Why World Vision? Today’s Q&A with Paul Macek, senior director of World Vision’s Food Security and Livelihoods team, delves into how our work in the food and agriculture sector and in nutrition is fundamental to child development.
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1. What does “food security” mean, and why is it important?
Food security means that everyone at all times enjoys the adequate nutrition necessary to sustain life.
Hunger in the world is very important. Nearly 1 in 7 people will go to bed hungry tonight. That’s 1 billion people. We know that food is essential, but research confirms the importance of nutrition during the first thousand days of life (beginning with conception). This is the critical window for ensuring that every child is adequately nourished for good development. Missing that window means a child is deprived of good nutrition, and malnourishment can have a negative impact for life.
Those first thousand days even determine future economic earning and academic potential. That’s why food security is so important. Mothers and babies are the future; if they’re undernourished now, it will have a huge impact, preventing life in all its fullness.
2. Why does World Vision use the term food security?
Safety means that you’re protected and capable of living productively, able to realize your goals. The average adult needs 2,100 calories each day. If you’re not getting that, then you’re depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to grow. Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems — like those with HIV — need even more.
But nutrition isn’t just about calories. With them come protein, lipids, vitamins. The real concern is that a billion people don’t get enough. The people that we work with don’t always have access to what they need to live well: their ability to get an education or raise a family is compromised. Malnourished people earn 20 to 30 percent less income over their lifetime, which makes a huge economic impact at the national level and has a cascading effect through generations.
3. What's the difference between food security, food crisis, and famine?
“Food crisis” is a situation in which you have stressors like war, price increases, or drought affecting families’ ability to consume adequate food. Families may experience these stresses for several years and run out of ways to cope. “Famine” is a technical term, meaning an extreme and widespread scarcity of food.
The U.N. has a technical definition of famine that World Vision uses. According to its classification table, famine occurs when a population experiences: 20 percent consuming less than 2,100 kilocalories per day, 30 percent of children acutely malnourished, and two deaths per 10,000 people or four deaths per 10,000 children per day. Famine is an acute emergency of unacceptably high levels of food-related problems. A crisis is actually the warning sign that we may be moving toward famine.
World Vision typically intervenes well before something becomes a “crisis,” by helping people grow food, teaching mothers to nurse their babies, and helping people earn an income. We also intervene in crises to prevent the loss of lives. Low rain, poor crop yield, and rising prices signal a possible crisis — a yellow flag; while famine is the red flag, a humanitarian emergency. “Food security,” on the other hand, refers to nutritional access and quality.
4. Is it possible for someone to have enough food and still not have food security?
Yes, people’s diets may rely heavily on staple carbohydrates. For example, in southern Africa, some people eat maize every meal. They rarely get animal protein. They may eat plenty, but the nutritional composition may not be balanced or meet their requirements. They’re still food insecure even though they eat enough food. Quantity and quality both matter.
5. How does child sponsorship help support and develop families and communities when it comes to food?
One way World Vision supports families is by teaching mothers to nurse and how to eat when pregnant. Another is providing deworming pills for kids — parasites in the system prevent children from receiving the benefit of what they eat.
World Vision also organizes sponsored families into cooperatives to grow cash crops together. In Latin America, we get around 20 families growing coffee together to sell. Then they can buy the food they need at a market. We also teach parents about balanced diets, how to enrich their diet with local foods, and how to grow the right kinds of food to eat or sell.
6. Does World Vision distribute food, and under what circumstances?
Yes, usually through our emergency relief programs. After the earthquake in Haiti, the port was destroyed, roads and bridges were down. We distributed food in the disaster area so people could maintain their nutrition and to prevent deaths from malnutrition.
For example, when Syrian refugees arrive at the border, they’ve often abruptly left everything behind to flee for their physical safety. Many are in camps or hosted with relatives and local communities. For these people, we sometimes provide food packages, but we have an increasing tendency to provide food vouchers (similar to a food stamp) so refugees can buy what they need at a market.
7. Do we have an early detection warning system to prevent famine?
Yes, using U.N. and U.S. government monitoring systems, we make predictions based on satellite imagery and nutritional surveys. This information tells us if a crisis is moving into an acute stage. And yes, we are able to prevent a famine — if a crisis is declared, World Vision in cooperation with other humanitarian groups intervene to mobilize resources through donors or appeals for resources to buy and supply food. Then we continue helping families by teaching them to diversify their income, grow the right foods, and make healthy meals — the keys to preventing another crisis.
8. World Vision is a Christian organization, so how does faith motivate our work in food security?
Our faith has food as a central image. It’s inspiring for my team and me. Food is intimately entwined with our faith, in symbolism and in our response. It requires us to consider the plight of the hungry, knowing that we’re as weak as the weakest link in our communities. If people are hungry, we’re called to feed them. Faith calls us to ensure that everyone born in God’s image has the opportunity to realize their full potential as human beings. Science tells us that they need to be adequately nourished to do that. We are called to teach people the basics — to nourish children better and care for tomorrow’s generations.
I’ve been working in the humanitarian area for more than 18 years. It’s very clear that food security and good nutrition is fundamental for child development. At World Vision, some of our best work is in food security.
Child sponsorship is the cornerstone of World Vision’s approach to community development. Join us! Change a child’s life for good. Sponsoring a child helps provide long-term food security and other life-saving basics. Consider sponsoring a child today!