In order to plant, a farmer needs tools to till the soil and seeds to sow. The fields must be fertile. Rain must fall at the right time and in the right amount. Only when these conditions are met will the harvest be bountiful. Any break in the cycle of planting and harvesting can result in the farmer’s having no crop to sell at market or to eat. But for each potential problem, there are potential solutions. Organizations around the world employ an array of strategies to alleviate hunger by using local resources. From Africa to the Americas, communities are building capacity to feed themselves.
The Darfur conflict has disrupted farming and increased food insecurity. Many subsistence farmers struggle to grow enough food to meet their families’ daily needs. Instability restricts farmers’ ability to transport their crops to market, leading to inflated prices of basic foodstuffs.
Attacks on food convoys make deliveries of humanitarian aid increasingly dangerous. At times, humanitarian organizations have been unable to distribute food to the 200,000 people who need it. This adds urgency to Darfuris’ need to produce their own food.
Not far from Holyoke, in central Massachusetts the Worcester County Food Bank feeds the hungry through its soup kitchens, shelters and pantries. More than 70,000 people benefit annually from the food bank, and that number is rising. Americans who never needed emergency food aid before this year are seeking help in the wake of the economic downturn and rising unemployment. Those same trends make it more difficult for the food bank to meet its commitment to providing healthy food. Donations from grocers and the food industry are falling. Fresh vegetables are particularly hard to come by.
Even before the current rise in unemployment and food costs, residents of Latino neighborhoods in Holyoke, Massachusetts, had limited access to produce. Many grew up on small household farms in Puerto Rico. When they moved to the continental US to work on commercial farms, they did not earn enough to purchase fresh vegetables at supermarkets. “Nuestras Raíces,” or “Our Roots,” is an organization based in Holyoke that draws on community members’ farming heritage and enables them to grow vegetables in community gardens and on larger-scale farms. Nuestras Raíces also promotes a healthy community through programs in youth leadership, environmental justice, economic development and other areas.
Two thousand miles west of Darfur, grain farmers in the Séguénéga region of Burkina Faso struggle with the effects of a changing climate. Periods of drought alternate with floods and the temperature fluctuates unpredictably, making it increasingly difficult to cultivate the land’s degraded soil. As farmers clear land for agriculture and fell trees for firewood, deforestation exacerbates soil erosion. Crop yield is precarious; many farmers and their families go undernourished.
Distribution is the last step in the food system, and for some farmers it can be the most problematic. In Honduras, small-scale farmers are unable to sell their products in competition with international corporations that import subsidized goods or produce them in Honduras on a large scale. The organization Red de Comercialización Comunitaria Alternativa (Red COMAL) advocates for food sovereignty and promotes the importance of localizing Honduras’ systems of food production and distribution. To that end, Red COMAL purchases small-scale farmers’ goods at guaranteed prices and distributes them through a network of more than 200 community stores across the country.