“We are facing hunger on an unprecedented scale, food prices have never been higher, and millions of lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance.” António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General.
The world is now going backwards in its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger (chronic undernourishment) jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, according to the latest United Nations State of Food Security and Nutrition report of June 2022. As many as 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021 – 46 million people more from a year earlier and 150 million more from 2019.
The Anglican Alliance has been increasingly concerned by the reports it is receiving from around the Communion about the growing food crisis and recently convened a number of gatherings to assess the situation and connect Anglicans as they strive to respond. The calls brought together Anglican partners – Episcopal Relief & Development, Anglican Board of Mission (Australia), Anglican Missions (New Zealand), the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), the Global Partnerships Office of the Episcopal Church and Five Talents – and Anglican Alliance regional facilitators. Participants shared examples of practical action churches and communities are taking to mitigate the impact of this global food crisis – in order to enable and encourage others to do likewise. A further key outcome of the meeting was the shared understanding and emphasis on the need to advocate for those most vulnerable to the impacts of the current crisis. These initial global calls will be followed by regional calls with churches.
A global food crisis was already likely to be a consequence of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and, in some places, conflict or political instability. The war in Ukraine has further exacerbated the situation. A full-blown food crisis is upon us.
Exports of wheat and sunflower oil have halted from Ukraine, and sanctions are limiting exports of oil from Russia and potash for fertilizer production from Russia and Belarus. As a result of all this and speculation on global markets, prices of these commodities have soared. Food prices are at their highest since records began 60 years ago (UN Food Price Index). This situation will bring misery to millions and with it the risk of instability and unrest worldwide.
In the foreword to the Global Report on Food Crises released in May 2022, the United Nations Secretary General asserted that, “We are facing hunger on an unprecedented scale, food prices have never been higher, and millions of lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance.” António Guterres continued, “The war in Ukraine is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis – food, energy and finance – with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies. All this comes at a time when developing countries are already struggling with cascading challenges not of their making – the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and inadequate resources amidst persistent and growing inequalities”
Anglican Experiences, Responses and Best Practices
On the global calls hosted by the Anglican Alliance, partners and Anglican Alliance regional facilitators discussed their experiences of how the food crisis is threatening and impacting their regions. They also shared about the practical actions churches are already taking to mitigate those impacts and the advocacy they are engaged in within or outside the church.
The partners reported that the crisis is affecting everyone, but the most vulnerable are most impacted – the poor, the marginalised and those from areas experiencing extreme weather events such as drought, cyclones, wild fires and flooding.
In the Middle East, Anglican Alliance regional facilitator Joel Kelling reported a “huge impending crisis, particularly in Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen.” These countries are very dependent on imports of wheat and sunflower oil from Ukraine and Russia. Joel described how historically in the Middle East, many governments have subsidised flour, so bread is always affordable. However, that can only be sustained as long as those governments have the reserves to absorb the associated costs. “It is the crisis that is yet to come. When it hits, it will hit really hard. Jordan and Palestine will also be affected. It could lead to political unrest,” Joel said.
In the Pacific, countries are fairly self-sufficient, Terry Russell from Anglican Board of Mission, Australia, said. They are not dependent on the world trade in grain, so are more resilient to the current global food and fuel price impacts. However, climate change is affecting them, with changing seasons affecting planting and harvest times.
In Asian countries including Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, the food crisis has become a political crisis. Many households are cutting meals to just two a day. In Sri Lanka, the whole country is affected but some regions are in greater need.
While Africa experiences perennial food shortages, the current global crisis has exacerbated the situation. The impacts of climate change, such as prolonged droughts, have depressed production of maize, beans, rice, wheat and tubers which are dominant and critical staples in the region, exposing millions of poor families to acute food insecurity. The war in Ukraine is also impacting the everyday lives of millions of people, as the disruption of global supply chains has led to significantly increased prices of wheat, cooking oil and fertilizers.
“I want to underscore the impact that drought has had in parts of East Africa,” said Vanessa Pizer, Director for Climate Resilience Initiatives at Episcopal Relief & Development. “This is compounded with the fact that Tanzania, Kenya and others in the Horn of Africa import wheat and inputs from Eastern Europe. What we are hearing from multiple dioceses is that the situation is very difficult, but it is going to get really bad in a few months, during the lean season.”
Participants in the calls shared examples of practical action the churches and communities in their contexts are undertaking to mitigate the impact of the global food crisis.
School feeding programs in Anglican schools in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Zimbabwe are helping to combat malnutrition in children during droughts and the ongoing crisis.
As families cut meals in Sri Lanka, the Anglican Church is working with Christian Aid to get one hot meal a day to children in Anglican schools and day care centres. The Church is also promoting home gardening in both rural and urban contexts through webinars and in-person trainings. Church land is being used for demonstration farms growing manioc (cassava) as an alternative to imported staples.
In the Caribbean and Africa, there is much need to reorientate communities to accept and utilise food that is available locally, return to traditional crops more suited to local conditions and reduce dependence on imported crops and food. For example, in recent times, traditional small grain crops such as sorghum and millet, which are drought tolerant, have been replaced by crops such as maize, which need good rains to grow well. There is a need to educate people about the nutritional value of locally-available and traditional foods, as well as how to use them. This is easier than introducing new foods. For example, pastoralists don’t eat fish, even though they may be by a lake with lots of fish.
In Papua New Guinea, communities are using crops that grow quickly such as sweet potato rather than longer season crops such as taro. They are also utilising small spaces in backyard gardening for traditional local food production supported by research institutes and agriculture departments.
The Anglican Church in Polynesia is investing in livelihood support, and communal gardens on church land. In the communal gardens, resistant varieties of crops are introduced and communal tools provided.
Some NGOs in the Middle East working in refugee camps have introduced hydroponics and aquaponics to enable refugees to grow fruits and vegetables in small gardens and spaces despite the arid conditions.
Grain and seed banks are being used by churches in Myanmar, the Philippines and Tanzania at parish and community levels to amalgamate and store grains during harvest for utilisation and sale during the lean period and to keep seed safe for planting the next season.
The reserves and mutual support built up by savings groups offer a bridge to see people through times of emergency, increasing their resilience to crises. Savings groups also provide a useful mechanism for distributing cash transfers both to the group and to others in need in the community, as well as for getting information to people.
The partners attending the call emphasised the need for advocacy for those most vulnerable to the impacts of the global food crisis.
Anglican Missions in the Pacific are campaigning for increased overseas development aid from the New Zealand government.
In Sri Lanka, the Anglican Church is calling on the government to prioritise food and allocate budget. It is also advocating within the church to encourage home gardening in both rural and urban contexts, including using church land for this.
In Africa, the churches are calling for sustained school feeding programmes which are critical in averting malnutrition in children. There is also need for supplementary feeding of children under 23 months who are at risk of stunting and wasting.
“Wherever possible, the long term is our priority (sustainable livelihoods),” said Naba Gurung, Humanitarian Response Coordinator for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. “But with this crisis where children are dying, animals are dying, life-saving interventions are needed”.
The global food crisis will continue to impact the daily lives of millions of people for the foreseeable future and is likely to shape local and global political landscapes significantly too. As a matter of inequality, injustice and poverty, and with its interconnectedness with the climate emergency, the food crisis is a major concern for the Anglican Alliance, with its role of connecting, equipping and inspiring the worldwide Anglican family to work for a world free of poverty and injustice and to safeguard creation.
Going forward, the Anglican Alliance will seek to:
- Provide technical resources for both practical action and advocacy, in same way we did for the Covid-19 response
- Host global and regional learning calls for sharing best practice and advocacy actions
- Set up a resource hub on our website
- Prepare Bible studies to inspire hope and responses
- Provide support for advocacy into the church as well as out to national governments and the global forum.
“As the global food crisis deepens, as severe climate events and conflict keep adding to the impacts of the war in Ukraine, I give thanks for the Anglican Communion, for the experience that different churches have – whether practical action to improve food security or their passion for justice that leads them to advocacy,” said Janice Proud, Disaster Resilience and Response Manager at the Anglican Alliance. “Through these practical actions and advocacy, the local church is giving hope to their communities, but they can also inspire another church to adapt that action in their context – and so the light of Christ is passed on.”
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