Food banks are early warning systems for emerging food crises, but also a key solution


Community members in Sowripalayam, outside Coimbatore, receive a meal from No Food Waste, a GFN-supported food bank in India. Credit: The Global Food Banking Network/Narayana Swamy Subbaraman
  • Opinion by Lisa Moon (Chicago, United States
  • Inter Press Service

Add to that the ubiquitous effects of climate change, and the result is what the United Nations calls a “perfect storm” that risks putting one-fifth of the world’s population — a staggering 1.7 billion people — into poverty and hunger.

This number feels so huge it’s almost unthinkable, let alone possible to accept. And of course, the escalating global food crisis will not affect everyone equally.

Recent feedback from food bank leaders around the world already reflects the reality ahead. Because food banks, especially in emerging and emerging markets, are the first (or sometimes only) port of call for people suffering from hunger, they provide a window to understand the full extent of the coming food crisis: an early warning system of the pressures on our food systems.

The Global Food Banking Network works with member food banks in 44 countries, many of them in Africa, Asia and Latin America already reporting that higher food prices are contributing to an increase in demand for emergency food aid.

For example, a partner food bank in Ecuador, Banco de Alimentos Quito, has reported a 50 percent increase in demand for services, while another partner, India Food Banking Network, has warned that the number of people asking for food has recently doubled.

If no more is done — and soon — these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Tragically, as demand increases at many food banks, supplies donated to food banks often dwindle.

These food banks in Ecuador and India — and others across the network — are reporting declines in product donations of up to 50 percent. Banco de Alimentos Quito and Banco de Alimentos Honduras, both of which regularly reclaim fresh produce directly from farmers to distribute to those suffering from hunger, signal that planting schedules have been scrapped because farmers are unable to get significant inputs.

In short, there is less product available to donate due to increasing need and smaller, less reliable returns.

With the recent World Economic Forum in Davos and the G7 summit, there are already calls for governments and business leaders to invest more in hunger and food aid. This is a crucial first step, but investments will only be as effective as the implementation mechanisms to realize them.

Here too, food banks can intervene effectively and directly. As food banks respond to community food needs even in less precarious times, they are already well positioned to respond to crises by scaling up in times of scarcity and distributing food when conventional supply chains are undermined.

The COVID-19 pandemic is already a prime example, with global food banks serving 40 million people by 2020, up 132 percent from the previous year. And because food banks are community-oriented and community-led, they can understand and adapt to local needs quite quickly, acting as first-line responders when a crisis occurs.

Responses to the global hunger crisis must include recognition of the critical role food banks play. They will take on a greater role in the coming months and will play a vital role in meeting the rapidly increasing demand for food aid.

However, if the global community steps forward and further supports the value of these assets, the impact of food banks could become too great. And an outrageous response is exactly what this coming crisis requires.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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