Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

12 posts from November 2009

Cattle by a Mongolian Lake

Viterbo, Italy – Marush Narankhuu had to divide her herd of 600 cattle, giving half to two of her sons. She used to have more but nearly a hundred died as a ten-year drought continues to hit the steppes of Mongolia where her cattle grazes.

Water levels in the nearby lake have gone down. “Khar Us Lake has evaporated dramatically within the last four to five years” Marush said. “There were many small ponds around the lake. None of them exist now.”

The Kahr Us, or Black Water Lake, is the second largest lake in Mongolia. It's 1,497 square kilometer area is one of five inter-connected lakes in the country. In one of the lower lakes, Khar Nuur, the government is building a hydro-power dam.

“This place was really beautiful,” said 68-year-old Marush. Her ancestors lived in the area for a long time. She raised 14 children there, four of whom are now herdsmen like her. “There was grass everywhere...We had a peaceful life around the lake.”

For the last two years, there has not been enough grass for her cattle. Many of the herdsmen have moved to other regions, looking for green pastures and water.

She and 20 other women in her community are now looking for ways to increase their income. They are looking at producing products from the wool of the cattle.

Marush said that as herdsmen, their well-being is completely dependent on nature and the weather. “We need to save our lake and our life,” Marush said.

Adlai Amor is director of communications at Bread for the World. He met Marush Narankhuu at the GreenAccord International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, Viterbo, Italy, Nov. 25-29.

Now, a House Made of Mud

Viterbo, Italy – When he built his first house in 1975, Jalaluddin Saha used bricks. In 1982, when the sea claimed his house and that of 100 families, he used bricks but built the new house farther from the shore.

In 2005 he – and 60 other families – again had to build a third house as the sea destroyed the 17 meter embankment that protected the farms.

So for his third house, the retired teacher and farmer used mud since it is cheaper than brick. He built his house in the middle of Mousuni Island, one of the 105 islands that dot India's part of the Sundarbans delta in West Bengal.

His present house is about 1.5 kilometers from his first house, nearly in the middle of Mousuni.

"Either our island is sinking or the sea is rising,” Saha said. “I do not think I have to build another house...I would not be surprised if my sons and grandsons are forced to move again.”

Today, only half of his two hectare farm is productive. Seeping salt water has rendered the rest of his farm – and nearly a fifth of Mousuni – unsuited for agriculture. They used to be able to produce three crops of rice a year, but now, only two because the monsoon rains come later.

Jalaluddin Saha and his neighbors are replanting mangrove forests and planting new crops like watermelons and green chillies to adapt to climate change and rising sea levels.

But their efforts may be futile. Since 1940, Mousuni Island has lost 11 square kilometers; it is now only 24 square kilometers. Scientists predict that in 30 years, the island will be totally submerged.

Adlai Amor is director of communications at Bread for the World. He spoke with Jalaluddin Saha at the GreenAccrod International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, Viterbo, Italy, Nov. 25-29.

A Dry Christmas

Viterbo, Italy -- Christmas at the Kericho district of western Kenya used to be marked by heavy rains.

“Today, Christmas is usually dry,” said 53-year-old farmer Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei. “The dry season is hotter to the extent that now all the grass dries up. This was not the case before, when the grass would remain green even during the dry season.”

As a result, Nelly's cows produce less milk. The dry soil also leaves her 3-hectare farm, planted to maize and tea, vulnerable to erosion when the rains eventually come. In the meantime, during periods of drought, women spend more time and walk longer distances to fetch water.

Fortunately, nearly an acre of Nelly's farm is devoted to an indigenous tree nursery which generates enough income for her to send two of her five children to college.

“To convince my neighbors to plant more trees, I once pledged 200 seedlings to my church but the pastor announced that I am giving away 2,000 seedlings,” she said. “I believed that was the word of God so I gave away 2,000 seedlings. A few days later, someone came to my nursery to buy 50,000 shillings worth of trees. That's not bad for a 16,000 shilling investment.”

As Nelly talks to other women around her district to convince them to plant more trees, they tell her stories of how the changing climate have affected them. More pests attack their crops and malaria is now common in Kericho and other highland districts. One of Nelly's daughters died of malaria.

Kenyan scientists have provided evidence for what Nelly and her fellow farmers have observed. They conclude that climate change indeed is taking its toll on Kenya's vulnerable communities. Christmas in Kericho district will continue to remain dry.

Adlai Amor is director of communications at Bread for the World. He met Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei at the GreenAccord International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, Viterbo, Italy, Nov. 25-29, 2009.

The Glaciers and the Bible-Quoting Farmer

Viterbo, Italy – “I am peasant farmer,” says Mbiwo Constantine Kusebahasa, as he introduced himself to me. He had traveled from his farm at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains in Kasese, western Uganda. It is the first time that this 71 year old farmer traveled outside of Uganda and flew on a plane. He had come to Italy to bear witness on how how climate change has affected him.

When he was growing up, he and other people of the Bakonjo tribe could see the glaciers of the Rwenzori Mountains. This range has the highest peaks in Uganda and his tribe was dependent on its forests and the glaciers. In 1906, it had 650 hectares of glaciers; five years ago, there were only 105 hectares.

The Bakonjo, the “people of the snow,” are living the effects of the vanishing glaciers and the deforestation. “There is drought and there is malaria now,” said Constantine. “Years ago, we had no famine then and the rains were regular and predictable.”

Production of maize and beans in his 14-acre farm has dropped. He decided to plant coffee now, in part to help reforest the areas around the Rwenzori mountains. He used to plant twice a year, but now, he can only plant once a year, “Now we are planting in September, hoping that the rains would come and our crops would flourish.”

Constantine advocates for the need to not only adapt to climate change, but to also try and stop further environmental destruction. He warns, quoting from Ezekiel 8:6, that we may yet see more devastating impacts of climate change.

Adlai Amor is director of communications at Bread for the World. He met Mbiwo Constantine Kusebahasa at the GreenAccord International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, Viterbo, Italy, Nov. 25-29, 2009.

Climate Change and Global Food Security

Viterbo, Italy – For several years now, I've been participating in an annual meeting of environmental communicators from all over the world. The meeting this year, VII International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, focuses on the theme: Climate is Changing: Stories,  Facts, and People. It is organized by the Italian non-profit, Green Accord.

What makes the conference unusual is that our speakers include people who are being directly affected by climate change – a herder from Mongolia, small farmers from India and Kenya, and an Italian dairy farmer. “The climate change negotiations are really about global food security,” said Janet Larsen, research director of Washington DC's Earth Policy Institute.

Many of my friends will be going to Copenhagen for the UN Conference on Climate Change, December 7-18. Our speakers so far are pessimistic that substantial agreements will be reached during the negotiations. “We will not have a legally-binding agreement, even a politically-binding one,” said Prof. Leena Srivastava, executive director of India's The Energy and Resources Institute.

As we discuss the impacts of climate change on people, it is ironic to note that the latest poll by  Washington Post-ABC News  indicates that fewer Americans believe that global warming is actually happening. This dipped from 80 percent to 72 percent compared to the same period last year. This shift in climate skepticism is especially pronounced among Republicans --only 54 percent now believe global warming is happening, down from 74 percent last year.

The good news is that majority of Americans still believe that the US should cap its carbon emissions even if developing countries like India and China do less.

Adlai Amor is Director of Communications at Bread for the World.

A Voice That Cries For Justice, Equality, and Opportunity

As the Food Stamp Challenge comes to a close I have found a new lens through which to look at poverty and hunger issues.  Having experienced only a small taste of hunger and the stress that accompanies it, I know now that the fight to end hunger and poverty is essential.

Today in the Washington Post an opinion article commented on the rise in food insecurity in US homes, questioning whether hunger was really an issue in the United States.  The writer, Charles Lane, makes the point that 99.9% of children had at least one meal a day last year. The reality this insensitive claim forgets is that all people need more than one meal a day to be healthy and productive.  Children especially need a healthy diet to do well in school.  In light of arguments like these, we must fight all the harder to end hunger and cry out against the callus voice of complacency and ignorance.

Because people struggle everyday with food insecurity and hunger, we must write our legislators, inform our friends about the issues, keep ourselves accountable, and constantly work in each of our own ways to increase awareness and truly end hunger.  I encourage everyone to try the Food Stamp Challenge for yourself, to expose yourself to the hunger that so many face.  Without a visceral understanding of hunger, our ability to advocate and fight for the cause is limited. And we need instead a voice that cries for justice, equality, and opportunity to end poverty and hunger.

Mark Fenton is an Intern at Bread for the World

Do What Should Have Been Done Long Ago

Tuesdays are typically days where I have to spend a lot more energy than normal, because I bike to and from my class at Corcoran College of Art and Design, from Brookland to downtown DC and back.  I spend my whole day biking or standing and working, and so logically I need more calories than normal.

Being on the Food Stamp Challenge, I knew this day would be different, and it turned out that it was.  After the typical 3 meals that day, by 9 p.m., I was hungry again.  What happens when you can't afford to assuage such situational nutritional needs?  What happens when you are a growing teenage athlete?  Everything suffers when we are not properly fed.  

There are direct links between proper nutrition and performance in school, and hunger has a direct effect on the futures of youth in the US.  Poorly fed kids are at a distinct disadvantage. What is it like when parents have to worry not only about their food but the food that their children get?  What happens when parents don't eat so their kids can eat?  What happens when children get sick or parents get sick from a weakened immune system due to malnutrition?  

As Wednesday and now Thursday are rolling by, I am coping with the food that I am eating, but know that over the long term this limited diet would cause me to not be able to function like I know that I can.  If I want to be an active adult with a productive career, living on SNAP benefits is simply inadequate.  How can we expect the poor and hungry to function on such levels?  From my experience, it is simply a fact that SNAP benefits have to be improved.

Mark Fenton is a communications intern at Bread for the World.

Nutritional Inadequacy

In the Food Stamp Challenge thus far, I have been pretty successful in regulating and conserving my food use, while staying fed.  Having finished day 3, I have noticed a little more hunger than normal, but nothing extreme.  The thing I have to be more conscious of is nutrition.  On cheap foods, it can be very easy to eat food that is filling, but not nutritious. 

When I went shopping for my food for the week, my housemate that accompanied me had to persuade me to not get macaroni and cheese dinners.  As far as calories per dollar, they weren’t a bad buy, but mac & cheese has little nutritional value other than pure carbs.  My mother taught me pretty well what is good and what is bad for me, but I still would probably have bought a less healthy alternative had my housemate not convinced me otherwise. 

Nutritional education was something that I got from my mother, as far as I can remember.  What happens when generations of low income families can’t pass on this knowledge?  Any money spent on food could become significantly less effective in helping a young child grow when the food consumed is unhealthy.  SNAP benefits are limited, and if not spent wisely are simply going to be less effective nourishment than what they could be.

What happens to a family without enough money for food and not enough education on how to use that money for food?

Mark Fenton is a Communications Intern at Bread for the World

Cost of Living

Much to my surprise, I did manage to get some fresh food when I went shopping for the Food Stamp Challenge, but only a limited amount.  I have a half-gallon of skim milk, and I now realize that if I was truly on a budget--and sustenance was a major issue--I would have gotten 2% or whole milk because there are more calories in it.  Here is a list including all the rest of food I purchased, coming out to an even $30.79:

Lentils, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, oatmeal, ½ gallon of skim milk, 1 head of lettuce, carrots, 2 green peppers, 4 ½ pounds of apples, 2 lbs of frozen broccoli, 1 loaf of whole wheat bread, and peanut butter.

While making some peanut lentils with rice, I was talking about the Food Stamp Challenge with some house mates and the point was made to me that living on a budget like this can be particularly hard due to the lack of food variety.  To eat on this budget long term would mean a lot of lentils, rice, and pasta.  I know that I would tire of it very quickly.

Another difficulty of cooking on a limited budget is time.  If a single parent had to cook on this budget with all the activities of work and kids and school, finding the time to cook cheaply would be much more difficult.  Many quick instant meals are available, so it makes sense that so many families live on instant meals and carry-out dinners.  

Making ends meet with SNAP benefits has become much easier this year due to the economic stimulus put in place after the recent recession, but that won’t last forever.  The boost from the stimulus is a short term thing, and within a number of years inflation will catch up and, like pre-stimulus times, SNAP benefits will again reach their former level of inadequacy.  It blows my mind that after all of this time those in power have not fixed such a relatively simple thing.  When compared to the United States defense spending, increasing the benefits to hungry people on the SNAP program should be easy, simple, and plainly the right thing to do.  Simply increase the monetary flow to the people who need it most. 

Hopefully someday soon things will change.

Mark Fenton is Communications Intern at Bread for the World

Thankfully Practicing Solidarity With Those in Need

By Mark Fenton

The coming Thanksgiving season is a time of harvest and plenty for many, but for many others it is a time of great need.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as Food Stamps, is one program that helps people survive difficult times such as these.  SNAP provides $1.48 per meal, at the most, to pay for food.  This comes out to $31.08 for a week--half the amount we spend weekly on food per person for many of us.  As prices go up and the economy struggles to find its footing, many people on food stamps struggle with only having $31.08 for a week. 

The Food Stamp Challenge is a journey into the world of those getting assistance for food.  Living on $31.08, some of my co-workers at Bread for the World and I will try to live off of food stamp benefits for a week, starting today, Nov. 14 and ending on Nov. 20.  We feel it's important to join in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who suffer from hunger and malnutrition on a daily basis, and to understand their difficulties more fully.  I will be posting daily about my experience here on the Bread Blog

I encourage readers and Bread members to join myself and the other Bread staff in living with the food challenges that many people in the United States deal with every day, either for the full week or just for a day. I would love comments, thoughts and emails (mfenton@bread.org) in response to what I’m sharing.  I hope that you can all consider the food needs of the United States and the world during this season of Thanksgiving.

My first meal of the challenge was a lazy Saturday morning meal of oatmeal and an apple.  As I cut my apple up, I realized how every little bit counts for someone facing real hunger.  I didn’t want to waste any of that apple.  I found I had a fear of running out of food.  I can’t imagine the added stress for someone who really has to worry about making ends meet up long term on such a tight budget.  As I continue the challenge, I will need to get used to the idea of running out of food at some point. I hope that point is next Friday, and not before.

Mark Fenton is Communications Intern at Bread for the World

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