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Monday, January 25, 2021
Jan 13 2021 (IPS) - The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity and disrupted food systems and food supply chains in developed and developing countries alike. In the United States, millions of Americans struggle to put food on the table. Around the world, according to the United Nations over 270 million are hungry, and this is expected to continue to increase.
As a brand new year begins, I can’t help but think what must be done to mitigate these worrying trend?
First and foremost, there should be continued monitoring of the food insecurity statistics. Real time data to know where food insecurity is highest, and interventions are needed the most should continue to be collected by agencies like United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Feeding America, United Nations World Food Programme.
As an example, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has real time mapping platform that shows production, distribution, processing and consumption within Maryland’s food system via its Maryland Food System Map Project. Around the world, the United Nations World Food Programme continues to track and monitor hunger and food insecurity through its real time HungerMap.
In the end, this kind of real time collected data should be used to identify gaps. In addition, insights obtained should be used to inform decision makers in country governments, nonprofit institutions, food banks and other people responsible for designing programs and policies to address food insecurity in 2021 and beyond. In the long-term, data obtained from real time mapping of food insecurity can be used to distribute food more equitably and reliably.
Accompanying data and on the ground reality should be the continuation of actions that have proven to be critical in 2020 in efforts to address hunger. Throughout 2020, Feeding America and many foodbanks and food pantries have stepped up to the challenge of feeding everyday people.
It is important that they are restocked and the people working there enumerated well. Restocking foodbanks can be achieved through government funding and donations by businesses and individuals who are in a position to do so.
Among the strategies that proved important in 2020 were home and community gardens. These gardens flourished for the best part of the year across many states, with many people venturing into planting their own gardens. In 2021 and beyond, citizens who want to garden come spring should be encouraged and supported with resources and knowledge about how to successfully grow the crops they choose to.
Luckily, many states have Land-Grant Universities such as the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Purdue University that can assist through the Cooperative Extension Service. As such, Universities should find ways to unpack useful and guiding knowledge in formats that can easily be used by citizens as they look to start gardening.
Consistently, throughout the pandemic, many citizens relied on local food solutions and their local farmers and producers to meet their food needs. Moving on in 2021, everyday people should continue to think locally whenever possible.
Of course, thinking locally when it comes to meeting food insecurity may not always be possible, especially with food deserts in many under-resourced areas and with usually higher prices at farmers markets.
Finally, there is room for more innovative solutions such as food dispensing ATM machines, food finding and food redistribution apps, and as such, we should continue to look for solutions from food security experts and everyday people that are facing food insecurity challenge and highlight those that are making an impact.
Tackling food insecurity will continue to need all of us to step up. Every action, every strategy counts.
Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and a Senior Food Security Fellow with the Aspen Institute, New Voices.
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