By Russ Webster, AIARD Vice-President
Founder and President of Grow to Market
Like many holiday celebrations around the world, the American tradition of Thanksgiving centers around family, friends, and — of course — food. We gather, we feast, we share stories, we laugh, and we give thanks for our many blessings. To prepare for Thanksgiving we shop, cook, serve, eat, and sometimes eat again. This is the process that most of us typically see – shop, cook, eat, shop, cook, eat, repeat. It makes me hungry just thinking about it!
What most of us don’t see are all of the steps connecting farm to store – the processors, packers, cold-storage operators, transporters, warehouse operators, packaging facilities, grocery store managers, and stock clerks. Imagine for a minute a can of cream-of-mushroom soup (I grew up in the Midwest, and this was a CRUCIAL ingredient for green-bean casserole…). How many businesses and workers are involved in that can of soup? Many!
In the U.S., according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food and agriculture accounted for 11 percent—about 21.6 million full and part-time jobs—of total employment in 2017. Of these 21.6 million jobs, about 2.6 were on-farm, 15.7 were accounted for in food services—food and beverage stores, restaurants, and bars, etc.—and the remaining 3.3 were in other food and agriculture related industries. In addition to jobs, the U.S. food and agriculture sectors are characterized by high levels of mechanization at all stages of value addition and public support for funding needed infrastructure including roads, energy, and communications.
Levels of employment in developing countries are, by contrast, much higher percentagewise. In Africa, an estimated 60 percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, and countless small, micro and informal businesses are working to move food from the farm gate to local, urban, and in some cases export markets. Their distinct disadvantage, however, is not having access to capital equipment, finance, and infrastructure needed to efficiently and safely build farm-to-table linkages. This contributes to tremendous levels of food loss before getting to consumers, which in turn becomes a major contributor to hunger and malnutrition. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), about 1/3 of food produced globally is either lost or wasted. In industrialized countries, waste occurs primarily at the retail or post-consumer levels, whereas in developing countries most occurs post-harvest and in processing, before reaching consumers.
There are a lot of issues to be addressed in overcoming world hunger and malnutrition. One that deserves more of our attention is just what’s being discussed here: capturing food that is already produced (meaning nutrition too) and delivering it safely to consumers. This of course will require broad stakeholder engagement, from both the public and private sectors. It also means helping entrepreneurs and business owners, primarily small- and medium-sized, to adopt better food safety and food processing practices into their business models, as well as developing markets and consumer demand for their higher-quality, higher-cost food products. Good food can be good business.
So, this Thanksgiving, think about all of those folks who played a part in setting your table, starting with the farmer, right up to the stock clerk. Think too about their peers in developing countries, and the similar-yet-different challenges they face, and how important their role is in feeding a hungry world. And, if you do eat green-bean casserole, thumbs up!
By Gretchen Neisler, AIARD President
Vice Provost for International Affairs, University of Tennessee - Knoxville
Fall has brought its splendor to our weather and forests and as many societies turn to celebrating the harvest season and giving thanks for the bounty of food produced, there are still 815 million people suffering from hunger. It is the silent killer – each year it is killing more people than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.
Today, the FAO celebrates the World Food Day to commemorate the founding of the Organization in 1945. “The commemoration promotes worldwide awareness and ACTION for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all.” (www.fao.org)
As an organization, AIARD and its members are steeped in the work of alleviating hunger, enhancing food production, and changing policies to reduce household food insecurity. While we know the facts that surround food insecurity and malnourishment, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the progress that has been made after reading this – “out of the 129 countries monitored by FAO, 72 have already achieved the target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015; over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, with about 17,000 children saved every day; extreme poverty rates have been cut in half since 1990.” (www.fao.org)
Now, take another moment and renew your commitment to the work that still needs to be done. What can you focus on for the next 12 months that will have a positive impact on this issue? Where can you maximize your network to instill change and modify behaviors for different outcomes?
Happy fall y’all from my new post at Rocky Top! I look forward to connecting with you and marveling at the good work being done to achieve #ZEROHUNGER and the great leadership we have in AIARD.
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.