Thanks to all the hard work of medical professionals, scientists, and countless essential workers, many parts of the world are recovering from the effects of COVID-19. As we move forward, we are reminded of what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in the April 2020 General Conference, “Even as we speak, we are waging an ‘all hands-on deck’ war with COVID-19 . . .When we have conquered this—and we will—may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger, freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty.” (“A Perfect Brightness of Hope”; emphasis added).
As the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Latter-day Saint Charities is devoted to doing exactly what Elder Holland counseled. Last year, the pandemic exacerbated world hunger and poverty to an alarming level, undoing decades of international humanitarian and development work. Despite these challenges, Latter-day Saint Charities and Church members everywhere are only more committed to the prophetic call to care for those in need by addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty.
Here’s how we at Latter-day Saint Charities, along with our partners, are working to address the following five root causes of hunger:
1. Food Supply Chain Inefficiencies
The term “food supply chain” refers to all that is required to get food from farm to fork, including production, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal. When one part of the food supply chain is disrupted, food availability and affordability are likewise affected.
Like many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from all over the world, Marina Pullen, Nooroa Manu, and Josiah Teokotai from New Zealand saw a need to provide food for vulnerable families in their community. They used their resources and brought together Church members, community volunteers, workers from government organizations, schoolteachers, and others to help feed hundreds of families by redistributing food that would have otherwise been discarded. Now, they are employed by the New Zealand government to scale and amplify their work to reach even more people.
2. Gender Inequality
It would be impossible to address food insecurity faced by communities, families, and particularly children without focusing on elevating and empowering women. Women play crucial roles in preventing malnutrition and household food insecurity. Yet, in many parts of the world, women continue to face significant social and economic discrimination, inhibiting their ability to access resources and make personal and family decisions. According UN estimates, if female farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of those suffering from hunger would be reduced by up to 150 million. At Latter-day Saint Charities, we recognize the critical need to elevate women’s voices and roles to build stability, strengthen families and promote individual dignity.
Beatrice is one example of how female leadership in agriculture increases women’s access to helpful resources. She is a Farm Business Advisor (FBA) in Zambia who supports other female farmers. Through Latter-day Saint Charities’ partnership with International Development Enterprises (iDE), Beatrice started her own farm consulting business. She connects women farmers with affordable seed suppliers and stable markets so they can improve their gardens and increase their income. When the pandemic hit, Beatrice, now a community leader, was trained by Ministry of Health officers to spread awareness to her farmer clients about COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread.
3. Climate Shocks
Climate shocks affects hunger in multiple ways. First, it directly impacts the food supply chain and farmers’ livelihoods through extreme weather phenomena like droughts, floods, cyclones, extreme heat, and more. Second, climate-related disasters are also increasing the number of displaced individuals, who are often more vulnerable to hunger. Third, as the impact of climate change reshapes the way humans and animals interact, we can expect more animal-to-human infectious diseases like Zika, and Ebola in the future that may again have a detrimental impact on hunger."
One example of how climate change affects food security is the recent “locust plague.” In 2020, countries in the African horn (which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia) experienced the worst locust infestation in 70 years due to the unusual warmth and moisture brought by cyclones. In Kenya alone, it is reported that enough food to feed 84 million people was lost. Church leadership in Africa has been responding to growing climate concerns by providing short-term food assistance to affected families and long-term climate-smart technology support to farmers. By adopting innovative agricultural inputs and farming practices. many farmers have been able to double their crop yield and income, despite the changes in climate.
Disease is both a leading contributor to and a result of hunger. Malnutrition (also known as “hidden hunger”) increases the likelihood of disease, and one of the leading causes of malnutrition is waterborne disease. Globally, billions of people use drinking water sources contaminated with feces, which can compromise their health. At the same time, people suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition are at higher risk for infectious diseases and poor health outcomes.
Children are especially vulnerable to these consequences. Worldwide, 45 percent of all child deaths are related to malnutrition. Church members in the Philippines are proactively addressing child malnutrition by training local Church councils and parents to identify malnourished children through physical health screenings. They then customize nutrition plans for each family, which can include interventions like food assistance, supplementation, gardening training, deworming, and nutrition education. This initiative has been well received, and Latter-day Saint Charities is preparing to implement it in other countries. Hopefully, through educating families and individuals, communities will be strengthened and better equipped to face future health challenges.
Like disease, conflict is also both a consequence and a cause of food insecurity. Today, more than 60 percent of people suffering from chronic malnutrition live in areas affected by armed conflict.
Yemen is one of the many locations paralyzed by war. The situation there has been described as “the worst human-made disaster in the modern history of the world” (see “Hunger and War,” National Geographic, Jan. 15,2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/hunger-and-war/). Millions of Yemenis cannot afford living necessities as the conflict drags on and the local currency collapses. Though many donors are fatigued and discouraged by the ongoing crisis, Latter-day Saint Charities and other aid organizations are still working to alleviate hunger in the region. Since 2019, Latter-day Saint Charities has partnered with eight global partners and delivered food and aid to 768,240 people.
To free the world from the virus of hunger and poverty, and act upon the charge that Elder Holland gave to members of the Church, community members and organizations must come together to understand the complexity of the issues deeply. Only then are we able to act systemically and innovatively to build a world of zero hunger and poverty. In addition to understanding the issues, you can get involved with local organizations that are seeking to alleviate hunger in your own community. JustServe is a great place to look for such opportunities. Find out what organizations are addressing hunger and volunteer your time and expertise.
Though world hunger is a big problem, every individual and family are uniquely positioned in their social circles to understand local needs and solutions.