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Food banks can help tackle hunger crisis in East Africa | Opinion

Facing a sixth consecutive failed rainy season, the nation in the Horn of Africa is staring at the region’s worst drought in at least 70 years. Research shows that this would not have happened without climate change.

Families have been left without food due to crop failure and livestock deaths. More than 20 million people in the region now face severe food insecurity, and flash floods in Somalia are now complicating the crisis. Several East African countries appeared in a recent United Nations report, “Hunger Hotspots,” which identified countries where food insecurity is particularly high and likely to worsen.

Ways must be found to provide food supplies to these struggling families, both as an emergency response to the current crisis and to build long-term resilience. Not only are food banks one of the most effective ways to fight hunger, but they are a natural extension of the history and culture of giving and support across Africa.

Kenya, for example, is the second-largest country in the world on the 2022 World Giving Index, and its cultural tradition of harambee — which means “together” in Swahili — has long given a sense of unity .

Many other African countries, such as Sierra Leone, Zambia and Nigeria, were also found to be very generous. According to the Index data, people across the continent are particularly willing to help strangers in need; in Kenya, 77% of respondents had helped someone they did not know in the previous year.

Food banks are a natural progression of this tradition, where families support those facing hardship or crisis, and they can play an invaluable role in responding to hunger crises.

First, as a nonprofit food distribution organization, food banks connect highly vulnerable and marginalized communities with much-needed wholesome surplus food. Founded in 2017, Food Banking Kenya operates a mobile food bank service that provides food assistance to communities hardest hit during the drought.

It not only provides emergency assistance to livestock-dependent communities, but also supports them in adopting drought-resistant crop farming practices, which can build their resilience in the face of growing climate challenges.

Likewise, It Rains Food Bank, Ethiopia’s first formal food bank, is supporting hundreds of Ethiopian families by purchasing and distributing essential food items to support the humanitarian response to the ongoing drought.

Second, food banks help recover food that might otherwise be lost. In Kenya, for example, about 40 percent of food produced on farms is wasted due to poor storage and difficulty getting produce to markets.

Food recovery helps small farmers in the region whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the drought. Food banks are community-based and locally led, which means food bank personnel understand where the needs are greatest and how to feed people.

In normal times, a food bank is a much-needed point of contact to provide usable food to communities facing hunger. However, drought turned the tide. Instead of facing massive waste, many farmers are struggling to make ends meet amid widespread crop failure, livestock deaths and water shortages.

Food depots that formerly served as community collection centers are now being used to deliver food to farmers whose harvests have been reduced by drought.

Finally, food banks also help build more long-term resilient and food-secure societies. For example, food banks support communities through school feeding programs to help children, especially girls, stay in school when they would otherwise be unable to attend school due to lack of food.

In Kenya, a food bank-led school feeding program in Nairobi’s informal settlements provides meals to nearly 2,000 children every day, enabling them to gain nutrition and education.

Linked to a tradition of helping those struggling in African communities, food banks have clearly played an important role across the continent.

In 2020, members of the Global Food Bank Network in Africa helped distribute 8.1 million kilograms of food, an increase of 80% over the previous year. They also serve approximately 1.4 million people.

But the concept of food banks is only just beginning to take root in many parts of Africa. This is a great opportunity to expand the food bank’s presence into more communities.

To reach more people, food banks need more investment from the private sector and government entities to help them expand their infrastructure and support better food processing and preservation methods to minimize food waste.

Governments and the private sector can also support food banks by working more closely with them, helping to build community awareness of their value and their role in reducing food loss and waste, especially since food banks rely on local businesses and other partnerships Partners buy food.

With increased investment, food banks can help more people facing the current drought and other sudden disasters. Over time, they can also become important pillars in building a more food-secure future for Africa as a whole, drawing on the region’s deep tradition of mutual aid.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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