Any given day, a billion people are vulnerable to be exploited due to a lack of food.
Following decades of improvements in access to food around the world, recent years have seen a reversal in progress, resulting in more than 820 million people going hungry in 2018, and of those 800 million being classified as chronically undernourished – costing the global economy an estimated $3.5 trillion per year (or $500 per individual). And this is not just a low-income country problem. Before the Covid-19 pandemic began, about 8% of the population in North America and Europe lacked regular access to nutritious and sufficient food. Sadly, access to food estimates show that food insecurity has likely doubled, if not tripled in some places around the world since the start of the global pandemic.
But it’s important to note that hunger isn't just going to bed one night with a stomach that growls. Lack of food determines how a child develops – physically, as well as mentally and emotionally. Lack of food determines the kinds of decisions that a parent must make – good and bad. Without knowing where meals on any given day or week will come from, families of all kinds are forced to make choices – and take risks – they otherwise would not.
According to Dr. Ambuj Jain (AJ), founder of Feed A Billion, “The key to any successful growth in society is empowering women and girls. But that cannot happen when they go hungry.” He points specifically to women and girls because of the vulnerability they face for exploitation. Adding, “The reasons that exploitation like trafficking happen is because of poverty and cultural issues, but the lack of consistent nutritious food is the core of poverty.”
What he paints is a picture that resonates with global health and medical experts as they face the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only are we dealing with the current challenges, but in fact, none of these challenges can be tackled when a most basic human need is not met. Further, the link between food security, fear and exploitation is such that one meal can remove uncertainty, changing the decisions made for an entire family, certainly keeping girls and women safer than without food.
But when the world needs a billion meals, how do we scale during a pandemic?
The team at Feed A Billion believes they have a model that can be replicated and scaled. Although the organization is only four years old, the lessons learned are many, and both the positive and negative consequences of supplying food to girls have helped craft partnerships all over the world that manage to be structured, but adaptable to the demands of each geographic location, cultural norms and access to things like clean water.
For example, one of their greatest successes is a partnership with YUWA in India, BlendHub and Happy Ratio. Essentially, this public-private partnership allows nutrition to be distributed faster, cheaper and use each dollar further upstream. Thus, instead of using funds to remove a child from forced labor, they are used to feed children so they are never sent away from their families to work in the first place.
It’s a complementary system that piggybacks on current activities of trusted local organizations already in place. Essentially, Feed A Billion uses donations to leverage the strengths of others in the supply chain. In this partnership, Happy Ratio creates a protein-based formula that provides all the essential nutrients that a young person needs in a single serving. All the ingredients are blended and packaged by BlendHub, a food blending network with facilities all over the globe, who ensure the nutritional packets arrive to Feed A Billion’s local partners who meet girls where they are. In this case, YUWA distributes these meal replacement pouches to girls every morning when they play football (American soccer).
According to the YUWA team, tens of thousands of girls (or more) may have been trafficked to date. They do however estimate that six in 10 girls have dropped out of school to become child brides. But the YUWA team claims that through their monitoring and evaluation metrics they have seen a complete turn-around in psychological and physical traits of the girls receiving nutrition regularly, and a trafficking rate of 0% in the 400+ girls they track.
Franz Gastler, co-founder and Executive Director of YUWA asserts that by overcoming violence and exploitation, “Girls discover their self-worth. And when they do that, they are limitless.” Thus, his team is showing that access to nutrition leads not only to better physical development in girls, but subsequent improvements in schooling, social, emotional and mental health, and becomes a means of breaking generational poverty.
The distribution model Feed A Billion uses in India can be replicated anywhere in the world with the right local partners AJ says. He cites the Feed A Billion work in Kenya and recent work in Atlanta – where they have already given over a million meals to Atlanta food banks.
In a time when the world is racing for a vaccine to fight a new virus, it’s clear that the solution to the public health and human rights crisis that is hunger is easily accessible, but ignored. Not only does a supply system like the one Feed A Billion and partners have crafted ease the issue of hunger, but it has the potential to do much more than that. When you pull the thread that connects vulnerability and exploitation, hunger is at the center.
“Nutritious food could just be the single most important factor for a better and healthy future for everyone, but particularly for girls and women around the world”, says AJ.
Health Policy, Human Rights, Big Ideas. Strategic Vision.