Last Thursday, Oct. 16 marked the 35th annual World Food Day, an international day of action combatting hunger across the globe. In addition to calling attention to issues surrounding hunger, this year’s World Food Day celebrated the 69th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations (UN) agency that aims to reduce hunger in developed and developing countries. While more than 805 million people live with hunger on a daily basis, the organization has become more and more determined to get that number to zero within our generation.
Among the many charitable events that took place worldwide last week were food drives, soup kitchen services, and hunger walks. Each year, FAO selects an overarching theme for World Food Day; since 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming, the organization chose this year to promote the importance of family farms in ending the fight against hunger.
“Many global food systems rely on the production of healthy food for local and regional markets grown by family farmers,” said Assistant Professor of History Laura Ann Twagira, who has done research in the FAO archives in Rome. “In fact, Americans are turning more and more to locally sourced food for similar reasons: locally grown food from small scale farms is healthy for people and the environment.”
According to the World Food Day USA website, 98 percent of farms worldwide are family-owned. However, it is often the case that the farmers who produce food for the consumer market are actually hungry themselves. A major reason for this discrepancy is that family farmers face a lack of policy support, which makes it increasingly difficult for these individuals to finance their agricultural endeavors.
The FAO official website reports that approximately five million children under the age of five die each year due to health complications associated with a lack of essential nutrients. This sobering fact not only brings attention to the grave consequences of hunger, but it also unveils the importance of making healthy foods available to those in need.
“As a historian, I have researched a series of widespread droughts that occurred in West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, causing hunger,” Twagira said. “International food donations helped to alleviate some of the consequences, but the food shortages still led to malnutrition. It is not simply a matter of having food; it is important to have healthy food that people want to eat.”
Twagira then addressed the significance of the people’s power in supervising their own food systems and directing them as they see fit.
“If you think about the issue this way, it is really a question of food sovereignty: having control over your own food supply,” Twagira said. “Programs that provide emergency food supplies are increasingly recognizing this issue and switching from donations of food grown in home countries that must then be shipped globally to sending financial aid for the purchase of food closer to the affected regions. I see this as a promising trend.”
In the meantime, the UN is certainly making progress toward the goal of eradicating world hunger. According to the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda, the probability of a child dying of malnutrition before the age of five has, in fact, been cut in half within the past 20 years. In addition, a report from the UN Millennium Development Goals declares that extreme poverty worldwide has also been halved in the years since 1990, a feat accomplished five years prior to the original 2015 target.
Twagira stressed the importance of recognizing local food distribution issues, taking steps toward decreasing the presence of “food deserts” where healthful options are not readily accessible and becoming involved in community efforts to mitigate these problems.
“Many people are not able to purchase healthy food in food deserts and even in other neighborhoods,” Twagira said. “Right here in Middletown, the Amazing Grace Food Pantry provides food to people in need.”
Though having a global view of hunger is crucial in understanding the gravity of the issue, local activism is one of the easiest ways to make a difference.
“When we think of global food concerns, we ought to include the United States in the same conversation and look for solutions close to home,” Twagira said. “Right on campus, Long Lane Farm produces vegetables that are sold in a local farmers’ market. Getting involved with either Amazing Grace or Long Lane is a great way to get involved locally.”