Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Health, TerraViva United Nations


Aren’t We Missing Food Security Experts in the Incoming President-Elect Biden-Kamala Harris Administration?

We never imagined that we would witness food insecurity being an issue in developed countries such as the US. Credit: Stephen Leahy/IPS.

URBANA, Illinois / ABUJA, Dec 17 2020 (IPS) - Food insecurity across the U.S. continues to be on the rise because of the effects of COVID-19. According to Feeding America, over 50 million Americans will experience food insecurity, including 17 million children

We both grew up in countries referred to as “developing countries,” Ifeanyi in Nigeria and Esther in Kenya. At the time, we never imagined that we would witness food insecurity being an issue in developed countries such as the U.S. like we are now. As thought leaders in global health and food security, we are compelled to amplify this inequity in the world’s richest country.

The last few months, clearly, have changed our perception of food insecurity and the narrative around it is changing.

COVID-19 is very well linked with food insecurity and failing to have a food security expert working alongside the other advisory council members would undermine the ability of the country to effectively tackle these tightly linked issues

Moreover, even as we celebrate the arrival of the vaccine, COVID-19 continues to claim the lives of many Americans, while bringing the possibilities of new lockdowns, hence, we can certainly expect food insecurity to continue to be a problem.

Impressively, measures that were in existence before the pandemic in the U.S. such as foodbanks and other Federal benefits such as SNAP and WIC that Americans have access to in order to assist with food insecurity have helped to make a difference.

Through the pandemic months, we have also witnessed a rise in resources available to citizens who at one point or another need help with finding food. From the U.S. Department of Agriculture hotline that can connect citizens to available pantries, interactive maps that reveal where help and your local food bank is, to databases of pantries and non-profit subsidized grocery to food finder apps.  But the truth is these resources were designed to be supplemental.

Much more needs to be done. Here’s where to start.

First, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris should include a food security expert in the COVID-19 Advisory Council. The responsibility of the expert should be to provide advice on ways to address the current COVID-19 food insecurity in the U.S.

COVID-19 is very well linked with food insecurity and failing to have a food security expert working alongside the other advisory council members would undermine the ability of the country to effectively tackle these tightly linked issues. Moreover, this person should preferably be a person of color, the population that has been impacted most by food insecurity.

Second, develop a multi-stakeholder comprehensive food security plan as part of epidemic preparedness plans for the next pandemic.

This is imperative because no one knows when the next pandemic could occur. A major lesson from COVID-19 and the city lockdowns which followed is that during pandemics there would be life losses, job losses, schools will be closed, and some families would need food support.

The major idea is to use lessons from COVID-19 to estimate those who may be in need of food support and group them based on ethnicities, postcodes, states etc. This plan should involve government agencies, food banks, non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, schools, university institutions and other community groups.

Third, food banks should improve their process to enable long-term storage of nutritious foods such as green vegetables, fruits, proteins, milk etc. According to Feeding America, these classes of nutritious foods are the most requested at food banks. However, due to challenges with storage, those in need hardly have these requirements met.

Fourth, prioritize the needs of under-five children and women of child-bearing age. Worryingly, science and available evidence from a comprehensive review of 120 studies done by the UN FAO suggests a correlation between food insecurity and malnutrition.

Furthermore, according to World Health Organization, and available scientific data evidence, mostly obtained from studies done in developing countries, childhood malnutrition is considered a major public health concern with long lasting impacts including impaired cognitive development, enhanced risks of acquiring other diseases, and suboptimal economic productivity.

With the risk of irreversible stunting in children and its consequences on school performance, future earning capacity and contributions to the economy, children must receive the right nutrition at the right time.

Likewise, women of child-bearing age require to be well nourished to ensure they have adequate blood, healthy milk and not anemic. Anemia in women who plan to get pregnant has adverse consequences such as intrauterine growth retardation of the fetus, low birth of their babies and more likelihood of going into shock from bleeding after birth or even death.

Lastly, encourage families to form groups and run all seasons sustainable community gardens. There is a need to have community greenhouses that can be used to grow food past summer months. This would enable them grow fresh vegetables, poultry (for proteins) and cows (for milk).

At this time, many US States are going through the winter season, and food gardens that millions of Americans relied upon during summer have no sustainability during cold seasons.

A recent UNICEF report on the persistence of child poverty above pre-COVID levels in high income countries highlights why all year around community gardens should be an alternative source of fresh foods as the country recovers from this pandemic.

COVID-related food insecurity is widening health and social inequities in the U.S. The in-coming Biden-Harris administration should make this a priority. It is an ethical thing to do.


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. She has published scores of OpEds including a letter to the Editor at the New York Times.  
Dr. Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor is a graduate of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University. Ifeanyi is the Director Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch.
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