World Hunger Day

171 - HungerA guest post by Eimear Rigby from the global hunger charity Concern Worldwide.

The 28th of May is World Hunger Day.

There are 875 million people in the world are hungry today.

It’s hard to comprehend that figure – 12 times the population of the UK, or one in eight people worldwide.

At Concern Worldwide we believe that no one should have to live with hunger and the damage it causes. We work hard alongside the poorest and most vulnerable, in order to build a world where lives are not limited by lack of access to enough nutritious food. 

One location Concern Worldwide is working is South Sudan, where poverty, drought and families returning home after years of civil war are all contributing to a significant food crisis.

Our staff in Aweil in the north of the country shared their stories of just some of the people affected by the crisis earlier this year, including  four year old Avur – one of thousands of children who were badly affected. Avur and her grandmother Amou had walked for miles from their home in the north of the country, an area with widespread hunger and soring child mortality rates, to one of 34 health centres supported by Concern in the south.

Avur was not only malnourished; she was also suffering from diarrhoea and coughing fits that were further weakening her. Concern’s specialist staff at the center admitted Avur to an intensive feeding programme, providing special therapeutic food designed to bring malnourished children like her back to health over six to eight weeks. This removed Avur from danger and set her on the road to recovery.

A nurse weighs Avur as she waits for treatment

There are many more children like Avur in South Sudan and Concern Worldwide provides help and support in order to help improve their own lives, such as training local volunteers to spot the signs of malnutrition so that families know when to seek treatment. Concern is also distributing therapeutic food and teaching mothers how to use it, so that malnourished children recover in the safety and comfort of their own families.

As well as providing urgent crisis response, Concern works within communities to help them protect themselves from the prospect of future crisis. In Tanzania around 75% of the population are poor rural farmers who can’t afford the tools, seeds or crops they need to grow food in a country susceptible to both flooding and drought. Concern is able to offer support in these rural areas by proving simple tools and resources, and transfer skills to local communities: Marcelina Bedastus and her husband used to struggle to feed their four children and usually survived on just one meal per day.  In 2009 Marcelina joined a Farmer Field School run by Concern and received training and three chickens to help boost her farm. Marcelina was able to breed her chickens and now has coop of 20.

Reflecting on the difference this has made to her life she says, “I had nothing before, but now I have something. I can sell eggs to get money for items like clothes and food. We have three meals a day and I can vary the types of food we eat. I can also pay for school uniforms and I hope for all of my children to go to school – education is the most important thing for them.”

Christopher and mother with chickens

Concern would obviously welcome your support for its work, but even more importantly this World Hunger Day, asks that you tell as many people as possible about hunger in the world, the damage it does, but how many, including Concern Worldwide, are working hard to tackle the problems and transform lives.

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10 Ways to Eat Local

Eating more locally produced food doesn’t mean shutting out the wider world – it’s about reducing transport costs and impacts in production and shopping, supporting local economies and jobs, keeping more of the profits in the hands of producers rather than multinationals, reducing packaging and preservative usage, avoiding exploitation, eating fresher food, eating seasonal food, and ultimately reconnecting with where our food comes from.

1 – CHECK THE LABEL

More and more retailers are appreciating people’s increasing desire to know the origin of their food, and to buy more locally. Many of the supermarkets now have a number of local suppliers and product lines in their stores, usually being clearly promoted as local produce. The golden rule is if it’s not labelled as being local, then it probably isn’t.

2 – SHOP AT FARM SHOPS

Farm run shops source their stock directly from local producers, usually including a number of attached farms. If you’re not sure where your nearest farm shop is, check out a number of directory websites, including Free Index, LocalFoods.org and Information Britain.

3 – SHOP AT FARMER’S MARKETS

Over 450 farmer’s markets now exist across the UK, meeting weekly, fortnightly or monthly, and providing an opportunity for local food producers to sell directly to the public. Bringing producers and consumers together, most sellers will be more than happy to answer questions about the food they produce. Most of the produce will have been produced within 30 miles of the market – significantly reducing transport impacts. Find your nearest farmer’s market on LocalFoods.org or via your local Council.

4 – SUPPORT COMMUNITY AGRICULTURE

A range of community supported food schemes exist across the UK – from meat and vegetable box deliveries, to wine, breweries, dairy products and bread. The Soil Association maintains a list of community supported agriculture schemes and delivery arrangements.

5 – SUPPORT COMMUNITY RUN FOOD OUTLETS

There are an increasing number of local artisan food producers interested in producing high quality local food, and better connecting local communities with the food they eat. Community bakeries, breweries and many other projects have been set-up in various parts of the UK, either selling directly to the public, or via a range of local outlets. The Transition Towns network provides a range of information aimed to support community food producers.

6 –  EAT OUT AT RESTAURANTS OFFERING LOCAL PRODUCE

As with the supermarkets, many local cafes and restaurants have realised the increasing appetite for locally produced food, and source many of their ingredients locally. It might be worth making enquiries at your favourite local eatery to see where they source from, and if not already local, perhaps encourage them to consider if they could.

7 – SUPPORT LOCAL ALLOTMENT CO-OPERATIVES

In many areas allotment plotholders have come together to share and exchange their various crops between themselves, effectively creating micro community farms. Some have proved so successful they also sell surplus produce to the public, via local stores – which is perfectly legal so long as the allotment is not being run primarily as a business.

8 – CONSIDER SETTING-UP A COMMUNITY ORCHARD

Something perhaps a little more ambitious than the rest of this list – there is increasing interest in turning areas of otherwise underused and derelict land into community orchards. Done well, a community orchard provides not only a source of food for local people and wildlife, but also an attractive community outdoor space. Contact your local Council to enquire about any suitable sites you might be aware of and see what support they might be able to offer.

9 – FORAGE FOR WILD FOOD

At certain times of the year the UK’s hedgerows and woodlands are full of blackberries, wild strawberries, nuts, wild garlic, mushrooms, and a wide variety of nettles and leaves. Of course it’s important to know what you’re picking, but numerous books and guided courses are available for those with an interest in free food.

10 – GROW YOUR OWN

Of course you can’t get more local than your own back garden, greenhouse or window box. Try out your green fingers, and discover how satisfying connecting with nature and growing a proportion of your own food can be.

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in the ebook The Year I Saved the World]

Photo from BazzaDaRambler via Flickr

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Read the Label

Many of us have a bigger effect on the world through what we buy, than what we do.

Collectively, the choices we exercise in choosing what we purchase matters, and being informed of a particular product’s origin lets us make better decisions.

But it can easily be confusing !

In the UK there are almost 80 ethical labelling and food assurance schemes, what do they all actually mean ? In addition there are many frequently used phrases and terminologies, such as free range or farm fresh.

All the major eco-labelling schemes have different criteria, and as their various supporters and critics point out, it’s important to understand exactly what certification does, or does not, entail.

1 Fairtrade

Fairtrade is an international social movement and certification scheme, that aims to help producers in developing countries by improving social and environmental standards. Consumers pay a small price premium which goes towards projects such as improving healthcare, developing sustainable soil and water management practices, or local education schemes. Fairtrade certification also aims to ensure goods have been produced without exploitation, such as through slavery or sweatshop labour.

2 Forest Stewardship Council Timber

The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organisation which aims to promote the responsible and sustainable management of the world’s forests, and through it’s certification scheme it aims to provide assurance of the source of timber. It seeks to improve conservation and biodiversity, improve worker conditions and tenure, and ultimately reduce pressures on natural forests.

3 Rainforest Alliance

The New York based certification scheme Rainforest Alliance now operates internationally, and has the objective of conserving biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods by transforming land use practices. Though not generally considered as rigourous a Fairtrade certification, the Rainforest Alliance take account of a broad range of criteria in certification including carbon footprint, producer minimum price programmes and sustainable tourism.

4 Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council set standards for sustainable fishing, and certify sustainably produced fish. Their aim is to improve the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, working with partners, and influencing consumers. Originally based in London, the MSC now operates in over 100 countries around the world.

5 RSPO

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was founded in 2004, with the aim of promoting sustainable palm oil and developing credible global standards. There is difficulty in defining what is sustainable palm oil, especially given the industries recent and ongoing significant expansion, but the RSPO looks to establish principles of operation for plantation owners that include biodiversity and protection of endangered species (including orang utans), carbon footprint and resource use.

6 Freedom Food

In the UK the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals) operates the Freedom Food farm assurance and labeling scheme, which focuses on animal welfare. Certification considers standards such as physical conditions, transportation and slaughter practices.

7 The Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust works with organisation to help manage and reduce their carbon footprint. Originally based in the UK, the Carbon Trust now also has offices in New York, Beijing and works extensively in several countries. It operates a carbon certification and labeling scheme, which commits producers to reduce the carbon footprint of their products every two years.

8 Red Tractor

The UK based Red Tractor assurance scheme is run and operated by farming and food producing organisations, and aims to ensure minimal standards of animal welfare, hygiene and the environment in farming and food production.

9 EU Ecolabels

The EU’s Ecolabel scheme aims to identify and certify products and services which have a ‘reduced’ associated environmental impact. To qualify, producers have to comply with a set of criteria which take the entire product life cycle into account.

10 Organic

The organic movement seeks to promote it’s core principles of avoiding synthetic chemical farming inputs (like fertilizers, antibiotics and pesticides), avoiding GM products, high animal welfare standards and adopting sustainable land use practices, though exact details vary from country to country. Organic certification in the UK is carried out through the Soil Association.

Photo from Vauvau, via Flickr

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The Hunger Games ?

The world is watching the 2012 Olympics – me included – an amazing spectacle, and so many remarkable personal stories.

And while the eyes of the world are on the London Olympics, something else remarkable is scheduled for the last day.

A Hunger Summit.

I think it’s important to be critical of our Governments when they get things wrong, as they so often seem to do, but I also think it’s at least as important to give them a bit of a pat on the back when they get it right – and this is one of those moments.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently said:

“It’s really important that, while the eyes of the world are on Britain and we are going to put on this fantastic show for the Olympics, we remember people in other parts of the world who, far from being excited about the Olympics, are actually worried about their next meal and whether they are getting enough to eat.”

He may never have been righter.

Despite what we might assume, the world has made tremendous strides in tackling extreme of poverty, hunger and malnutrition over the last few decades. The total number of hungry people in the world fell from 850 million in 1971 to 780 million in 1997. This might not seem that impressive, until you consider world population also increased from 3.7 billion to 5.9 billion over the same period !

Unfortunately things have changed.

The number of hungry people in the world is rising again, and now stands at around 925 million, with many millions more threatened with food insecurity from rising prices.

Population has continued to rise, now standing at more than 7 billion, with another 219,000 more mouths to feed every day.

The price of oil has massively increased, from around $12 a barrel in 1976, to over $90 today – affecting our fuel intensive agriculture and transport, and pushing costs higher.

Several formerly productive parts of the world are struggling to find enough water, or retain enough soil quality to maintain yields. Floods, droughts, natural disasters and conflict have all also caused significant disruption.

Several countries, most notably the US, have begun using farmland to grow crops for fuel, rather than food production.

Demand for food has also been increasing, as the world’s better off have been eating more and more, and more meat in particular. Westernised diets are increasingly popular and affordable in China, India, Brazil and many other developing countries.

It’s not just China of course, the rest of the rich world has been eating more too.

In 2008 1.4 billion people across the world were overweight, 500 million of them obese.

It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true: half the world is starving, while the other half is over weight !

We’re not just passive observers – we’re all partly responsible.

Our governments and food companies have negotiated unfair trading agreements with poor world producers, and as individuals we eat too much, waste too much, and focus on buying our food cheaply too much, oblivious to the consequences for the producer.

Keep watching and enjoying the Olympics – but spare a thought for the world’s hungry who have other things on their mind.

Perhaps take 5 minutes out of your busy day to fire off a quick email to your MP. Perhaps tell your friends about the proposed food summit or post something on your next Status update – don’t let this opportunity to promote food justice just pass by.

Of course , we all know our Governments are often hopeless at making and sticking to meaningful commitments. Many NGOs and charitable organisations are a little worried about what measures may be agreed at the summit. More private business involvement ? More promotion of GM ? Perhaps not ideal, but I personally have no problem with either, so long as more hungry people get fed, and the poor are not exploited.

We can also make a difference through our own lives.

If we bought a little less meat, bought a little more Fairtrade, and wasted a little less of the food we bought, then global markets would adjust, and a little more food would be left on the plates of the world’s hungry poor.

Besides, most of us could do with eating a little less anyway (me included).

If you’re too hardened to motivated by the plight of starving children to act, then I saw a couple of news reports this week that might ‘press a couple of different buttons’ for you . . . I’ll let you read them for yourself: ONE and TWO.

Photo by Alexander Kachkaev, via Flickr

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In Pursuit of the ‘Holiday Experience’

A guest post by The Happy Hippy.

Holidays are very important to me.

All my holidaying life I have very rarely travelled to the same location, except to visit friends in foreign places, and my husband and I attempt to give our children ‘experiences’ which they will remember – and also hopefully ones which shape and change how they view the world.

Every year we have the same dilemma, where and when to go and how much to spend.

With three growing kids it’s hard to balance the cost with the right experience for us all, and in an attempt to match my ‘green credentials’, I’ve also always tried to ‘do the right thing’ – buying local products, using public transport, being responsible etc. It can often be difficult to balance these green aspirations within the mix.

But last year we found that rare thing – a holiday experience which met all of our expectations and more !

I’ve always tried to book destinations which are a little off the beaten track, offer some kind of engagement with the locals – avoiding at all cost the high-rise, the fight for the beach beds, the noise and glitter of a ‘resort’ . . . much to my kids’ disappointment. I hear them now . . . ‘ please mum can we just go into one arcade for candy floss and kiss me quick hats’ . . . ‘NO’ I say, ‘we must have an experience !’

The destination that managed to make us all happy last year was Transylvania.

I can honestly say that Transylvania was by far one of our best experiences to date. Our initial concerns about vampires and dark dangerous forests were soon dispelled upon arrival. Apart from the usual ‘what a beautiful country’, ‘great views’ etc – what made it special was seeing how sustainably many of the locals live.

Romania joined the EU in 2007 and you would think that they would have embraced all the EUness of their neighbouring countries. While the rest of Romania, leaving behind its communist history, may be on this route, hopefully Transylvania will remain one of the hidden gems of the world.

The first thing I have to mention was the food – divine ! Everything was handmade, the jam, the yoghurt, the elderflower and raspberry juice and not a plastic bottle in sight. The wine was produced in the neighbouring valley and was perhaps the best wine I have had anywhere – and it was organic. There is something quite special about seeing the food being grown on site and watching the cook hand picking fruits and vegetables from the plot for that evening’s taste sensation. All the villages had gardens full of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

We stayed in the small village of Miclosva for a few nights, then moving further into the Carpathian Mountains, to an even smaller village. There was no TV, no mobile phone signal, occasionally no electricity and there was no phone, as the copper had been stolen from the overhead cables. . . and where were all the cars ? How would my husband and kids survive ? I was worried, I wanted us all to have that ‘experience’, but I didn’t want us to be bored! I needn’t have worried.

Usually one of my children would do anything to avoid the ‘countryside’ but even they were excited by the nature walk. Our guide, Garbor (fantastic name and fantastic guy) was very knowledgeable and engaged with the children, showing them a multitude of wildlife, exploding plants, fields of butterflies and bear trails, including their ‘poo’. We all shared a scary moment in the graveyard late that night when Garbor took us bear watching. We had to remain as quiet as possible lying on a bank and listening and focusing on the clearing in the woods. I couldn’t believe the children were able to remain quiet for so long, not a sound, us all waiting in anticipation.  We heard grunts, gruffs and heavy breathing getting closer . . . then all of a sudden Garbor jumped up shouting and screaming, the bear had approached from the side and in fact was worryingly too close! Thankfully the bear was sent on his way and the kids thought this was one of the highlights of the whole holiday and told the story many times of how we were nearly caught by a bear !

We spent our days on horse and cart visiting the charcoalers, the sheep and goat farmers who had to milk their 200 strong herd twice a day every day, the Ferrier and their work horses, the farmer who worked the land by hand with the help of their children, the baker who baked real bread, the shopkeeper who sold nothing which the kids could relate to – all working together as part of their village community.

Perhaps as close to a truly sustainable way of life as perhaps it’s possible to get these days ?

Early one evening my daughter and I were taking a gentle stroll along the dirt track through the village; all the villagers were sitting out in front of their houses chatting with neighbours, their children playing with the dogs, puppies and ducklings. Everybody we passed spoke to us and smiled, many inviting us to chat and offering us drinks. On our way back my daughter, who was then 12 – and like all 12 year olds loves her shopping – said, ‘these people don’t have much money do they, they don’t really appear to have anything?’ ‘No’ I said pondering on her remark. We walked in silence for a few seconds and then she said something which put all the rights and wrongs of the world into perspective . . . ’but they are all so happy and friendly’.

How meaningful I thought from a 12 year old but how true. It’s sparked many a meaningful conversation since and when she asks for a new designer sweatshirt, I remind her of this experience.

I hope for their sake the EU, with its regulations and policies, does not change them too much . . . . . unless they want to be changed of course.

A number of companies offer eco-holidays to Transylvania, including Responsible TravelGreen Mountain Holidays and Transylvanian Eco-Holidays.

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