Answers from a food aid expert (Part 2)

This is the second of a 2-part series of responses to questions you asked us about food aid -- its complexities, and its implications on economic development and child health -- in advance of World Food Day, which was Sunday. Paul Macek, World Vision's senior director of food security and livelihoods team, continues answering your questions below.

Read the post that started this: Ask an expert about food aid. Then, check out the first installment in this series: Answers from a food aid expert (Part 1).

Paul Macek, World Vision

FROM KARIN: I was wondering what happens after a child is nourished with Plumpy'Nut™ and no longer needs it. What happens next to prevent that child from slipping back into severe malnutrition? 

As you’ve rightly guessed, Karin, the easy part is providing therapeutic food to a child to restore his or her health, in the form of Plumpy'Nut™. The real challenge lies in preventing the recurrence of malnutrition. World Vision uses a comprehensive approach for this. Children who do not require therapeutic food may be given normal foods to supplement their diet -- such as porridges made of rice flour, beans, eggs, vegetables, and other nutritious foods -- until they have a healthy weight. World Vision provides information to families on how much and how often to feed their child, as well as how to prepare foods. Families are also supported by health workers to keep their children healthy through routine immunizations and prompt treatment of illnesses. A comprehensive approach also means that families are supported by agriculture and microfinance workers with assistance to help them generate income.

FROM ELIZABETH: It's great to send food aid, but how can we invest in people's lives so that they can create their own sustainable practices of farming/working so they won't need our food aid? What are you currently doing, not only to provide food while there is a need, but to train and equip so there will no longer be a need for food aid in the future?

Elizabeth, you are spot on! As the saying goes, we need to teach people to fish, rather than simply give them fish to eat. World Vision's food aid programs are very focused on addressing the root causes of hunger and helping people to become less dependent on handouts. We do provide emergency food assistance to prevent disease and death among people, such as the women and children in Ethiopia and Kenya today. However, we always look for opportunities to reduce dependency through the use of food-for-work or more long-term development focus. For example, in Kenya, we also have a program that is giving people locally-grown food -- allowing us to help stimulate local agricultural production while allowing people to access emergency food aid. In other parts of Kenya, we are helping communities establish irrigation schemes so that their crops can have water throughout the year. In our longer-term development programs, we help people access new technologies and better information, and learn improved production and marketing practices, so they can produce more and earn higher incomes.

FROM COLIN: I don't know much about food aid, but I know it is an important issue with much debate; can you clarify for me the stance World Vision takes on food aid and the pro's and con's of that stance?

World Vision believes that food is an essential element of normal, healthy life. All people everywhere should have sufficient food security. In emergency situations, it's appropriate to provide lifesaving food, and in developmental contexts, the emphasis should be on tackling the long-term underlying causes of food insecurity. These may be lack of education or knowledge, poor practices, and inappropriate policies.

FROM TRISHA: When people come to the food distribution areas, how long do they stay? Whenever they leave, do they just end up malnourished again? Do fights ever break out over the food being distributed?

A normal food distribution usually takes less than a day to accomplish -- depending on the number of people, locations, and the number of food commodities to distribute. On very rare occasions, you can have civil unrest around food distributions. But World Vision uses a community-based, participatory method, which focuses on sensitizing and educating the community and its leaders about the food aid, including its source, type, and intended purpose. We display information about the selection criteria used for the beneficiaries and provide a community complaints desk as mechanism for accountability and on-the-spot resolution of issues that may arise. In cases of extreme emergency food distributions -- for example, in dense urban populations, such as Port-au-Prince, Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake -- host-country or United Nations peacekeeping forces are sometimes called upon to maintain crowd control, so that distributions remain orderly and effective.

FROM HEATHER: In the Horn of Africa, where 30,000+ children have died from the current famine, what is the biggest challenge to solving the problem? Available supply? Workers needed? Security and cooperation of governments?

The biggest challenges in the Horn of Africa are political insecurity and poor governance, particularly in Somalia, and the impact of climate change on people's livelihoods and the natural environment. These factors, combined with increased population pressure, have led to recurrent regional food crises -- and, in some places, even famine.

FROM ANONYMOUS: (Questions 2 & 3 are answered in the comments section of Part 1)

1. What's the most dramatic way food delivery has changed in the last 10 years?

The most dramatic changes have been in the quality of the packaging. Through new, improved methods, we’ve seen decreased losses and increased shelf lives for commodities.

4. Food prices are skyrocketing. Why?

There are a number of reasons for food price increases in 2011, many of which also contributed to the food price crisis in 2008. Natural disasters such as killing frosts, floods, and droughts have had impacts on global food supplies. Increased demand for meat and other animal-based foods in countries experiencing rapid economic growth, like China and India, has increased prices of grains that can be used either for food or for animal feed. The price of fuel, which has been exceptionally high during 2011, has also had an important impact on the final price of food to consumers. Additionally, armed conflict, civil war, temporary food export bans, and insufficiently regulated speculation in commodity markets are all thought to have influenced food prices.

Read related post: World Food Day in a time of famine (Blog Action Day)

Do you have more questions about food aid, other humanitarian topics, or current disaster responses like the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa? Help create our next “ask” topic by leaving them in the comments section for us.

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