Hesperian Health Guides

Preventing Hunger

Within your own community, you can help prepare for food emergencies by growing food, storing it well, and sharing with neighbors.

Growing food

Wherever you live, you can grow food. Growing your own food is one of the best ways to eat healthy, and gives you something to eat when there is no money to buy food.

People tending to vegetables in a garden in an empty lot between some apartment buildings

City-dwellers grow food on rooftops, in vacant lots, in pots or sacks of soil in a window. A few plants in a pot may not provide you with much food but it is a way to start. Children love helping with growing things, and caring for plants is a valuable skill to teach them. Join with neighbors to plant a garden in an empty lot and you can grow even more.

If you farm already, but mostly grow cash crops like cotton, coffee, rice, or coca, also plant some vegetables for your family or village. Or build a small fish pond. If your cash crop fails or the price drops, you will still have something to eat.

For more ideas on how to grow your own food, see Hesperian’s A Community Guide to Environmental Health, Chapter 15 (pdf).

Improve your yield

A cow eating grass and producing manure
  • Improve soil with animal manures and compost. Commercial or chemical fertilizers increase yield for a few years, then leave the soil weakened and water sources poisoned. Natural fertilizers like manure or compost improve the quality of the soil over the long term. For a small kitchen garden, save your food waste in a bin where it can rot back into soil, and use that compost to enrich the soil.
A woman pouring water into a hanging bucket, with two pipes going from the bucket down to a vegetable patch
Small holes in pipes or hoses allow water to drip into the ground slowly.

  • Use your water carefully. Try collecting rainwater. If you can get a long pipe or hose, make a line of small holes to irrigate each plant instead of wasting water in large irrigation ditches.
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This year maize. Next year beans.

  • Rotate crops to prevent disease and strengthen the soil.
  • Grow peas or beans. They are nutritious foods and strengthen the soil as they grow.
A man using a sprayer attached to a tank on his back to spray crops
If you have a sprayer, clean it well, then put some vegetable oil and water inside. Shake before you spray to kill aphids and other insects.
  • Avoid pesticides. Pesticides are poison. They kill pests and help crops for a short time, but they also harm the people who handle and use them. Birds and small animals that eat insects may also become sick. Without these predators, more pests survive to damage crops. Over time, insects get stronger and survive even strong poisons. These expensive chemicals are dangerous and should be avoided when possible.

Spraying plants with a mild soap can keep pests under control
without strong poisons. Even vegetable oil kills many insects.

Store the food you grow

Growing food does no good if the food goes bad or is eaten by pests. Drying, pickling, salting, and fermenting are traditional ways to keep food safe to eat after the growing season ends.

For grains and beans

  • Dry and store grains soon after harvest. (Leaving grain in the field leads to a lot of lost grain.)
  • Store grain somewhere dry, off the ground, and in containers that can be closed tightly. For a large harvest you can build a raised shed, like this. Smaller amounts can be sealed in barrels or other
    closed containers.
A raised wooden shed, with collars on each leg
Clear the area of weeds and other cover. Rodents are attracted to food waste, and to protected dark areas where they can nest. Remove these from the area.

Keep storage containers well sealed and repair any holes quickly. Rodents can squeeze through very small holes.
Keep grain storage containers high off the ground.

Rodents can climb. Clear away anything touching the storage container and put collars around its legs.

Keep dogs or cats to scare rodents away.
  • In parts of India, farmers mix neem leaves in with stored grain. Neem is a natural and safe pesticide and keeps insects away. In Cameroon, farmers tightly pack dried cowpeas and wood ash in clay jars for storage. The ash keeps out weevils. In other places, dried beans are stored in oil. These are all excellent, safe ways to store grain and beans and protect your food for later use.
  • Moldy grain should be destroyed. The mold contains toxins.
Fish on a string hanging from a tree, drying over a fire


Dried fish, fruit, meat, and vegetables can provide vitamins, minerals, and protein in times when you cannot grow or produce food. Dry foods more quickly and with less dust by keeping them off the ground. A shallow, loose-weave basket, chicken wire, or some kind of framed screen allows air to pass underneath, drying the food more quickly. Cover drying foods with a thin cloth or another screen to keep off pests and dirt.

Vegetables should usually be lightly cooked before drying. Dry vegetables and fruit until they are mostly dry, but still contain enough moisture to be tasty. Meat and fish can dry over a fire.

Keep dried foods somewhere dark and cool, in closed bags or containers.

Share with your neighbors

A family receiving food at a food bank, while others eat at a table

Some communities have a tradition of sharing food with those who need it. For example, when families go to religious services, they bring a handful of grain to share. Small amounts of grain from many families add up to a lot of stored grain. Then, if a few families’ crops fail, the stored grain is given to those struggling families. Some groups have set up formal "rice banks" where families leave rice during the harvest season to loan to people in need during the dry season.

Local solutions to community-wide hunger

The city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil is working to stop hunger and poverty for its citizens and for food growers who live nearby. In the 1990s, the local government declared food to be a human right, and started new programs to support this right. For example:

  • Healthy meals are provided to school children.
  • Poor people can receive a basket of basic, nutritious foods each week.
  • Three large neighborhood restaurants serve simple, nutritious meals at low cost. Regular customers can suggest improvements to these restaurants.
    people buying and selling fruits and vegetables at a busy market
  • The city buys fruits and vegetables for their food programs directly from small farmers who live near the city. It also established farmers markets where farmers can sell their produce at fair prices. This keeps small farmers on their land, so they do not have to move to the city. It also ensures an adequate supply of fresh fruit and vegetables for people who live in the city.
  • The prices of basic foods at dozens of markets are tracked. Then these prices are posted in public places and on television and radio so people know where to get the best price, and private markets are forced to keep their prices fair.

These programs have quickly and greatly improved the health of the people of Belo Horizonte. The number of infant deaths was reduced by half since these programs began.

This page was updated:12 Jun 2019