Continent needs to promote  concept of food banks John van Hengel started the food bank in the late 1960s

Ruth Butaumocho African Agenda

This year’s forecast is pointing to reduced rainfall for most African countries, which is likely to result in droughts across the continent as the adverse effects of El Nino continue unabated.

Several African states are already on high alert, putting into place a raft of measures to save millions of peoplefrom hunger and serious food shortages.

According to a report released by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), at the African Climate Summit 23 held in Nairobi last month, fragility, low adaptive capacity and the effects of climate change are expected to be felt more severely in Africa, resulting in natural disasters, extreme weather conditions and severe droughts as effects of El Niño become widespread.

El Niño-related climate variability is one of the strongest drivers impacting agricultural production mainly in Southern Africa.

It is usually characterised by above-average temperatures and below-normal rainfall during the November–April season.

About 70 percent of the region’s population depends on rain-fed agricultural production for food, income and employment.

The worsening climate crisis, coupled with global shocks, is worsening an already dire situation.

In addition, the emergence of new climate-related diseases and the prolonged dry spells or floods eventually takes a toll on farmers, adversely affecting food production which normally flows seamless when there is no crisis.

With no immediate solution to downstream the impact of climate change which normally results in serious food shortages, African countries need measures to wad off hunger and malnutrition.

Planting early maturing varieties, supplementing rains with irrigation, rationing food supplies and implementation of food banks as a long term measure could reduce the impact while insulating millions of people across the continent against starvation.

Food banks could be crucial in solving a wide range of problems that are normally associated with the global hunger challenges.

The food bank concept that was started by a man called John van Hengel in the late 1960s is a simple, effective methods that ensures that people in need of food actually get it without states busting their budgets to feed their constituencies.

Food banks partner with companies in the food supply chain to recover safe, wholesome food that would otherwise be discarded.

The banks take the food to community-based organisations that distribute it to people in need.

Food banks were born out of the realisation that in many countries globally, 40 percent of the food supply is lost due to poor harvesting, storage methods and lack of infrastructure to transport produce.

More often than not, when farmers harvest their produce, they often face challenges and broken systems in transportation and other related logistical problems that do not measure movement of flood from farms to markets seamlessly and in a way that benefits the producer and the consumer.

However, that loss can be circumvented by the food banks which mirror the commercial supply chain, because a lot of interested parties can bring in their infrastructure which protects food safety, manage inventory, and handle shipping, storing, and distribution.

This kind of model will ensure that communities faced with imminent hunger will have access to food that normally would have just perished.

This model of food recovery and distribution provides communities with consistent food access that is sufficient, safe, and nutritious and that meets their dietary needs.

Food banks have long been practised globally. It is heartening to note that the concept is now quickly gaining momentum in Africa, with countries like South Africa mobilising organisations to rescue hundreds of tonnes of food that would otherwise have gone to waste.

What makes food banks a game changer is that they can employ a community-based approach, sourcing surplus food from farms, markets and households and sharing it with food insecure people within their vicinities.

On too many occasions, communities have watched in awe big retail supermarkets and well known manufacturing companies throwing away food and produce that would have been condemned by standards association authorities for failing to meet certain requirements and yet that food can be edible without causing any harm or side effects.

There are also cases where farmers fail to deliver their produce to the market and allow the harvest to rot, instead of donating it to communities that are in need of food.

With several countries facing imminent food shortages owing to erratic rains and extreme temperatures, ideas can be thrown around on how best the food bank concept can be started, once communities have assessed their needs and levels of vulnerability.

Organisations that run these models partner with local companies and leaders to identify excess food that is likely to be discarded.

Since food banks are locally-run, they are able to pin-point hunger hotspots and determine where the need is greatest and how to efficiently deliver to those locations.

In certain cases, food banks have been credited with supporting school feeding programmes, enabling children who might have otherwise skipped school due to food scarcity to remain in the classroom.

One such organisation currently flourishing in South Africa FoodForward SA says surplus food has been a catalyst for change, enabling it to feed millions every year after it partnered with farmers, manufacturers and retailers to feed families and communities faced with hunger.

Established in 2009 to address widespread hunger in South Africa, FoodForward SA connects a world of excess to a world of need by recovering quality edible surplus food from the consumer goods supply chain and distributing it to community organisations that serve the poor.

The organisation, which says that 80 percent of the food recovered from its chain distribution pattern is nutritious and reaches 900 000 people daily, who are in need of food to eat.

Outside their ability to seamlessly feed thousands in need of food, research reveals that on a global level, food banks have helped the agriculture sector reduce its carbon footprint by eight percent at a time when food loss and waste is responsible for gas emission.

Looking at the vulnerability millions of people find themselves in as food shortages become a reality, there is room and scope to seriously think and plan around the possibility of establishing food banks, across the continent.

With he rate at which the effects of climate change is upending lives, no single organisation, the state or entity can solve the problem of global hunger alone.

This mammoth challenge requires cross-sectoral collaboration, where concerted efforts of individuals and institutions — governments, multilateral agencies, companies and civil society organisations can feed millions in need of food at any given time.

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