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27. SCAA preview – Availability of food

The waiting is almost over — the curtain on the 2010 SCAA lifts in just a few days.  I am thrilled to be participating in a panel on Saturday the 17th titled “Hunger in the Coffeelands,” where I will be briefly sharing some of our experiences at CRS with both issues — hunger and coffee.  I will preview my presentation here over the coming days, starting with some reflections on our three-part food security framework, which considers the availability, access and utilization of food.  Today’s theme: availability.

The issue of availability can be distilled to this simple question: is there enough diverse and nutritious food available? When the answer is “no,” then the task becomes making more food available to those who need it.

In some cases, acute food shortages are caused by extraordinary events, such as natural disasters or conflict.  We do our share of food distribution as part of our emergency response programming, including our ongoing emergency response in Haiti.

Emergency food aid. (Lane Hartill/CRS)

Queueing up for food in Haiti. (Sara Fajardo/CRS)

This is certainly an important part of food security.  But increasing availability through direct distribution of food is not exclusively an emergency activity.  We are involved in plenty of non-emergency food aid as well.  We partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the official overseas development agency of the U.S. government, to provide “developmental food aid” to chronically food-insecure countries around the world as part of the Food for Peace program, including such notable coffee origins as Guatemala and Ethiopia.  USAID delivered more than $500 million in food aid in 2008 to Ethiopia, where, my sources tell me, 12 million of the country’s 80 million people are now on food aid.  (Images of this kind of food distribution in Ethiopia will be familiar to anyone who saw the 2006 documentary Black Gold.)

As you might imagine, food aid is not a particularly sustainable long-term strategy for fighting hunger.  Sustainable food security requires investments in the capacity of rural families and less developed countries to feed themselves.  That’s why most of the agricultural development work undertaken over the past 50 years has been focused primarily on increasing farm productivity and the availability of food.  How do we do this in Mesoamerica?  Through identification and promotion of high-nutrient varieties of existing crops, such as maize; farm diversification and introduction of new, high-nutrient foods, including fruits and vegetables and leafy greens; technical assistance to improve agronomic practices and increase yields across the board; training women especially to establish and manage patio gardens and “microlivestock” — two actvities that can be done adjacent to the home and increase access to nutritious fresh foods and animal-source proteins; etc.

But even this is not enough.  Even when projects have succeeded in increasing productivity, they haven’t necessarily reduced hunger for participating farmers.  Why?  There are lots of reasons, but the simplest on is this: few farmers grow everything they need to ensure diverse and nutritious diets.  What they can’t grow, they must buy.  Which brings us to the issue of access to food.

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