a meager living through farming small plots of land, working as day laborers, or petty trading. In the past few years, many families have faced additional financial burdens and food insecurity caused by the ongoing pandemic, abnormal weather events, and widespread unemployment. 

Due to a scarcity of schools in the area and a lack of paved roads, few children in the local community have had access even to primary education, and the obstacles for girls were particularly high. Boys have the advantage of being able to attend temple schools in their villages, but girls do not have this option. Likewise, boys may attend government schools in neighboring villages or towns, but walking to school poses serious security concerns for girls, who are vulnerable to harassment or assault.

Before the founding of Visakha Girls’ School, virtually all the women in the area were unschooled and illiterate. As a result of their educational disadvantage, few people in remote areas like these are able to avail themselves of government funding for rural development, because they are unable to write letters or fill out the applications. 

The schools founded by the Jamyang Foundation have been instrumental in changing attitudes toward education for girls and have helped uplift the status of women in general in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Since 2006, when the Visakha Girls’ School opened its doors to 38 students in two classes, the school has gradually expanded its programming until, in 2020, it was serving 130 students in classes from preschool to fifth grade. 

Each year, about fifteen students completed the fifth grade, and some were able to continue their studies at a junior high school located about five miles away. However, many of the girls had to end their education after finishing fifth grade, due to poverty and the long commute; the distance is simply too far for sixth-grade girls to walk each day. 

This year, BGR is supporting the Expanding Education for Marma Girls project, funding the construction of a new school building to enable the Visakha Girls’ School to provide education for girls up to eighth grade—potentially, an additional 75 to 100 students. 

The new classroom building will allow the school to educate girls through their eighth-grade year.

Since the completion of construction in January 2022, the school grounds are now home to a beautiful new building with three classrooms, an office, and toilets. In this first year, the Visakha Girls’ School has accepted seventeen students for the new sixth grade and hired a new teacher.  

Three members of this inaugural class of sixth-graders spoke with the Jamyang Foundation about their experiences:

Masaching Marma is the top student in her class. Her father is a farmer and part-time member of the village police force. Before the new building was constructed, her only option to continue her education would have been to move to the town of Manikchari, even though to do so would be a financial hardship for her parents. “They made up their mind earlier on to do whatever it takes to send me to junior high school, even in that far place,” she said of her parents’ support for her education. “But the new school, Visakha Junior High School, has given me a great new chance.” She added, “Here teachers are also very nice, kind, and pay attention to each student, as class size is small. The excellent part is this school is offering a computer technology class, which is unimaginable in other schools. We also have a nice library.”

Usainda Marma graduated from the Visakha Girls’ School a year ago. The daughter of a poor farmer and day laborer, she enrolled in junior high in Manikchari. Because her family could not afford to pay for her room and board, Usainda walked the two hours each way to and from school. When Covid closed the school for long periods last year, Usainda feared that her education was about to end. “I am very fortunate that my old school, Visakha Girls’ School, has started accepting sixth-grade students this year. This has given me a new life,” she said. “Although I will be repeating my sixth grade, I believe it is better for me. I am very happy that I can now attend school from home.”

Paisanu Marma is the eldest of six children whose parents work as farmers and in day labor. “As an elder child,” she said, “I had to take care of my siblings and help my parents with various chores. Luckily, my teachers at the Visakha School work closely with parents and explain to them the importance of education. There was no chance that I could have continued my schooling without Visakha Junior High School, and without support from the teachers.” She continued: “Here everything is free. We not only get free education, the school also gives us pens, pencils, notebooks, and books for free. I have enrolled in the sixth grade, and I am very confident that I will be able to finish at least eighth grade in the same school.”

The Jamyang Foundation’s aspiration is eventually to expand the programming at Visakha Girls’ School further, to enable its students to stay in school through high school.

This article is based on reports from the Jamyang Foundation.

Food, Not Feed: Transforming the Global Food System

By Shaun Bartone

At the UN Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow, COP26, the raising of livestock was identified as a driver of carbon emissions, turning carbon-sequestering forests and peatlands into grazing land for livestock, and turning arable land that grows food to be directly consumed by people into feed for beef and dairy cattle, pigs, and chickens. 

The UN Conference on Climate Change (COP26), held in Glasgow in early November, began to address the critical role of agriculture and its contribution to global carbon emissions. The production of livestock is a driver of land-use changes that also drive up carbon emissions, turning carbon-sequestering forests and peatlands into grazing land for livestock, and turning arable land that grows food for people into feed for beef and dairy cattle, pigs and chickens. Furthermore, governments subsidize the cost of meat consumption by providing billions of dollars in subsidies for agricultural policies that support beef and meat production.

The combination of agricultural policies that support meat production and consumption, and the demand for meat-heavy diets, contributes substantially to the total global emissions of carbon and carbon equivalents, methane and nitrogen. A report by Compassion in World Farming, titled “Breaking the Taboo: Why Diets Must Change to Tackle the Climate Emergency,” provides evidence that global food systems concentrated on meat production contribute as much as 75 percent of total carbon equivalent emissions from agriculture.

A study published in the journal Science in 2020, cited in the report (p. 3), concludes that even if fossil fuel emissions were immediately halted, current trends in global food systems would make it difficult to meet the 1.5°C target and even to stay under the 2°C target, the maximum rise in global temperature posited by of the Paris Accord. The study shows that moving to plant-rich diets could reduce emissions from food systems by 47 percent compared with Business As Usual (BAU).

The Compassion in World Farming report states that the food sector produces up to one-third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and 75 percent of agriculture emissions are from livestock production: beef and dairy cattle, pigs, and chickens. Furthermore, the production of feed for livestock displaces the production of food—grains, pulses, vegetables, and fruits—for direct human consumption. This drives up the cost of basic food staples and increases food insecurity for the developing world, contributing to hunger and malnutrition. 

Food consumption patterns must change to meet climate targets

Climate scientists report that food consumption patterns will have to change if we are to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets. Many studies show that reducing consumption of meat and dairy leads to substantial reductions in GHG emissions. This is because animal products generally generate substantially higher emissions per unit of nutrition produced than plant-based foods (see Table 2).[1]

Research published in Nature shows that globally, BAU in food production and consumption will lead to an 87 percent increase in food-related GHG emissions by 2050 (compared with 2010). The study reports that dietary changes towards more plant-based (flexitarian) diets could reduce food-related GHG emissions in 2050 to below their current level. 

Transforming food systems: decreasing emissions, regenerating living systems

According to the report (p. 9), “Studies show that reducing global meat consumption would produce multiple benefits in the form of reduced use of resources and a decrease in environmental degradation. In particular, a decrease in the consumption of meat and dairy would lead to reduced use of arable land, freshwater, energy, and pesticides as well as reduced nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion, and restore habitat for wildlife.” Under current food consumption patterns, more than three-quarters of the diet-related GHG emissions (77 percent) were associated with animal-sourced foods consumed worldwide. The report adds that in 2030, adoption of “any of the four [plant-based] healthy diet patterns worldwide would reduce diet-related GHG emissions by 41–74 percent” (p. 6).

The Compassion in Farming report suggests that taxing meat consumption could reduce the demand for meat products and offset the environmental costs of meat production. But instead, governments around the world are not only failing to reduce emissions from the meat sector, they are actually subsidizing the production of meat, which encourages the consumption of cheap meat. 

According to recent studies, the U.S. government spends up to $38 billion each year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries, while less than one percent of that sum is allocated to support the production of fruits and vegetables. Most agricultural subsidies go to farmers of livestock and a few staple crops, including corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, and cotton, with payments skewed toward the largest producers. Corn and soy inputs, in particular, are heavily subsidized for the production of meat and processed food by some of the world’s largest meat and dairy corporations.[2]

If we are going to meet our climate goals, reduce emissions of carbon, methane, and nitrogen, restore land use to carbon sequestration, and support wildlife habitats, we must reduce our consumption of meat and dairy products, both from ruminants (beef and dairy cattle) and monogastric animals (pigs and chickens). 

In November 2019, a statement entitled “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” was signed by over 11,000 scientists. The statement (cited in the report, p. 7) suggests six critical steps to lessen the worst effects of climate change. One of these steps states: “Eating mostly plant-based foods while reducing the global consumption of animal products … can improve human health and significantly lower GHG emissions. Moreover, this will free up croplands for growing much needed human plant food instead of livestock feed, while releasing some grazing land to support natural climate solutions,” such as reforestation.

Shaun Bartone has been practicing and studying Buddhism for a dozen years in South Asian traditions. Shaun has an MSW in Community Planning, MA in Sociology and completed doctoral research in Environmental Sociology.  Shaun lives in Worcester, MA. Shaun is the creator and editor of Engage! Magazine, www.engagedharma.net.


[1] Compassion in World Farming, p. 5. The table is from Springmann et al, 2018. “Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits.” Nature (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0594-0).

[2] “Removing the Meat Subsidy: Our Cognitive Dissonance around Animal Agriculture.” https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/removing-meat-subsidy-our-cognitive-dissonance-around-animal-agriculture. Columbia University: Journal of International Affairs.

Helping Hungry Texans in Time of Need

By David Braughton

When hardship strikes, those hurt most are those least able to cope. These include single-parent families headed by moms, front-line service works, people out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, immigrants, people of color, and the homeless.  The savage cold that ripped through Texas on Valentine’s Day and tortured the State for a week afterwards affected nearly everyone, but no one as much as persons already struggling to survive.  For many low income and marginalized residents, rolling blackouts, frozen pipes, and boil water advisories were just the beginning. 

Not only did the power outage cause the food people had stored in their freezer or refrigerator to go bad, but additionally they faced bare grocery shelves that had not been stocked for days.  Highways became impassable and fruits and vegetables in the Rio Grande Valley were frozen over. The Texas Citrus Association predicts that out of a projected 230,000 tons of grapefruit, 138,000 tons will be lost.  The same fate faces other food items. The valley grows a variety of vegetables as well, much of which will have to be plowed under.  Experts predict that recovery from the disruption to the supply chain could take months. 

The winter storm cost millions of hourly wage earners to lose at least a week’s worth of income and, given the severe crop damage, some will have a difficult time finding work anytime soon.  With food still scarce and no income, food banks and other emergency aid have become essential lifelines.  

Each year, BGR devotes nearly 10% of its annual budget to emergency grants to areas of the world suffering from weather-related catastrophes. In response to the ongoing crisis in Texas, this past week BGR made an emergency grant of $5000 to Feeding Texas, the largest hunger relief organization in the state. Feeding Texas supplies 21 member food banks that help to feed over 5 million persons annually, making it uniquely equipped to respond to the recent crisis.  The organization has fostered deep ties to large grocery chains like Kroger and H-E-B but reports that the catastrophic disruption to the supply chain and the devastation of many of the State’s crops present ongoing challenges that will take months to recover from.

While all of us at BGR lament the severe hunger the state’s residents are facing on account of this calamity, we are happy that we could contribute even a small amount to help alleviate hunger and ensure that recipients receive the food they need to get through this crisis.

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief.

Vocational Training for Women in São Paulo, Brazil

By Carla Prater

Founded by two sisters who are professional social workers, GAIA – Group for Assistance of the Elderly, Children and Adolescents – is a non-profit organization acting in formal and informal education and social work in São Paulo, Brazil. The founders saw many needs in their low-income neighborhood of Campo Grande in the south end of São Paulo. Their first effort was to start a little preschool, which was so successful that they soon had two schools, which serve families in the area, giving the children a good start on their school careers.

They soon found other ways to serve, including providing vocational training for the many women whose schooling was minimal. These women require public services that are overstretched and unable to meet the demands caused by their lack of access to healthy food and dignified living conditions. The project supported by BGR is intended to offer better living conditions to 120 women, through workshops, talks, and courses designed to give them skills as formal or informal workers earning money to supply their families’ basic needs.

Two types of training were offered: eldercare and sewing. About forty women participated in each of these classes. The women were instructed in pattern-making, cutting, sewing, and finishing their work so it was ready for sale in a Christmas bazaar. The eldercare group attended lecture sessions covering legal and social issues, physical care techniques, and field trips to care facilities, as well as hands on practice sessions in how to assist bedridden patients.

The project ran into some serious issues halfway through as COVID hit São Paulo very hard. However, GAIA was able to pivot quickly to provide modules for online learning. The sewing classes switched to videos explaining how to do projects and the videos were posted online for the students’ use. Almost everyone in Brazil has a cell phone and the students were able to access the content online.

The instructor was thrilled with how things turned out. Cilene, an instructor of the sewing workshop, says that she has learned not only how to teach in-person classes but also virtual classes, a useful new skill for her. She says: “GAIA and BGR, thank you so much for the confidence you placed in me this past year. I hope to be able to honor my commitment in 2021 and continue the in-person classes. Always count on me!” The video classes are available at this link: http://www.grupogaia.org.br/index.php/blog.

The eldercare class also had to pivot to online training for their second group, which worked out better than expected. A student named Graça said:“I’m here to talk about the free elderly caregivers course. I really enjoyed participating in the two weeks of interaction and exchange of information. The teachers who participated were clear and objective, which facilitated learning. Thank you GAIA and BGR.”

Juliana, a participant in the eldercare workshop, said: “I first want to thank GAIA and BGR for this wonderful course for caregivers, which was very useful for me. All the classes, all the lectures we saw, taught me many things that I didn’t know before. I learned much about nutrition too! The last class, with the nurse, was wonderful.”

A video explaining the course is available at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1076376292811179.

At the beginning of the pandemic, GAIA purchased materials and set up a voluntary seamstress task force. They made 1600 masks, which were distributed to the community and donated to other communities as well. These are very poor regions, with few resources and little governmental assistance. GAIA also purchased food and mobilized the donation of resources and food. They distributed 370 basic baskets in June, July, and August. BGR support was fundamental and essential to this emergency effort.

Carla Prater is Assistant Director of Buddhist Global Relief. Transplanted to Brazil by missionary parents at the age of twelve, she remained there for the next twenty years and speaks fluent Portuguese. During her professional life she worked as a researcher at the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M.

Buddhists Roll On Together to the People’s Climate March

Stepping off the Buddhist retreat bus in D.C. on Saturday, two things were apparent: the 2017 People’s Climate March was going to be huge, and it was going to be hot. The record-breaking 92-degree heat seemed to enhance the energy of the staggering crowds that had convened to march from the foot of the Capitol Building to surround the White House.

I’d chosen to march with the Buddhist contingent as part of the Faith Bloc, situated between the Science bloc and Fossil Fuel resistance groups that gathered to surge down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was Trump’s 100th day in office, and over 200 Buddhists from around the world had shown up to make their voices heard with another 200,000+ people. The common message was clear: we know the climate is changing, and we want to address this.
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Using Less To Get More: Crop Intensification in Ethiopia

Ethiopia 1

The Central Rift Valley is Ethiopia’s predominant vegetable production belt. In this region, there are over 20,000 smallholder farmers engaged in producing over 200,000 tons of vegetables per year on about 10,000 hectares of irrigated land. Despite access to irrigation, agricultural practices have remained traditional, irregular, and unsustainable in terms of their economic, social, environmental, and ecological impacts. The agronomic practice and input application patterns are not only haphazard but also cause significant damage to the soil, water, ecology, and human health.

During our fiscal years 2015 and 2016, BGR partnered with Oxfam America in a two-year project to increase the productivity of vegetable crops (tomato and onion) by teaching farmers the System of Crop Intensification (SCI). This is a report about two Ethiopian farmers who learned this system and became qualified to teach it to other farmers in their region. The report was provided to us by our partner, Oxfam America. Continue reading