If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that local organizations are our best bet in fighting hunger

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that local organizations are our best bet in fighting hunger

Five years ago, less than 2 percent of funds for humanitarian causes went directly to local and national NGOs, despite the incredible efficiency of these organizations in delivering impactful work at times of great need. Progress has been made — indeed, in 2020, a little more than 21 percent of funds were given to these organizations. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that investing more in local NGOs is crucial to achieving success, especially in the effort to eradicate hunger.

Currently, two billion people do not have regular access to safe and nutritious food. My organization, The Global FoodBanking Network, supports and empowers national and local food banks in more than forty countries by equipping partners with solutions, capabilities, and funds that accelerate food assistance. In 2020 alone, we saw more than 27 million people in forty-four countries — most of which are in emerging or developing economies — rely on food banks within our network during the pandemic. This represents a 63 percent increase from the previous year.

The reliance makes sense: food banks are led by local civic leaders who are embedded in their communities and can uniquely respond to their community's needs.

Time and time again, I've seen food banks play an integral part in building resilient food systems and strengthening the communities where they are based. I have seen them nourish children through innovative school feeding programs, contribute to families' diverse diets by sourcing and offering nutritious food, and engage local farmers, businesses, and government in their work to alleviate hunger. These local organizations offer programming that not only provides their neighbors with meals but also with job training, childcare, education, and health interventions, extending their impact and helping build a sustainable future.

As we begin to look toward a future beyond COVID-19, a future that will still be rife with other problems, especially hunger, we must determine how we can better offer solutions. I believe we should start by investing in local organizations, which are often the first to respond at a time of crisis and the last to leave as the crisis subsides, continuing to provide much-needed aid to those who need it. Building local organizations means strengthening communities, building resilience, and increasing self-sufficiency.

With more support, local organizations can continue to ramp up their services while coping with the increase in demand for food and a drop in product donations due to disruptions in regional supply chains. If given the resources, they can grow their capacity to reach their neighbors in need more quickly over the long term.

On the frontline of disaster relief

Local hunger organizations are often the first to respond when disasters strike. They have unparalleled insight into the needs of the populations they serve and are able to  quickly mobilize resources to provide aid where it's needed most.

In January 2020, the bushfires in Australia left thousands of people homeless. Foodbank Australia was activated as the government's official emergency food and water relief organization, deploying volunteers and personnel to serve eight hundred thousand displaced people immediately. Last fall, the Philippines was hit by four typhoons in just three weeks. Good Food Grocer, the local food bank, worked with its existing partners and distributed emergency relief boxes that provided more than twenty-seven hundred families in Tiwi, Albay with a supply of fresh fruit, non-perishable foods, and personal hygiene products. In each case, local organizations with expertise in food recovery and redistribution were a linchpin in the official government response.

Logistical expertise

The most vulnerable communities are often the hardest to reach; in almost every instance, local organizations are the best at finding ways to deliver aid to remote towns and villages.

In Brazil, food bankers at Mesa Brasil SESC navigate the Amazon River to bring food stocks via small boats to Indigenous peoples, whose trust they've gained over time. Meanwhile, in South Africa, FoodForward SA has set up a Mobile Rural Depot Program that sends trucks filled with shelf-stable food products and fresh fruits and vegetables and delivers to rural communities hundreds of kilometers from the nearest food bank. These types of creative solutions to challenging logistics exemplify the creativity and ingenuity of local food banks.

Community partner

Local organizations understand their communities' greatest needs and know how to work with stakeholders to achieve the best results. For example, Zomato-Feeding India recognized early on during the pandemic the devastating impact lockdowns would have on India's daily-wage laborers. On the very same day that the national lockdown was announced, the organization launched a campaign to provide ration kits to daily wagers and their families. The kits provided enough food and other essential items for a family of five to have three meals a day for seven days. The items were purchased and sourced from local suppliers and distributed to families through multiple stakeholders, including national and local NGOs, municipal corporations, state governments, and city police. Because of Zomato-Feeding India's multi-sector approach and ability to anticipate an impending hunger crisis, the organization distributed more than 78.6 million meals to Indians in ahundred and eighty-one cities.

The pandemic's full economic and humanitarian impact on countries remains to be seen. As a result of the public health crisis, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that an additional 83 million to 132 million people will be pushed into hunger this year, and the International Labour Organization estimates that hundreds of millions of people remain under- or unemployed. When COVID-19 brought economies and society to their knees, local organizations such as food banks rose to the challenge. As you reflect on your 2020 giving and think ahead to the world you want to shape in 2021, I encourage you to consider local organizations such as food banks. The philanthropic community can help these organizations build their capacity and scale their effectiveness to recover more food and reach the most vulnerable populations. Investing in hunger relief today means we will have stronger communities tomorrow.

Lisa Moon is president and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network, an organization that serves the world's hungry through support for food banks in more than forty countries.

Featured commentary and opinion

September 29, 2020