Simple and empowering ways to beat food insecurity

Amy Spindler, winner of ONE’s World Food Day blog post contest, brings her story pitch to life in this piece on food security, empowerment and activism.

Photo 2Amy checks out a greenhouse, a simple technology that allows for a longer growing season in the high mountains of Tajikistan.
It’s a moment that’s stuck with me. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, when I first saw girls hauling metal canisters through the village, I assumed that they contained milk. How naive. I quickly learned that they contained river water for cooking, drinking and bathing. Of course milk was available, but only affordable in small glass jars. As I’ve gone on to work in food security in Tajikistan, that moment humbles me again and again. There’s so much to learn.

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Amy and her colleague Rahmidin Mahmadov in Tajikistan, overseeing the distribution of flour, lentil and oil as part of a food security program.
Famine in the Horn of Africa is making headlines, but food insecurity quietly lurks across the globe without much media coverage. The causes of both are a complex tangle of issues that include rising food prices, social inequity, economic shocks, lack of political will, climate change and environmental degradation. Wow.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but so much better to feel like we can make a difference. We have an opportunity to act now and influence world leaders next month at the G20 Summit. And here are three more ways to advocate for change, no matter who you are or where you live:

Invest in women. Women grow more than half of all the world’s food. And yet according to the FAO, they receive 5 percent of agricultural extension services and own about 2 percent of the world’s land. If women had the same access to farming resources as men, they could boost yields by 20 to 30 percent, combating hunger and increasing their incomes. Research shows that more women than men invest extra earnings in their children’s well-being. Small change adds up — consider making a small loan ($25) directly to a woman farmer.

A woman farmer attends to her greenhouse
A Kyrgyz woman named Delbar, who lives near the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, attends to the vegetables in her greenhouse.
Support breast-feeding. A magic solution that prevents malnutrition in babies? It already exists. Offering only breast milk to babies their first six months of life could prevent 1.4 million deaths every year according to UNICEF. Breast milk is readily available, inexpensive and offers complete nutrition. Even better, it protects against diarrhea and respiratory illness. Only a third of babies exclusively breast-feed their first six months—and those rates are much lower in some sub-Saharan African countries where it might matter most.

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A woman and her baby attend a child health seminar in Tajikistan
There are legitimate reasons mothers don’t breast-feed. While in Tajikistan, mothers told me that their elders forbade them from taking time away from chores to breast-feed. They also feared that their milk spoiled while working under the hot sun. We can all contribute to informed, creative solutions. In Sierra Leone, pregnant and nursing mothers cultivate vegetables on “baby-friendly farms” that are near their villages or have a nursery on site. In Tajikistan, young mothers are armed with knowledge and advocating for change.

Replace guilt with gratitude. There seems to be a disconnect between what we know and what we do. It’s time to get connected — but through gratitude, not guilt. Let’s waste less (Americans toss about 30 million tons of food annually). Let’s spend a little more on food and support small-scale farmers in our home countries by buying locally.

Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income at the grocery store, while many families in the developing world spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food. Let’s invest in local, small-scale farmers who value the environment and biodiversity.That might mean eating less meat, which could be a good thing considering that 30 percent of land (globally) is used to support livestock production.

Above all, let’s honor food as a luxury, but fight to make it a basic human right with access for everyone. While food insecurity is a complex, oppressive issue, you’ll notice that these ideas are fairly simple and empowering, which is why they are my favorite. What are yours?