The Injustice of Food Insecurity

In 1996, the World Food Summit defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” Though the definition of food security is broad, the concept can be broken down into three specific pillars: availability, access and safety. A lack of sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis, an absence of resources to maintain a nutritious diet and unsanitary living conditions are all causes of food insecurity. Today, there are approximately 795 million people who are undernourished because of one or more of the aforementioned conditions. The global food and agricultural system must be reformed to nourish the world’s hungry.

The Challenge

From the 1960s to 1980s, the “Green Revolution” swept across Asia and Latin America. The immense effort to improve farming methods helped to double food production and saved hundreds of millions of lives. Following the Green Revolution many governments and donors, believing that the developing world now had an adequate food supply, turned away from the issue of food security. The approaches that were successful for farmers in Asia and Latin America, however, failed in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even certain places that did reap the benefits of the Green Revolution are now plagued by food insecurity because the new farming techniques were not sustainable long-term.

Population growth, rising cost of living, dwindling natural resources and climate change have put a strain on agricultural productivity, causing food prices to rise. Millions of families are at risk for poverty, malnutrition and hunger. In developing countries, 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished. Poor nutrition causes nearly half of the deaths of children under age five each year.

The majority of those affected by food insecurity are smallholder farmers. Most of these farmers struggle to get by as they combat drought, pests, unproductive soil and other obstacles. Even after a successful harvest, a lack of reliable markets and supportive government policy make profits elusive.  Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people get their food and income by farming small plots of land. Improving the food and agriculture sectors of developing countries is essential to eliminating hunger and poverty.

Smallholder Farmers – The Key to Food Security

Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 percent of today’s global population. 500 million small farms worldwide provide up to 80 percent of food consumed in a large part of the developing world. When farmers grow more food and earn more income, the positive effects are immense. Secure farmers are better able to feed their families, send their children to school, and invest in their farms. This results in the farmer’s communities becoming more prosperous and stable. Helping farming families increase production in a sustainable way will be critical to reducing global hunger and poverty.

What Needs to be Done?

There is much work to be done if we hope to reach Sustainable Development Goal 2 of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Global development professionals must listen and work with farmers to understand how to best address their specific needs. Increasing farm productivity will require a comprehensive approach that includes access to heartier seeds, more effective tools, improved farm management practices, locally relevant knowledge and reliable markets. As climate change and population growth continue to strain natural resources, the world must embrace sustainable practices that grow more with less cost. To keep up with the ever growing demand for food, the world is in need of innovative yet lasting solutions to end hunger. Several Global Washington members are working tirelessly to support farmers in the developing world, bolster food production and ensure that the world’s hungry achieve food security.

Global Washington Members Working in Food Security

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals globally. Agricultural Development is one of the largest initiatives of the Foundation. The Foundation supports research to develop more nutritious varieties of stable crops grown by farming families, efforts to increase access to global markets, and more.

Grameen Foundation – The Grameen Foundation believes that all of us – even the poorest among us – can reach full potential if given access to the right tools and information. The Foundation works with governments and the private sector to empower farmers with relevant, timely and actionable information and financial services. Through the use of human networks and mobile technology, the Foundation is helping smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods.

Landesa – Landesa partners with governments and local organizations to secure legal land rights for the world’s poorest families. When families have secure rights to land, they can invest in their land to sustainably increase their harvests and reap the benefits — improved nutrition, health, education and dignity. Secure land rights are a critical, but often overlooked, factor in achieving household food security and improved nutritional status in rural areas of developing countries.

Lift Up Africa – Lift Up Africa supports programs that encourage self-reliance and provide solutions to disease, hunger, unemployment and lack of education. They strive to use local labor and materials whenever possible and concentrate on basic needs such as clean water, health care, adequate food supplies and dependable energy sources. Lift Up Africa aims to assist with projects that lead to independence and community ownership; to provide a hand up and not a hand out.

Literacy Bridge – Literacy Bridge is dedicated to empowering the world’s most underserved communities with life-changing knowledge to reduce poverty and disease. This is done through the Talking Book, an innovative low-cost audio computer that provides life-saving information in the form of actionable instructional messages. The ultimate goal of the agriculture messages is to increase crop yield through the adoption of best practices in farming. Farmers who had access to the Talking Book had an average increase in crop yield of 48 percent.

Marine Stewardship Council – Marine Stewardship Council aims to transform the world’s seafood market by promoting sustainable fishing practices. Half of the world’s seafood comes from developing countries, where millions rely on fish as a vital source of nutrition and income. The council’s vision is for the world’s oceans to be teeming with life, and seafood supplies safeguarded.

Mercy Corps – Mercy Corps is a global organization powered by the belief that a better world is possible. With over 4,000 team members working in more than 40 countries, Mercy Corps has decades of experience helping people with urgent need by distributing vouchers, cash or emergency rations. Additionally, Mercy Corps is invested in breaking the hunger cycle by addressing root causes. Working closely with communities, they help farmers manage their land, increase their harvests, and connect them to new markets and technologies. Mercy Corps’ approach helps families stay healthy during shortages and meet their own needs far into the future.

One Equal Heart Foundation – One Equal Heart Foundation collaborates with nonprofit organizations in Chiapas, Mexico to strengthen indigenous communities through high impact, community-driven development programs. They harness cultural, spiritual and environmental resources so communities can develop from within. In Chiapas, most families are food insecure with almost three-quarters of indigenous people suffering from malnutrition. Foundation partners engage indigenous farmers, particularly women, to increase food production with agro-ecological strategies, increase economic stability and opportunity through savings and credit cooperatives, and develop leadership skills to build a culture of respect for human rights.

Oxfam America – Oxfam America tackles the injustice of food insecurity and hunger by unlocking the potential of small-scale farmers – particularly women. Helping small-scale farmers be more productive can lift families out of poverty and end the cycle of food insecurity that threatens communities and nations. Oxfam’s agriculture and food security programs and advocacy promote locally sustainable solutions that meet the needs of small-scale producers, particularly women. Through focused and targeted advocacy, they also tackle the underlying policies and power imbalances that keep people in poverty.

PATH – PATH strives to deliver measurable results that disrupt the cycle of poor health. In contrast to many other health-related issues, malnutrition is completely preventable. That’s why PATH develops and promotes inexpensive and innovative health interventions aimed at making sure mothers-to-be, babies and children get the nutrients they need.

RESULTS – RESULTS is a movement of passionate, committed everyday people using their voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty. They work to effectively advise policy makers, guiding them towards decisions that improve access to health, education and economic opportunity. With every hour of their time, their impact is multiplied through advocacy – whether helping change policy to support millions of families putting food on the table or helping raise billions of dollars for the most vulnerable children.

The Borgen Project – The Borgen Project believes that leaders of the most powerful nation on earth should be doing more to address global poverty. They’re an innovative, national campaign that is working to make poverty a focus of U.S. foreign policy. By meeting with U.S. leaders to build support for life-saving legislation and effective poverty-reduction programs, they mobilize people across the globe behind efforts to make poverty a political priority, including food security.

U.S. Fund for UNICEF – UNICEF does whatever it takes to save and protect the world’s most vulnerable children. Recognizing that the health, hygiene, nutrition, education, protection and social development of children are all connected, they work to ensure that children not only survive, but thrive. UNICEF battles food insecurity by tackling childhood malnutrition, stabilizing high food prices and providing short and long term responses to community food crises.