Food aid is crucial in dire situations, but by no means is it a sustainable model, financially or environmentally, for solving hunger long-term. But a recent, increasing shift in how food aid is sourced could help address emergency needs and some of the factors that drive chronic hunger at the same time.
A lot of food aid often comes in packets of "ready-to-use therapeutic foods," or RUTFs. Plumpy'nut, if you've heard of it, was the first RUTF. But most of these products are produced in the U.S. or Europe.
The Guardian has a story, however, about companies and organizations that are trying to move away from that model and toward using more locally-sourced ingredients. The story reports that the Malawi-based Afri-Nut Company will begin processing peanuts for export (fair trade) to the UK for use in Plumpy'nut packets.
But bigger changes are also happening: Partners in Health, the organization co-founded by public health hero Paul Farmer, announced a partnership with the Abbott Fund earlier this year to procure locally-grown peanuts in an initiative that aims to create local markets, support local farms and promote local economic development.
U.S. company Two Degrees has taken on the TOMS Shoes model and for every food bar bought, the company donates a nutrition pack to a child in need, but the nutrition packs are locally-sourced from companies that also hires locally. And the World Food Program, USAID, and PepsiCo announced a joint program in September called Enterprise EthioPEA: a nutrition product for children in Ethiopia made from locally-grown chickpeas.
Long Way To Go
The Guardian adds that Valid Nutrition has been doing similar work in Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya, but then explains that while there are other community-focused efforts as well, not everyone involved in food aid (including USAID, in a separate example from EthioPEA) is on board with the idea of switching to locally-sourced solutions:
In 2010, Unicef certified facilities in nine developing countries, each capable of producing 40,000 megatonnes of RUTFs. But in September, the US international development agency, USAid announced, along with the American Peanut Council, that a trio of US companies – Edesia, Tabatchnick Fine Foods, and MANA Nutrition – would between them produce $4.4m of RUTFs for east Africa. This move, which follows an increase in US RUTF production from virtually zero two years ago to 40,000 megatonnes, could mean continued western dominance.
Why Local Is Important
Andrew Young, co-founder of One Acre Fund, drives home the importance of this shift toward local ingredients, and of ultimately building agricultural capacity in regions facing food insecurity. For those who don't know it, One Acre Fund is working to create agricultural markets in Africa and in doing so, to develop a more sustainable solution to some of the problems that create the need for food aid in the first place. Here's what he tells the Guardian:
"Famine is preventable," said Young. "Every famine should be a blaring red siren, reminding us that we could prevent the next one. Africa has the capacity to be a food supplier to the rest of the world, if only we would invest in agriculture more."