By Ariel Rivers
AIARD’s Vice President
As I started to write this blog to check-in with our AIARD membership about the 2021 conference, I realized how disconnected I feel from our organization and all of you.
In having more ways to gather via virtual platforms, I am personally finding myself on more meetings. Yet, I am still somehow missing many opportunities to deeply engage with others, and especially, missing the “aha” moments of inspiration that we so often get when in the presence of our colleagues. I attended my first AIARD conference in 2012 as a Future Leader, and the half dozen conferences I’ve attended since have always provided me with so much joy and increased passion for the work we do.
So it saddens me that we will once again forego our in-person conference in 2021. And I am looking to you, our members, to help our Board plan a 2021 Virtual AIARD week that may provide the same energy we normally get each June in Washington, D.C.
Last year, we had a great team of people behind the 2020 Virtual AIARD Week, who were able to quickly pivot some of our programming so we could still provide opportunities to bring all of you together. If you weren’t able to participate last year, please look over the excellent speakers to learn more about their work related to food safety.
This year, we are planning the 2021 Virtual AIARD Week for June 7-10. Please mark your calendars, and plan to save at least an hour or two throughout the week to join us and AIARD’s partners.
However, we need your help. Now that we all have over a year of attending webinars, online events, zoom panels and team meetings, we want to know what type of programming would be the most valuable to you, our AIARD members. What type of events would you like to see during Virtual AIARD Week to make the most of your membership, while also helping you to have your “aha” moments?
Please take a few minutes and respond to this survey by March 10, and help us identify potential themes for the week, speakers/participants, and any activities you would like to see.
Any activities we plan will be free, but some may be limited to AIARD members only. Please feel free to share this survey and more information with any potential new AIARD members, and especially those who likely could not attend our meetings in person. We will also continue the Future Leaders Forum (FLF), albeit in a new way to allow for virtual meetings, so please keep your eye out for information to share with FLF candidates.
Please feel free to reach out to AIARD’s Vice President, Ariel Rivers, arielrivers [@] yahoo.com with any additional questions or if you are interested in joining the planning committee, and we look forward to seeing you soon!
By Tom Heilandt,
Secretary of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/ World Health Organization (WHO) Codex Alimentarius Commission (short Codex)
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the mentioned organizations.
I started writing this blog post before the COVID-19 crisis. Going home to Germany from Rome for a weekend has now turned into almost three months of teleworking. Struggling with a radically changed world and the growing realization that nothing will ever go back to “normal” meaning to “as it was before.” Only one topic in the news, all plans changed, and it seems a long time ago that I intended to attend the AIARD conference in Washington, D.C. in June after a Codex meeting in San Diego.
I forgot what the first version of this blog was about, now it’s about “it” and food safety and about our obligation to learn from “it”, now and in any of “its” future manifestations. We need closer global cooperation and governance more than ever before rather than leaving the scene to populists and risking a period of new nationalism.
Problems start with “its” name: Some insist giving it a denomination of geographic origin (city or country) to point fingers at a presumed culprit. Why brandmark one city or a country with a virus, aren’t we all in this together? I will use SARS-CoV-2 for the virus and COVID-19 for the disease.
SARS-CoV-2 has had an impact on all aspects of human life: political, economic, societal, and psychological. It brought racism against Asians (with people moving away from my Chinese colleague on Roman metro trains); it created new forms of crime (give me all your money or I will cough on you I got the virus); there were and will be more fraudulent mask sellers robbing the apartments of older people.
We have seen difficulties in international food trade with some countries requesting corona-free certification. Worst of all, we have seen growth in unemployment, poverty, and hunger especially in those regions and countries already in crisis.
The pandemic has also brought out the best in people supporting and publicly thanking all those who are working at the frontline of this crisis: foremost health workers and workers in the food supply chain. Different countries have adapted procedures being pragmatic and innovative to facilitate trade while making sure that food and people stay safe.
We have to work together to be innovative and minimize the bad effects and hopefully move to a better state of the world after COVID-19. For that we need:
In the UN and specifically FAO, WHO and Codex we harvest the knowledge and science and turn it into clear guidance for our members, and these days we receive many questions.
Where did “it” come from? Is it the wet markets? Should they be banned?
We do not know for sure how it happened and even for the first SARS virus at the beginning of this century, we still have doubts. It seems the SARS-CoV-2 has originated in a market that sells different species of animals – some alive – some slaughtered and prepared on-site. I will call that a “live market” as the terminology of “wet market” isn’t clear.
At home we have a responsibility and opportunity to keep food safe: we separate raw and cooked and meat and vegetables in our fridge and on cutting boards and overall observe simple good food hygiene rules (e.g. the five keys) and personal hygiene (wash, wash, wash your hands!!!) when preparing and consuming food. We minimize risks that way and would not want to increase complexity at home by letting our cats, dogs, and our canary play with our food and then eat it.
Live markets are complex operations and need to be managed appropriately with utmost hygiene and precaution to be safe for any disease. If it can be shown that these markets create the conditions for viruses jumping species, will they ultimately have to be banned, or can we find a way to avoid this? What implications would banning have on food security? Would markets go underground and become even more dangerous? There is a lot we don’t know yet.
Our solutions should be based on science and look at the overall implications. International organizations do this and will give more guidance as our knowledge grows. The websites of FAO, WHO and Codex already offer a lot of useful information. Check them out!
Is our food safe in times of COVID-19? Can food animals transmit it to humans? Can the virus survive on food surfaces and can I get infected?
As scant as the scientific knowledge about the SARS-CoV-2 still is there is a lot we can infer from knowledge about other viruses. SARS-CoV-2 cannot grow on or in food, it can remain active on surfaces, but we do not know exactly how long and whether in enough copies to cause infection. There have been no reported cases of transmission through food. The main transmission is from human to human.
Social distancing and masks will help to protect us when shopping for food or leaving home for other reasons.
As SARS-CoV-2 is not a food-borne virus we can safely enjoy our food provided we use the normal food hygiene measures and observe other relevant food safety standards both in production and at home.
Our modern food safety system has made it possible to bring safe food to more homes than ever before. Still, too many people suffer from hunger, under or over-nutrition and 600.000 lose their lives annually because of foodborne illness. This makes working cooperatively together in bodies such as Codex important to further reduce the burden of foodborne disease. We need to use each outbreak and crisis to increase our knowledge and improve.
Food safety practices, based on those recommended by Codex as a pioneer in globalizing food hygiene since 1963, will reduce the likelihood of contamination of foods with any pathogen. These measures will also help to lower the public health burden caused by other foodborne infections, which will, in turn, reduce the stress on public health systems in many countries.
During this biggest global crisis since WWII we need to do all we can to keep the food supply working and food workers healthy so that safe food can arrive in every home.
Creating another problem by losing sight of food safety is the last thing we need – food safety is everybody’s business!
For more information please visit:
With an academic background in mathematics and professional experience in the private sector, Tom Heilandt, a German national, has been involved in international standard setting for over 20 years. He held positions in Geneva with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe before joining Codex in 2005.
He has held the post of Secretary since October 2014.
8 practices to minimize the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on agricultural development and food security
By Susan Karimiha, Fatemeh Malekian, Tatiana LeGrand, Mariano Sobalbarro, Cedric Habirayemye, Chuck Chopak and Russ Webster
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on International Agricultural development and Food Security
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, lives around the world have become disrupted. Throughout the world, social distancing, curfews and, in some cases, stay at home orders, have become common practice. In addition to the immediate health risks posed by the virus, there will be significant impacts on the livelihoods of individuals in resource-limited settings and farms throughout the world. Previous research on epidemics and pandemics suggests long term social and economic impacts on agricultural livelihoods and food security (Gatiso et al., 2018; World Bank, 2019; Muzari et al., 2014; Asenso-Okyere et al., 2010). As an example, in the short term and on an individual level, in a recent interview aired on a Honduran news station, a female farmer cried, “We need to eat! What are we going to eat? My fruit over there is already rotten. They tell us to stay in the house. But how will we eat?” The impact of the virus on immediate poverty, malnutrition, and hunger, is especially apparent in resource-limited settings. The pandemic is a double threat to vulnerable communities—hunger and malnutrition further compromise the immune system—placing many in the highest risk group for COVID-19 with less resilience to fight the virus. Furthermore, the economic consequences of the virus on employment impacts the ability of people to purchase goods and produces an increase in market volatility.
Travel restrictions impact trade, international business, and training opportunities. Adjustments to social events are already taking place around the world, with cultural and religious gatherings which involve food traditions (e.g. Easter, Diwali, Passover, Ramadan, funerals, weddings). Just recently, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) experts suggested that the reduction in economic growth following the COVID-19 outbreak could increase poverty rates by 1.7%-3.0%, with varying magnitude in different regions, and prices are falling for many agricultural commodities.
Development initiatives may consider the following recommendations for minimizing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture and rural development.
Leave a comment or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get in touch with the authors.
By Austen Moore
Senior Technical Advisor
Catholic Relief Services
As a Peace Corps volunteer, we were taught to “work ourselves out of a job” by the end of our service. In short, to develop programs, build capacities, and empower local people to take these initiatives and run with them. This approach makes sense from an educational, governance, and financial perspective, with the theoretical underpinning that local people are best positioned to enable their own sustainable development. USAID’s recent emphasis on the Road to Self-Reliance (link) borrows heavily from this thinking, in addition to positioning countries to do more with less external support.
Much of the work I’ve done in my career matches this methodology, focusing on the importance of capacity development and participatory approaches that create buy-in and empowerment. Emphasis tends to fall at the macro and micro levels: (1) the national level, where countries are guided towards enabling environments and participatory policy reform; and (2) the field level, where beneficiaries are reached with services and the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. Certainly these levels are worthy of focus and substantial impact is made here, which justifies the intense development attention and funding they receive.
But I’ve come to realize that local systems – i.e. the formal and informal structures that organize activity in countries and function beyond the timelines and budgets of development projects – may hold hidden potential to realize these goals in a way that we, as development actors, have yet to fully harness. These local systems – or the meso level, through which policy leads to field-level action and field-level issues matriculate up to influence policy – is equally crucial. Many a policy reform produces a well-designed, slickly printed document ready for distribution down to lower levels where it can be implemented, only to reside in boxes in Ministry offices. Likewise, reams of needs assessments, stakeholder-focused studies, and reporting highlight local needs and preferences, which struggle to substantially influence the national dialogue or research agenda.
As a member of the University of Illinois’ AgReach program, we directly targeted the meso level through the Strengthening Agricultural and Nutrition Extension (SANE) project in Malawi (link). SANE worked to strengthen the local structures that made up the District Agricultural Extension Services System, a series of stakeholder platforms that linked villages to higher administrative levels (where funding decisions were made) and ultimately the national level (where policy was decided). SANE quickly determined that these platforms lacked a basic understanding of their roles and responsibilities and needed strengthening in group formation and management practices, not exactly a novel approach but one that is often overlooked with local systems where a baseline of capacity is assumed even when no efforts are made to build it. Simply forming platforms, committees, or structures does not make them functional or capable, as the Malawi experience showed. As a result, local systems become a bottleneck rather than a conduit for development.
However, with the SANE example, when platforms were strengthened there was a decided uptick in the provision of agricultural services and better alignment between services and needs. Moreover, participants in the platforms – largely local farmers, field-level development actors, and small-scale private sector providers – were energized to continue advocating for appropriate services. Extension workers cited that it was “no longer business as usual” and that they now had to be responsive to farmers’ needs, as these needs were better prioritized and articulated, and that farmers had the advocacy power of the platforms to hold service providers accountable (link). Multiple cases thus arose where stakeholder platforms were able to mobilize resources locally – either from district development funds, NGO budgets, or community members themselves – to address local issues without external support. This shortened the feedback loop between needs identification and problem resolution, thereby strengthening local ownership and self-reliance. Where climate and pest-related issues arose – as in the case of Fall Armyworm in Malawi – it also enhanced resilience and lessened crop losses and food insecurity.
While not every country has a built-in local system for agricultural services like Malawi, more deliberate attention to the meso-level local systems that do exist in every context can produce similar results. A recognition of this exists in most organizations looking for sustainable change. For example, Catholic Relief Services includes building functional organizations/systems as one of our building blocks for agricultural livelihoods. The CRS SMART Skills package also focuses on group formation and strengthening as an essential component of the Pathway to Prosperity (link), yet recognizes that the potential of these groups will be best realized if they are tied into local systems, whether civil society organizations, local diocese advocating on their behalf, private sector buyers engaging them in market opportunities, or simply escalating levels of stakeholder platforms pushing their needs upwards as seen in Malawi.
Still, operationalizing this focus remains elusive. USAID’s Local Systems Framework (link) identifies potential strategies, but more direct programming targeting this meso level may be beneficial. One opportunity would be to closer link agricultural programming to democracy and governance efforts that focus on local systems and citizen advocacy. Sometimes – as in Malawi where the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Government often functioned in parallel – linkages can be made between existing systems that dramatically improve performance. Agricultural programming focusing on resilience and empowerment could also learn from governance literature and the experiences of decentralization and democratization, which could be components of farmer group capacity-building efforts.
Overall, local systems strengthening remains a key need but an area where successes are emerging that require closer investigation, especially when efforts to strengthen local systems are deliberate and central to programming. Through more focused efforts – either by incorporating local systems into project design or funding systems strengthening projects like SANE – I expect to see better impacts for farmers and countries overall. If self-reliance and local ownership towards poverty and hunger reduction are our goals, we would not go wrong making this a more deliberate priority.
By Bill Guyton,
Executive Director of the
Fine Chocolate Industry Association
Have you decided what gift you will give your loved one on Valentine’s Day? Perhaps the best option is fine chocolate. Two years ago, I was hired as Executive Director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. The 300+ members include fine flavor cacao growers, chocolate makers, chocolatiers, suppliers of ingredients, packaging and equipment, pastry chefs, educators, marketers, and specialty retailers. FCIA members are dedicated to improving quality cocoa and chocolate products, representing the top tier of the market. They tend to be innovative, creative, and passionate about their products.
So, what is fine chocolate? FCIA defines it in terms of flavor, texture and appearance, as well as how its limited ingredients, high cocoa and low sugar content, are sourced and processed. A more complete description and list of our corporate company members can be found on our website. In simpler terms, if the chocolate has superior flavor, is ethically sourced, and has cocoa listed as the primary ingredient, you are probably eating fine chocolate.
Where does fine cacao grow? Cocoa quality depends on genetics, terroir, and post-harvest practices such as proper fermentation and drying. The majority of fine cacao is farmed by small-scale producers in Latin America, 20 degrees north and south of the equator. It is important to note, however, that fine cocoa can also be found in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. Cocoa farmers typically grow other tree crops and food crops on their landholdings.
How is fine cocoa sourced? Fine chocolate companies are committed to sourcing the best quality cocoa and pay premiums to farmers. They also support sustainable farming practices and seek more direct relationships with their supply chain providers.
What are the partnerships with universities and fine chocolate? Leading U.S. universities are working with FCIA company members to achieve these goals through strategic partnerships. Many of the programs would not be possible without support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who provide long-term resources for many of these important initiatives.
Here are three examples of ongoing partnerships:
Agronomy, Health, Sensory and Genetic Research: Pennsylvania State University’s (PSU) College of Agricultural Sciences has been supporting high quality cocoa research through their Cacao and Chocolate Research Network (CCRN). The College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State is globally known for its high quality cacao and chocolate science. The CCRN network was founded by the faculty, but it is enthusiastically supported and also driven by the graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Penn State faculty have conducted research on cacao and chocolate for more than 50 years on a wide range of topics including history, health benefits, different aspects of cacao production, plant genetic improvement, plant propagation, soil management, flavor and quality, sensory science, chocolate making, agricultural extension, gender and technology transfer issues. The Cacao and Chocolate Research Network at Penn State currently includes more than 30 members including international graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty that are actively conducting cacao and chocolate research supported by funding from NSF (National Science Foundation), USDA-FAS (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service), USAID, industry and others. Most recently, PSU has been supporting efforts of FCIA’s sister organization, the Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) Fund to help preserve some of the finest flavor cocoa in the world.
Fine Chocolate Business Surveys: Lead researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and FCIA conducted a 2019 business survey of nearly 300 company respondents involved in the trade, manufacturing, and sales of fine chocolate products in the US and abroad. Findings provide important insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by FCIA members and aim to improve member experiences.
Education, Sensory and Research: Through an affiliation with Harvard University, The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) is helping to identify, develop and promote fine cacao and chocolate. The institute provides an array of educational programs and organizes a regional chocolate festival in the Boston area.
As you purchase fine chocolate for Valentine’s Day, you can hopefully gain a greater understanding of the many partners who have contributed to quality improvements. If you would like to learn more about the fine chocolate industry or how to support efforts, please feel free to reach out to Bill.
About the author:
Bill Guyton has been an AIARD member for over 15 years. He is an agricultural economist with a Master’s Degree from Michigan State University and an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Business from Colorado State University. Bill was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Democratic of the Congo and has worked in agricultural development for over 25 years with public and private sector groups.
By Russ Webster
President-Elect, AIARD and
President, Food Enterprise Solutions
Throughout the course of my career in international development, I’ve been continually reminded about how interconnected the world is. Not only does information technology bring us instant updates on what’s happening across the globe, but numerous networks – some formed through neighborhood, community or college-campus friendships, others through business relationships, others through following major social institutions like sports, others through the workings of large public sector institutions – link people from all walks of life through common interest or common cause.
This phenomenon holds just as true in the cases of agriculture and rural development – the key themes that bring us all together through AIARD. Farmers – the caretakers of resources and technologies that produce the food we all need – are interdependent on other key actors operating in rural areas. These include input suppliers, extension agents, cooperative managers, storage operators, post-harvest processors, truckers, purchasing agents for commodities – not to mention all of the people who work to build and maintain vital infrastructure: roads, energy, water, and telecommunications.
All of these actors, and the jobs they perform, go towards ultimately benefiting all of us – consumers. And, without the farm-to-market-and-everything-in-between system, we wouldn’t be able to carry on with our lives, our work, our contributions to society.
This is why I like to refer to agriculture as the job of fueling EVERYTHING we do. This is also why we need to be ever-mindful of supporting research, capital investment, policy and regulatory streamlining, and financing for all aspects of the system – production, processing, storage, distribution, retailing and even final preparation – towards the multiple goals of improved efficiency, reduced loss and waste, improved environmental sustainability, better retention of nutrient content, and improved access for consumers living in food deficient regions.
This year’s AIARD conference is designed to focus on a crucial dimension of this system connecting producers and consumers: food safety. We’ll hear from researchers, industry experts, development professionals, and donors on how they view both the challenge and the opportunity for improving food safety practices that can reduce loss, waste, and the incidences of foodborne illness. There will be plenty of time for networking, dialogue, and learning from new and old friends. We will celebrate our more-than-fifty-year history by recognizing the valuable contributions of students, members, and others who have furthered the cause of reducing global hunger and malnutrition, while also looking towards the future of our esteemed organization and exploring ways that we can grow our membership, facilitate ongoing opportunities for dialogue and learning, and further strengthen our support for future leaders in international agriculture and rural development.
Come and be a part of this network. I hope to see you there!
By Russ Webster, AIARD President-Elect
and Tatiana LeGrand, Chair of the Communications Committee
Safe food is a foundation for nutritious diets and is crucial for enabling producers to gain access to markets. We would like to bring to your attention several recent publications that emphasize more than ever the importance of the theme for our next conference, "Making Food Safe: Meeting the Global Challenge", that will take place at the Hamilton Hotel in Washington, DC at the end of May - beginning of June 2020.
The challenge of producing, trading, processing, and distributing safe and nutritious foods in developing countries is gaining importance in the ongoing dialogue about food systems strengthening. And attention is being drawn to the importance of non-farm businesses – formal and informal food enterprises of all sizes – in connecting producers with consumers, reducing food loss, and guaranteeing quality:
“Agricultural value chains are becoming more urbanized and consumer driven, with a greater emphasis on quality and food safety." Status Report 2019 by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), The Hidden Middle: A Quiet Revolution in the Private Sector Driving Agricultural Transformation, examines how the food systems are changing and what role the private sector is already playing in this process. The report also looks at how the private sector can further contribute to a thriving food sector. Among other issues, it highlights the role of regulations in this process:
“Governments should recognize that research shows that many traders sell substandard or fraudulent seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. This is also a developing issue in output markets with food safety. The key necessary public good is setting regulations and enforcing them.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UNFAO, has recently released the 2019 State of Food and Agriculture report that is dedicated to understanding the pathways of food waste and loss as well as exploring strategies in moving forward on reducing food loss and waste. One of the interesting highlights from this report is that “Unsafe food is often diverted to lower-income groups that are physically and economically vulnerable to disease." Addressing such challenges is becoming increasingly important, in particular in areas where inequality is on the rise.
2019 Global Agricultural Productivity Report: Productivity Growth for Sustainable Diets and More prepared by Virginia Tech University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences talks about other important aspects of improving food safety in food systems such as social protection and infrastructure improvements:
“Given the importance of the informal food sector to producers, consumers and the economy, policymakers need to consider how to increase the sustainability and safety of food produced and sold informally, and how to improve the working conditions and social protection of those involved in this vibrant and growing part of the food value chain."
Food safety plays a critical part in assuring that food stays safe at every step of the food value chains, all the way from production to harvest, throughout the processing, storage, distribution, retail, preparation and consumption by consumers. The report also highlights that “Productive sustainable food and agriculture systems need efficient, affordable and up-to-date systems for transportation and communications…It takes well-constructed, properly-maintained and interlinked infrastructure to move goods to markets efficiently, while preserving freshness, quality and safety of food and agricultural products.” Decision-makers have an important role to play in enabling all market actors operate in a way that serves this purpose.
These are just some examples that highlight the role and the challenges of food safety that the world is facing. Join us at AIARD’s 2020 Annual Conference from May 31 – June 2, 2020 in Washington, DC to discuss the many challenges of food safety in connecting farm to market and providing consumers across the globe with safe and nutritious food choices.
We encourage you to bring your ideas and experience as a panelist, speaker, small-group discussant or poster-board presenter – share with your peers across academia, industry, and government to become a part of the solution to zero hunger. You can still submit your abstract following this link as we extended the deadline till December 20th.
By Hiram Larew, Ph.D
Founder of the Poetry X Hunger Initiative
There’s no better way to start this blog than by presenting a hunger-focused poem. Here’s one by Aressa Williams of Upper Marlboro, MD. She wrote and entered it in the 2018 World Food Day Poetry Competition --
Zero World Hunger: Imagine
by Aressa Williams
Remember the story, “Stone Soup”?
Neighbors shared food that they had.
Carrots, cabbage, beans, peppers,
Enough soup for all prepared.
Plant thoughts for food abundance.
Imagine zero world hunger.
Wholesome meals grace all tables
One mind, same goal, we’re stronger.
Spirit-cousins band as one;
Repast so others eat and live.
Fruits, veggies cross distant seas.
Our grateful hands freely give.
Zero world hunger’s possible.
We are the “Stone Soup” tale.
Bring bread to the world’s table.
Global unity never fails.
Poems about hunger, such as Ms. Williams’ beautifully hopeful one, speak to us in ways that statistics, scientific studies or trend lines can’t. Research studies and policy briefs about food insecurity are incredibly important in our fight against hunger, but they just can’t grab the heart or imagination in the same way that a poet’s carefully written lines can.
Making sure that the power of poetry is focused on the cause of hunger reduction is the intent of Poetry X Hunger, an informal initiative that I launched about a year ago. Poetry X Hunger is all about showcasing poetry that may cause public attitudes and commitments to change and move decision-makers to respond in our work to reduce and even eliminate hunger. Read on if you are interested in learning more…
After years of progress in reducing the prevalence of hunger worldwide, experts are alarmed by a backslide. According to the USDA, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and others, hunger in the U.S. and around the world is on the rise. About 15 % of American households are food insecure, and about one billion people worldwide are hungry. And, looking ahead to anticipated surges in population, the world’s demand for food is only expected to rise sharply. Hunger haunts today and, it seems, looms large in our future.
And yet, there is hope. Given the scientific, economic and political tools that can be used to alleviate hunger, groups such as Bread for the World believe that worldwide hunger is preventable and can be eliminated. It will take deep moral, political and financial commitments as well as all the scientific know-how we can muster.
And, it will also take the arts such as poetry.
Over the years, poetry has been used very effectively to raise awareness and concern about many other social issues like homelessness, conflict, social inequity, and racial bias. For example, The New Colossus, a poem written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, roused the American public’s pride in offering sanctuary to the “huddled masses” of immigrants. And, Julia Howard Ward’s poem/lyric, Battle Hymn of the Republic, of 1862 is credited with raising patriotic spirits at the outset of our American Civil War.
Poetry, however, hasn’t been as potently used in our fight against hunger in the U.S. or around the world. In fact, not many poems have been published about hunger of the stomach. (There are many, many poems about hunger of the heart and spirit.) That’s why I started an informal initiative called Poetry X Hunger – to enlist the help of poets worldwide in writing poems that could be used as calls to action, as heart stoppers, as meditative re-enforcers in our collective fight against hunger.
Poets are rising to the cause. Here’s one written by Ladi Di Beverly of District Heights, MD. It’s a call to action in our work to reduce food waste as part of the fight against hunger. Notice how Ladi Di invokes a wide range of elements – determination, faith, the work of NGOs – in this powerful piece. Read it aloud for its full impact.
by Ladi Di Beverly
People are hungry, yet people continue to
Her meals were from partially eaten
sandwiches thrown in public trash
She watched a child throw away a sandwich
one bite out of it.
Getting sandwich from can immediately
would be her evening meal.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
An apple, a pear, a peach, some cherries
Some grapes to help provide nutrition
To help curb appetite
Praying to God above, never to give up
People are hungry, yet people continue to
A project for many years, helping my Mother
Make sandwiches in our kitchen
with Family and Friends
Taking sandwiches to organizations, like
S.O.M.E, So Others Might Eat brings on
cheers, chants yea food is here.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
Standing on Main Avenue in freezing cold
And snow, holding sign stating HELP ME
FEED MY CHILDREN, IF ONLY FOR ONE
People are hungry, yet people continue to
All across the world people die from hunger
and malnutrition to ignore this plight would
be a ridiculous selfish shame.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
What can you do, what can I do, what can others do, to end this international plague?
The answer is blowing in the wind, doing
Something consistent, we can all PITCH IN.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
Will poetry end hunger? No. Can it help in the hunger elimination cause? Yes! It’s yet one more powerful tool that we can use as banners, at meetings and gatherings, and in pitches to policymakers that will, I guarantee, open eyes, ears, and hearts. In fact, if capturing attention is your aim, all you need to do is to enlist the help of young performance poets who, by nature, can rivet audiences with their energetic rap or spoken word poetry messages of concern and optimism.
To find out more about poems by young poets and much more about the initiative, take a minute to visit the Poetry X Hunger website at PoetryXHunger.com where lots of info is posted including poems from previous centuries and by activist Zimbabwean poets. The site also includes a wealth of info about hunger – facts, history, trends. And, to encourage folks like you to write a hunger poem, the site also provides prompts that will help you get started
You can also check out Facebook at Poetry X Hunger where poems by several poets are showcased.
And hey, feel free to send in a poem for possible posting!!
Lastly, I would like to thank Susan Karimiha and the AIARD social media team for this opportunity to describe Poetry X Hunger on AIARD’s blogsite. And, I also want to acknowledge the Maryland State Arts Council’s support for development of the website as expertly designed by Dr. Tatiana LeGrand with input from Dr. Sue Schram and many others.
I am also grateful to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s North American Liaison Office for supporting the 2018 and 2019 World Food Day Poetry Competitions as implemented by Poetry X Hunger. Stay tuned for the announcement by FAO of the 2019 winners!
To close, here’s a fine poem by former Poet Laureate of Maryland, Dr. Michael Glaser. He uses a storyline to enlist our collective shame in this punch-of-a-poem.
by Michael Glaser
He held out a cup
and I reached
for some coins.
“I thought you wanted some bread,”
I said, certain he was going to ask
for more than this easy lint from my pocket.
I looked into his eyes and suddenly
felt ashamed that I lacked the courage
to offer something his heart could chew on,
something from the warm oven
of my comfortable life, something
he might inhale deeply like oxygen,
some genuine bread for the journey –
each slice an offering
to sweeten his life again.
All poems are used by permission of the authors and can be found on https://www.poetryxhunger.com/.
By Kara Casy,
Director of Urban Agriculture and Renewable Resources at El Centro College,
We celebrate International Youth Day on August 12th, a day to highlight and encourage the youth in our local and global community. The United Nations defines youth as the age group ranging from 15 to 24. While one-sixth of the world’s population falls into this demographic, are we truly including all youth in the opportunity to create resilient global food systems?
“Well I became pregnant, but I’m back on track now,” were the words I was unable to unhear through my new office phone at El Centro College. I wasn’t the admissions office she was looking for at the community college, as she enthusiastically stated her intentions to return to school. Encouraging, congratulating, and welcoming her back, it was a memorable moment as I transferred her to admissions.
Back on track.
For being in a field as human as education, where we differentiate instruction, we teach to different learning styles, different evaluation styles, in different venues, it struck me as particularly odd in that moment to picture something as equally human as bringing a child into the world derailing that track built exclusively for people.
Higher education is the most reliable track out of poverty. However, in a stinging ironic twist, low-income students encounter more barriers navigating this path all the way to completion.
For youth who are caring for families or loved ones at home, the track seems unyielding. Labs and finals are proctored at specific times, unphased by doctor’s appointments and childcare cancellations.
For low-income students dependent on public transportation, delays on the bus and the train complicate tight scheduling between work, family, and school. The strain can pull students off track as easily as missing that last quiz, that last exam, that last unexcused absence.
As I listened on the other end of the phone, the first teacher to welcome her back to her journey toward higher education, it felt like high time for the track to bend to meet youth where they are as whole people. Thankfully, we are working toward this end at El Centro College.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM grants program, our team is working to open innovative pathways to successful transfer and graduation in STEM field degrees. In addition to making high-quality instruction in agriculture accessible for all Dallas county youth, our college courses are also offered at a fraction of the cost per credit hour.
Implementing strategic interventions like peer mentoring programs and organizing cohorts of learning communities, we’re also building resilient support networks for our students and improving retention rates along the way.
Our institution is truly serving a diverse and strong student body. Many of my students opt for part-time course loads and full-time jobs, trading in extra-curricular activities and club socials for extra working shifts at the local diner. It’s hard to argue that students with such a strong work ethic wouldn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the agricultural industry with a college degree if they’re afforded the flexibility.
AIARD also works to include youth in international agricultural development by hosting the Future Leaders Forum. Having the great fortune of participating in the forum myself, it was a valuable experience to gain insight into the various programs, offices, and agencies that support food security across the globe. With the freedom to ask any question, especially that most important question, “How did you start working here?” gave our cohort a new perspective to help inform our next crucial steps onto the job market.
On this International Youth Day, please consider how your team can begin implementing bends in your own tracks and agricultural programs to support and include a more diverse representation of all this demographic has to offer.
By Tatiana LeGrand,
Sustainable Development Specialist at Agribusiness Academy
AIARD Communications Committee Chair
On the 15th of July, nations around the world celebrated the World Youth Skills Day. In defining the importance of the skills of the youth, the United Nations states that, “the active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by the target date, and to averting the worst threats and challenges to sustainable development, including the impacts of climate change, unemployment, poverty, gender inequality, conflict, and migration.” Through my work on sustainable development projects in the agriculture and natural resource management sectors in several countries, I have witnessed how crucial the role of young people and women can be in transforming their livelihoods and contributing to economic growth.
Having just visited Kyrgyzstan to support the USAID’s AgroHorizon project, I have seen sustainable businesses thrive once given much-needed support, providing new opportunities for employment. It is not always easy to find jobs in the agriculture sector that provide a decent salary. People in rural areas in many regions of the world rely on producing crops and raising livestock for their own consumption. Without regulations for the use of land and in the absence of knowledge about best practices in crop and livestock management, deterioration of natural resources can occur. Some examples include soil fertility decline, overuse of pastures and clearcutting of trees. Magnified by the effects of climate change and large-scale production, agricultural and natural systems face unprecedented challenges. These impacts can often be felt more acutely by women.
This, however, can be prevented and even reversed. There are many inspiring examples of young people and women starting sustainable businesses in the agriculture sector and contributing to sustainable management of natural resources. These new ideas can contribute significantly not only to economic growth, but also to creating employment opportunities and making livelihoods more resilient to the challenges exacerbated by climate change.
In Kyrgyzstan, for example, with the help of the AgroHorizon project, women have started working in fruit and vegetable processing enterprises, and they are even starting their own greenhouse businesses. In Armenia, the ENPARD project has provided women with new income opportunities. These women are now transforming the lives of their families and communities by increasing the availability of more nutritious foods. In South Africa, young people and entrepreneurs even have their own digital platform for connecting and sharing ideas.
In many countries, women, also tend to be the primary animal caretakers. Having the right to own livestock and generate the income, together with the knowledge about animal care and management practices, they can transform not only rural livelihoods, but also ecosystems.
Forest management, traditionally a man's job, can also represent diverse opportunities for women and young people, besides being an important climate mitigation strategy. In Guatemala, for example, Maya people that are engaged in community-based forest management, have not only risen out of poverty, but have also provided themselves with a source of income and reduced illegal forest clearcutting. A recent report by Rainforest Alliance even showed net forest gains in the Maya biosphere reserve!
While in many situations women’s rights and opportunities for young people might be limited, these stories give hope. Provided with knowledge, tools, and rights to own land and access to inputs, these leaders can create change and contribute to increased resilience of many rural communities.
These are just some examples that I have witnessed in recent years. Here are some more resources with additional information about these topics:
Sustainable use of natural resources and agricultural development should not be separate from economic growth. To achieve that, we have to keep on creating employment opportunities for women and young people in the agriculture sector and beyond. We can also support businesses that use natural resources in a sustainable manner and contribute to creating more resilient livelihoods.
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.