The issue of food security is not a new one. For years, we have been trying to answer questions about how we can realistically provide proper nourishment and nutrition to the world’s 7 billion people.
Until recently, many international initiatives looked toward GMOs and monoculture based agriculture for the answers. GMO solutions can often be rather controversial. GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are basically any living thing into which scientists have introduced DNA from another organism. In this way it is possible to grow, for example, tomatoes which can withstand freezing temperatures. Agricultural specialists can use these techniques to add more nutrients to produce or to extend food shelf life. They can even create new varieties of food which can grow in the most adverse conditions.
Strategists have also looked to monoculture based agriculture. This is the practice of using large swaths of land to focus on a single crop at a time. The idea is to create advanced new crops and grow them in bulk. Thus, GMOs and monoculture based agriculture have been the stars of the food security show in recent times.
But new studies aren’t so sure that these are the best approaches. In fact, current research thinks we should be going in a very different direction.
According to the latest findings in the UN, we are missing the mark. The global focus thus far has been on producing more food more rapidly. However, current statistics find that we are already producing enough nutrient calories in the world to satisfy 14 billion people! That is twice the current global population. And yet, recent estimates say that more than 700 million people are chronically malnourished. That means, despite more than sufficient food sources, 10% of people are starving!
Something isn’t adding up.
The latest research from the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) suggests a new approach. Rather than mass production and carefully engineered products, scientists now believe that the answer is in small scale farming of organic, diverse gardens. Basically, this research recommends bringing the solution home. Rather than moving mass traded products around the globe, the solution lies in fostering community scale farming. Rather than genetically enhanced super foods, we should be returning to our roots in natural food production. And instead of mass quantities of a single crop, each small scale farm plot should be producing a wide variety of necessary produce.
But most importantly, this needs to happen soon! This UN report indicates that the time is running out to turn things around. On the current trajectory, food security will continue to destabilize. And when food security destabilizes, all security destabilizes.
However, Global Roots is already taking steps in the right direction! Our programs have been focused on finding solutions through small scale agricultural projects for nearly a decade! And what’s more, we have already been finding the kinds of successes that UN organizations are hoping to find.
Take, for example, our flagship program in Mtito Andei, Kenya. In this rural truck stop area in the west of the country, poverty is terribly endemic. HIV and AIDs are rampant. Education for children has long been undervalued as the need for those children to help or earn money takes priority.
However, with the foundation of a school based children’s garden program in the Matulani School District, that is changing.
Six years ago, Global Roots helped this school district to build one of our signature Children’s Garden programs. These programs consist of a greenhouse or garden, along with supporting hen houses and rabbit hutches. The facilities are locally constructed and managed using our proven approach to oversight and full transparency. What’s more, much of the program is run by students, gaining them valuable vocational and life skills. The products derived from this programs are then used to feed the student body.
Since program launch in Matulani, students have benefitted from a solid, nutritious meal every day. For some, this would be the only meal they will get. Because of this, parents now see more benefit in sending the children to school than in keeping them home. As of 2017, the Matulani district boasts a regular attendance rate of 90%! To put that in perspective, many American school districts are happy to strive for 80% regular attendance.
But what’s more, the students aren’t simply showing up. They are benefitting from their attendance and increased nutrition. Since the beginning of our garden program, student matriculation rates have drastically risen. And student exams on the all important KCPE (Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education) exam have also risen. In fact, our student scores have risen consistently each year since program begin. In the most recent 2016 exams, our students scored an average of 275 on the exam, which makes this district the 4th highest ranked district in the region. And when we remove special private schools from the rankings, Matulani ranks number 1!
All of this is because of a simple, small scale garden program.
In Afghanistan, we have replicated this program. Using the same approach of small scale organic farming, we began to feed local orphaned and itinerant children. Once again, the results were amazing. Not only did our children’s health improve, but the availability of sufficient food enabled local families to foster these children.
In Tibet and Cambodia we are doing it again. In Tibet, we are building gardens to nourish and educate blind children. And in Cambodia, where we have regionally appropriate floating gardens, we are using food security as a springboard to local security.
Our small scale gardening programs bypass many issues which large scale, mass production food programs encounter. Our program utilize mostly local resources. Therefore we don’t face problems with expensive transportation, customs duties, or legal regulations. Because we are small scale and community oriented we avoid most of the corruption which larger aid programs battle. And since we are designed to work within the community and for the community, or gardens address the issues which are unique to each community.
The UN wants to quickly turn the tide for food security. Global Roots is already one step ahead and out in the field working. Because we belief that food security means child security.
If you believe this too and want to get involved, find out more here.