Hesperian Health Guides

Improving Local Food Security

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 12: Community Food Security > Improving Local Food Security

Every government should try to make sure people do not go hungry. National governments can make policies that promote the use of land for family farms, protect against pollution of farmlands, make affordable credit available to farmers, and help farmers solve problems.

Some national governments offer subsidies (money to support farmers, food buyers, or both) as a way to improve food security. Kinds of subsidies include price supports to help farmers by setting a higher market price for the foods they produce, and price controls for food buyers (consumers) to make sure that important foods are affordable.

Government support is often misused by giving it to corporations that own large industrial farms or produce and distribute unhealthy foods. When government support is corrupted by pressure from large corporations, the result is often more hunger and malnutrition.

But with or without government support, there are many ways people can improve local food security. From planting a small garden to organizing a farmers’ market, changes that improve food security can often bring results quickly and motivate people to do more.

People shop for produce at an outdoor market.
Local food is healthy, fresher, and supports the local culture and economy.
A woman buys eggs at a farm.
Community food programs help keep the culture in agriculture.

Community food projects

Food security is strongest when food is produced and distributed locally. Locally grown food is fresher and so more nutritious. It builds the local economy as money circulates to farmers and businesses in the area. And it helps build relationships among people, making communities stronger and healthier places to live. Because poor communities often have little land and few food markets, regaining control of food production and distribution is especially important for them.

Ways to grow more food locally

Most of these projects can be started with little land or money, and help communities get more fresh food.

  • Family gardens add healthy vegetables and fruits to the family meal.
  • School gardens can provide fresh food for children and help keep children in school by providing nourishment. And they teach children to grow food, making sure this important knowledge stays alive!
  • Community gardens provide food and places for people to get together, even if they do not own land. Community gardens can also help people learn about food production, develop skills, and start new businesses such as restaurants and markets. Even small gardens can make a big difference to food security.
  • Community supported agriculture is when farmers sell their food directly to consumers. People pay the farmers before the crops are planted, and then receive fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods each week throughout the harvest season. By making this investment, consumers help farmers stay on the land and in business while getting a dependable supply of nutritious food.
  • Seed saving programs help make sure that traditional seed supplies are available. A variety of seeds is the basis of sustainable farming and self-sufficient communities.

Making healthy food available at fair prices

The world now produces more than enough food for everyone, but people still go hungry. This is partly because food prices are often higher than people can afford, and healthy food is often not available to the poorest people. Government support is important to make sure prices are fair for both buyers and sellers of food. Some ways people work locally to make sure healthy food is available at fair prices include:

2 women examine produce on a table as a vendor smiles.
  • Farmers markets reduce transportation costs and the need for merchants in the middle, so farmers can earn more and consumers pay less. Farmers’ markets also let consumers meet and talk with the people who grow their food. This helps farmers learn what consumers need and helps consumers know what farmers do to bring them food.
  • Food cooperatives are markets partly or entirely owned by the workers and people who buy food there. Food coop members pay part of their food bill by working at the market. Most food coops try to buy and sell locally grown food.
  • Farmers cooperatives help farmers get better prices for what they grow, and still offer better prices to consumers.

Safe food storage

Safe food storage is as important as the ability to grow food or have access to food. Drought, storms, flooding, pests, or illness can all leave a family or community with not enough to eat and nothing to sell. Community food storage programs can help overcome these problems. (For more information, see Safe Food Storage and “Reduce food-borne illness at home.”)

For example, on the Pacific island of Temotu, hurricanes frequently destroy many crops. To improve food security, communities build big, communal pits to store fermented cassava, unripe plantains, bananas, and breadfruit. Everyone contributes to making and filling the pits. When crops are destroyed and people are hungry, they use this stored food.

Food banks are places where food is collected and then given away to those in need. Food banks help during a hunger crisis. But because people may come to depend on them, they are not a good solution to long term food security.

When entire regions suffer from hunger, food aid from international agencies can help them get through the crisis. Food aid is a short term solution to food security, but it does not solve the long term need for food sovereignty.

Junior Farmer Field School for AIDS orphans

right\alt=Under a tree near a cornfield, children sit and listen to a woman showing them an ear of corn.

In Mozambique, as in much of Africa, thousands of children are orphaned because their parents died of AIDS. Children orphaned in rural areas are especially at risk for malnutrition, disease, abuse, and sexual exploitation. After the deaths of their parents, many children become heads of the household and have to search for ways to earn money, a difficult task in rural areas with few job opportunities. Although they are from farm families, many of these children cannot farm because their parents were too ill to pass on their knowledge before dying.

With the help of the United Nations World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization, Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools were begun to care for the growing numbers of AIDS orphans. In these schools, youth between 12 and 18 years old live and work together, and learn about farming, nutrition, medicinal plants, and life skills.

The young people learn traditional and modern farming methods, including field preparation, sowing and transplanting, weeding, irrigation, pest control, use and conservation of resources, processing of food crops, harvesting, and food storage and marketing skills. Dancing and singing help them gain confidence and develop social skills. Theater and discussion groups are used to talk about other important life skills, such as the prevention of HIV and malaria, gender equality, and children’s rights.

There are now 28 Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools in Mozambique and there are more in Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, Swaziland, and Tanzania. Thousands of orphans have been trained as farmers. After graduating, the children go on to start their own small farms with money earned from selling their crops. One school worker says, “When we started these schools, the children had no future. Most of them wanted to grow up to be truck drivers, because it was the only option they saw. Now they want to be teachers, agronomists, farmers, and engineers.”