SEATTLE, Washington —As the World Bank reported on August 17, 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic led to “severe and widespread increases in global food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country.” According to a U.N. report, 2.4 billion people lacked access to sufficiently nutritious foods in 2020, an increase of 320 million people since 2019. Luckily, anti-hunger organizations are working to ensure that people have enough food to eat during a period of increased food insecurity.
As Ayhan Kose, World Bank Group acting vice president for equitable growth, finance & institutions, reported, “COVID-19 has severely impacted local labor and food markets around the world.” The primary risks to food security at the local level formed as the world saw an increase of higher retail prices. In addition, the world saw a decrease in incomes. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in July 2021 that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger by 2030 “will be missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people” according to current trends.
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Anti-Hunger Organizations
Organizations fighting hunger saw the impacts of the food supply crisis throughout the pandemic. Many found new ways to combat food insecurity worldwide. Food for the Hungry, Rise Against Hunger, Heifer International and Solid Ground lead the anti-hunger movement. They worked to fight food insecurity through a variety of innovative approaches.
Beth Allen, senior communications manager at Food for the Hungry, saw a dramatic shift in efforts throughout the pandemic. She described that operations pivoted overnight. Allen said, “Suddenly, we had people who had stable jobs and income without the ability to buy or produce food.” She stated that she saw significant damage to the food security pipeline in many of Food for the Hungry’s work areas.
Edna Ogwangi, chief programs officer for Rise Against Hunger, described the many cancelations of meal packaging events. “The meals packaged by volunteers at these events are distributed to people facing hunger around the world.” Fewer events meant significantly less meal inventory. Rise Against Hunger’s food education programs have also experienced a dramatic impact. Ogwangi noted that “as a whole, the 2020 school year was perhaps one of the most challenging for educators and students in schools where Rise Against Hunger provides food assistance.”
The Impact on the Food Supply
Chris Coxon, vice president of communications at Heifer International, described the impact of the pandemic on food supply. He stated that Heifer International’s farmer partners “lost access to market” as food transportation to rural areas decreased. This occurred in part due to a “fear of spreading COVID.” Coxon mentioned a recent Heifer International study focusing on 11 African countries. It reported that 40% of agriculture organizations out of around 299 smallholder farmers and 110 agriculture technology startups closed “at least temporarily” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Solid Ground, a local nonprofit organization based in Seattle, has seen these obstacles locally. Yamila Sterling, Solid Ground’s food system support program manager, stated that the organizations lost many volunteers and resources during the pandemic. “A lot of the food banks are supported by volunteers, and most of those volunteers are seniors, so those were the people that stopped volunteering.”
How Anti-Hunger Organizations are Adapting to the Pandemic
Dramatic obstacles mean that organizations go through tremendous efforts to adapt and adjust. Food for the Hungry immediately redesigned programs to create a “simple food and hygiene kit provision.” Allen said, “We have simply had to evaluate each region or community’s unique challenges and look to ways within that community to solve the problems.” Allen also described that in urban areas throughout the Philippines, Food for the Hungry “had mothers rehabilitating vacant lots to grow vegetables” as job training efforts increased.
Ogwangi noted that Rise Against Hunger became more resilient to meet the challenges of an ever-changing environment. Ogwangi explained that Rise Against Hunger developed a COVID-19 Relief and Resilience Plan. It introduced local food procurement issue grants to national partners. Additionally, it continued to implement its “long-term Empowering Communities agricultural projects that address the longer-term drivers of food insecurity.” Through its Philippine’s partnership with The Global Food Banking Network in 2020, Rise Against Hunger obtained 4,270 metric tons of food. It served more than 72,000 people.
Coxon described Heifer International’s targeted investments throughout the pandemic. These investments addressed food system bottlenecks and breakdowns. Additionally, Coxon noted Heifer’s investment in cooperatives in Cambodia. Heifer International worked with refrigerated transportation units so farmers can “still deliver their crops to market and still get paid.”
Sterling reported that aid from state and federal governments significantly helped Solid Ground’s organizing efforts. In particular, Sterling described National Guard members as essential to aiding the food bank system. They packaged food boxes and replaced volunteer-operated work throughout the past year.
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic formed a vast food insecurity crisis. However, actions of anti-poverty and anti-hunger organizations have helped. They have developed innovative solutions and provided hope for an ever-growing crisis.
– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Photo: Wikipedia Commons