Category Archives: Global Hunger

The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

A new report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food maintains that the right to food, poverty alleviation, and the reduction of global carbon emissions can all be facilitated by transitioning from the industrial model of agriculture to an agro-ecological system that benefits small-scale producers.

Buying food at the market. Photo: World Bank/Curt Carnemark

Middle-class Americans take it for granted that whatever hardships we face in life, we can always count on food appearing on the table. Supermarkets feature well-stocked shelves, restaurants bustle with business, and the choice of cuisines available to us would even dazzle Old World aristocrats. But the great majority of the world’s peoples don’t enjoy such blessings. For them, the task of feeding their families is a challenge they face anew each day. Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict close to 850 million people; another billion subsist on sub-standard diets; and billions more spend a huge portion of their income, even as much as half, on their humble meals of rice, wheat, or corn.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to food as integral to a satisfactory standard of living, affirming “the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.” Yet too often this right is neglected or trampled upon. To remedy this situation, in 2000 the UN Commission on Human Rights established the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Since 2008, this position has been held by Olivier De Schutter, who has spent the past six years seeking ways to ensure that the right to food is fully realized. His final report, issued in March, documents his conclusions and recommendations. Though written in the cool, impersonal language of the policy expert, the report conveys a truly bold message with transformative implications for the future of the global food system.
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Super-Typhoon Devastates the Philippines – Emergency Aid Needed Now

World Food Programme Emergency Aid for the PhilippinesTyphoon Haiyan has caused massive loss of life and destruction in the Philippine Islands. The typhoon - described as perhaps the largest tropical storm ever to hit land in recorded history – has left nearly half a million people in the Philippines homeless and without basic necessities.  Those children and families need your help.  Please consider making a donation to the United Nations World Food Programme – the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. You can make a donation at: https://www.wfp.org/donate/typhoon

Oxfam International is accepting donations for emergency relief at: http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/typhoon-haiyan

You can also make a $10 donation to UNICEF USA by texting “RELIEF” to 864233

A Buddhist teaching  from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition is to think of all beings as our mothers. Recognizing that all of these suffering beings have been our mothers and in every other close relationship with us since beginningless time, we urge you to help as generously as possible.

The Costs of Economic Inequality: Social, Political, and Moral

by Charles W. Elliott

U.S. is most wealth unequal Gandhi once famously said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Over the past decade, we have witnessed an unprecedented grab of wealth—with its associated power and influence—by a few at the expense of everyone else. This increasing concentration of wealth for a few in the face of continuing struggles of poor and middle class families just to make ends meet is the consequence of public and economic policies that favor private interests over the public good. This inequality corrupts our political system.  And it ultimately corrodes social cohesion and threatens widespread unrest.

Most people do not have a true perspective of the gross inequality in our economic systems. Fewer still understand its corrosive effects. As writer Michael Lind observed in his article “To Have and to Have Not”[1]:

 The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight.

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Like Moths Circling a Flame

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, points out that earlier civilizations often collapsed because of food shortages brought on by unsound agricultural practices.[1] The Sumerian civilization sank because their soil was ruined by rising salt levels, the result of a design flaw in their irrigation system. The Mayan empire fell due to soil erosion, caused by excessive land clearance to feed their population. We now stand in a similar position, facing an acute threat to our own food system, and the immediate danger comes from a changing climate. But there is a major difference between our civilization and earlier ones: we have a clear scientific understanding of the roots of the crisis and are thus in a better position to respond to it. Collapse is not inevitable. The big question we face is not a “why” but a “whether”: whether we will act effectively before it’s too late.

Brown also says, in the same context, that economic and social collapse was almost always preceded by a period of environmental decline. This indicates that there is generally a margin of time in which we can pull back from the brink. We’re now in that phase of decline, and the need to act promptly and decisively to preserve the world’s food system cannot be overemphasized. We’ve already delayed too long. At present close to a billion people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. If the food system fails to produce enough food to feed the planet, millions more, mostly children, will be consigned to a life of perpetual want, even to death by starvation. In countries stricken with food shortages social chaos will erupt and food riots break out. Migration will increase from poor countries to more affluent ones, triggering a backlash of resentment. States in the poorest regions will totter and fail, perhaps unleashing more waves of violent terrorism. Continue reading

More Food or New Colonialism for Africa?

Charles W. Elliott

Obama Africa TripIn a recent (June 30, 2013) speech in Cape Town, South Africa, U.S. President Obama announced new overtures to support agriculture in Africa.  But the people of Africa need to be on their guard lest these renewed efforts to “help farmers” in Africa become mere Trojan horses for corporate colonialism.

President Obama declared that “Governments and businesses from around the world are sizing up the continent, and they’re making decisions themselves about where to invest their own time and their own energy.”  With phrases invoking American generosity, he proclaimed that:

Instead of shipping food to Africa, we’re now helping millions of small farmers in Africa make use of new technologies and farm more land.  And through a new alliance of governments and the private sector, we’re investing billions of dollars in agriculture that grows more crops, brings more food to market, give farmers better prices[.]

No one would complain if the United States and its corporate partners would help “millions of small farmers” grow more food.  But we wonder: what kind of agriculture is the beneficiary of billions of dollars of investment?  And what are the “new technologies” that purportedly will help those millions of small farmers?
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A New Slate of Projects–Part 2

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is the second of a five-part series on BGR projects approved for fiscal year 2013–14. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ for preparing the material.

 7. Ethiopia: Increasing Yields of Veggies           NEW

Ethiopia-OxfamAmericaSince 1970 the international relief and development organization Oxfam America has worked with local partners to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. BGR will be partnering with Oxfam America on a project to improve food production in the Meki-Ziway area of the Central Rift Valley in Ethiopia. The project aims to apply the System of Crop Intensification (SCI) to such crops as tomatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage, and potatoes. SCI draws on the methods that have already proved successful in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), extending them to other crops. SCI emphasizes growing bigger, healthier root systems, and enhancing soil fertility with the life in the soil. The method should increase vegetable production while reducing water use and reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Producing more while reducing costs will increase income and enhance household nutritional security among the Ethiopian farmers of the Meki-Ziway area.

8. Haiti: A New Lease on Rice          NEW

Haiti-OxfamHaiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with nearly 90% of Haitians in the countryside living in poverty and two-thirds in extreme poverty. Haiti was once self-sufficient in rice, a staple in the national diet, but rice production has sagged and it now imports over 80% of its rice. To increase the output and income of rice farmers in Haiti, Oxfam America is promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of cultivation which lowers inputs but results in rice plants that are more resistant to climate extremes, pests, and diseases. Yields can increase by 50%-150% within one or two cropping seasons. With the collaboration of local partners, Oxfam has been providing SRI training and support to roughly 150 farmers. The grant from BGR will enable them to extend the training to thirty additional farmers, both women and men. The grant will also be used to purchase labor-saving agricultural equipment vital for SRI and facilitate the rehabilitation of 5 kilometers of local irrigation canals, which are critical both to rice production and flood control.

9. Haiti: Meals for Hungry Kids

Haiti-boy-with-bagEvery weekday in the impoverished Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, over a thousand children (and a few adults) line up at the Lamanjay free meals program to receive a plate of hot, nutritious food. The U.S.-based What If? Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lot of poor children in Haiti, has worked in close partnership with members of the Ti Plas Kazo community to sustain the food program since it started in 2000. The urgency of the program increased sharply following the terrible earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010. The community served by Lamanjay includes mostly children who still live in nearby tents with unemployed parents or guardians who cannot provide the children with sufficient, nutritious food.  Other children walk miles to attend. For most of these children, the food they receive at the food program is their only meal of the day. The grant from BGR will cover the meals provided by the food program for 36 days between June 2013 and June 2014. The goal is to ensure that, as they struggle to rebuild their lives, thousands of hungry children and some adults in Port-au-Prince have access to hot, nutritious meals.

10. Haiti: Helping Kids Go To School         NEW

Haiti-WIF-studentsOne specific challenge facing Haitians today is the high cost and inaccessibility of education for the poor.  Attending school in Haiti has long been a privilege rather than a right, and half of school-aged children were not enrolled in school before the January 2010 earthquake struck. The earthquake destroyed thousands of schools, driving school costs up still higher. As a result, thousands of school-aged children in Port-au-Prince still lack formal education. It is only through education that these kids will have a chance to escape the crippling cycle of poverty. The What If? Foundation is currently providing scholarships to 194 youngsters for the 2012–13 school year, covering tuition, transportation, books, uniforms, and other fees. A grant from BGR will provide $115 per student toward the scholarship costs of 87 elementary school students. School costs range between $250 and $350 per year.

Playing with Smoke and Fire

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Yesterday evening, when I sat down to check out the news, I immediately came across two articles that almost blew the nonexistent hair off my head. The first, on Common Dreams, announced: “Canada Vows Plunder in the Arctic.According to the report, Canada has just assumed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a consortium of states bordering the Arctic which met in Sweden this past week to discuss the region’s future. One would think the leaders of these nations, alarmed by the melting of the Arctic ice that takes place for ever longer periods each summer, have been anxiously discussing how we can preserve this natural wonderland and prevent its pristine beauty from being further defiled by the greedy hands of man. But let’s not fool ourselves. With global demand for oil and natural gas on the rise, they have other visions swimming around in their heads: of ships plowing the Arctic seas and previously inaccessible reserves of minerals, gas, and oil suddenly coming straight into their pockets.
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A New Slate of Projects–Part 1

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is the first of a four-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved for fiscal year 2013–14. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, Jennifer Russ, and Khanh Nguyen who all helped to prepare the material used in this series. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country, with the U.S. projects to follow the international projects.

DSC06272Over the first weekend of May, months of hard work by BGR team members came to fruition at the annual general meeting and projects selection board meeting, both held in the Woo Ju Memorial Library at Chuang Yen Monastery, Carmel, New York. The general meeting, on Saturday, May 4, was attended by team members from as far away as California, Colorado, Illinois, and Texas. At the board meeting on Sunday, May 5th, the board considered a slew of applications for partnership grants. Twenty-one projects were approved for the next fiscal year, at a total cost of $285,000. The projects are both international and domestic in scope. They include renewals of existing projects and a substantial number of new undertakings with partners both new and old. Their fields range from Cambodia and Vietnam, through India, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Cote d’Ivoire, to Haiti, New York, and California. Distinctive about this year’s register is the number of multiyear projects that are to be launched. Experience has taught us that projects extending over several years provide a better timeframe for accomplishing more ambitious objectives than is possible with a one-year project, our usual mode of operation. Here are brief summaries of the projects approved for implementation.

1. Bangladesh: Making Markets Work for Women           NEW

HKI-Bangladesh MarketsHelen Keller International, established in 1915, works in 22 countries to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged through programs in vision, health, and nutrition. BGR will be partnering with HKI on a three-year program in Bangladesh called “Making Markets Work for Women.” The program aims to uplift 75 extremely poor indigenous households in five villages in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), one of the poorest regions in the country. The project will train women in agricultural skills such as pest management, organic fertilizer use, and intercropping, as well as food processing techniques. It will also establish community marketing groups for women so participants can work together to process and sell their products, thus helping to combat discrimination at local markets. Courtyard sessions will focus on gender and nutrition issues relevant to both men and women, including optimal feeding practices for children from birth to two years of age. Year one of a three-year project.

2. Bangladesh: Educating Children in
the Chittagong Hill Tracts          NEW

Moanoghar 2013-GirlMoanoghar was founded in 1974 by a group of Buddhist monks to provide shelter to children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affected by conflict or living in remote areas. There are currently more than 1,250 children sheltered at Moanoghar, approximately 40% of them girls. Many of the children were left homeless or orphaned as the result of a decades-long ethnic conflict. All children at Moanoghar receive free or highly subsidized education. BGR will be sponsoring a three-year project to establish a sustainable educational system that can generate income to support the institution and support the children being schooled there. The program has three components: (1) to build a computer lab to teach the children IT; (2) to provide stipends for the children for general and technical education; and (3) to plant trees and bamboo orchards that will provide economic returns to Moanoghar. Year one of a three-year project.

3. Cambodia: System of Rice Intensification

Rachana 2013Rachana is a Cambodian organization dedicated to improving the socio-economic well-being of poor and vulnerable communities in Cambodia. Rachana has been promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an ecologically sensitive agricultural methodology that increases yields of rice from an average of 2 tons per hectare to 4.75 tons per hectare. BGR has already partnered with Rachana over the past two years in spreading the use of SRI, with highly favorable results. The program has enabled farmers to feed their own families better and obtain a surplus to sell on the market. As a result, SRI has substantially boosted family incomes. The annually renewable program will promote SRI in eight villages, five old ones and three new ones, up to December 2013. 

4. Cambodia: Giving Girls Access to Education

GATE 2013Since 2009, BGR has been partnering with U.S.-based Lotus Outreach International in support of its life-transforming Girls Access To Education (GATE) program, intended to ensure that girls remain in school. In Cambodia the education of girls is considered unnecessary, but LOI and BGR are trying to promote a new perspective. To encourage families to keep their girls in school, Lotus Outreach provides 50 kg of rice monthly during the school year to the families of 50 poor girls in Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey. Without such assistance these highly vulnerable girls would almost surely be forced to leave school for work; many would wind up in brothels. With support from BGR, Lotus Outreach has recently been extending rice support to GATE graduates who enroll in university programs. These graduates, who have risen up from poverty to enter university, are called GATEways scholars. The grant from BGR will enable 33 additional GATEways scholars to receive 15 kilograms of rice for each month they attend classes during the year or live away from home due to their individual circumstances. With continued scholarship support, we hope to see these young women rank among the exclusive 1% of Cambodia’s female population to receive post-secondary education. An annually renewable program.

5. Cambodia: Helping Women Escape the Sex Trade

NFE 2013

Driven by desperate poverty, with no other opportunities in sight, many girls in Cambodia find themselves compelled to turn to the sex trade to support themselves and their families. Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education program offers these women and their children a light in the dark. By teaching them basic literacy, health education, life skills, and vocational training, the program helps young women escape exploitation while discovering their own strength, self-worth, and competency. The renewed grant from BGR will provide non-formal education, vocational training, and life skills to approximately 30 sex workers and their children. Daughters of sex workers receive scholarship packages so they can return to school. Many of these women and children will learn to read and write for the first time in their lives. An annually renewable program.

 6. Côte d’Ivoire: Enhanced Homestead Food Production       NEW

HKI Sweet PotatoesBGR will be partnering with Helen Keller International on a three-year expansion of its innovative Enhanced Homestead Food Production program in Côte d’Ivoire’s Bouaké District (Gbèkè Region), an especially poor district where families struggle with food security and lack access to food markets. The project is designed to improve the food security and nutritional status of vulnerable households, with special emphasis on women and young children. A model of enhanced food production through the establishment of year-round gardens and farms will be taught to community gardening groups comprised mostly of women. A key component of the program is growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, a food rich in micronutrients especially good for children and pregnant women. The project will improve gardening practices, irrigation systems, and income generation, while empowering women. Farmers will also learn marketing strategies for selling their crops. Successful small-scale irrigation systems will be of use not only to programs in Côte d’Ivoire but throughout the region, especially to areas vulnerable to climate change. Year one of a three-year program.

To be continued

GMOs: Food, Money & Control: Part III

Charles W. Elliott

RoundUp Ready Soybeans(In Parts I and II of “GMOs: Food, Money & Control,” we explored the failure of the leading U.S. state proposal to require labeling of GMO foods (California Proposition 37), the control of crop seeds through GMO patents and licensing, the loss of seed and crop diversity, and the increasing domination of the seed industry by biotechnology firms.  In this post, we examine GMO contamination of other food crops and the impacts of GMO technologies on pesticide use.)

“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. —John Muir

Despite pervasive human intervention, the dynamism of the natural world overcomes virtually all artificial boundaries and limits.  We directly experience nature’s refusal to stay within the lines we draw. Plants penetrate concrete sidewalks; moving water inexorably surmounts or breaks through barriers; nature retakes land abandoned by humans.
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Buddhist Global Relief Makes Emergency Donation To Feed Syrian Refugees

Syria-Jan2013Moved by the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the ongoing conflict in Syria, Buddhist Global Relief has made an emergency donation of $10,000 to the World Food Programme (“WFP”) to help feed families forced from their homes.

According to the WFP, over 1.2 million people are displaced inside Syria and some 250,000 people have fled the country and become refugees in neighboring countries. Many fled the conflict zones with their families under shelling and gunfire from both government and rebel forces, often able to bring along only the clothes that they were wearing. Harsh conditions in refugee camps—including plummeting temperatures and flooding—are making for a life of intense suffering. Many families living in tents lack heaters and winter clothing.

Syrian child refugee campFood for these families is the most critical need. It takes only $72 to provide a month’s worth of food for a Syrian refugee family. BGR’s donation will feed 138 families for an entire month during the difficult winter season.

The WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations, and it is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing global hunger. It is funded entirely by voluntary donations.  To read more about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and to make a personal  donation, go here.

We are thankful to BGR’s generous donors who are making this emergency food donation possible.