Food insecurity is a widespread problem. Even the rich and heavily populated countries are not totally immune to this socio-economic challenge. In the USA, more than forty million people are living in food insecure households. This translates to roughly 13% of the country’s entire population. It is not so much that the government is lacking in authority and initiative to implement measures to alleviate and mitigate hunger. In fact, several laws have been enacted and implemented in order to address varied issues on food security, nutrition, access to health services, and other relevant programs designed to promote human development. However, the problem is so vast that strategic directions should be carefully formulated in order to smoothly execute interventions and reach the target sectors.
Studies show that hunger and malnutrition are not caused solely by the lack of food on the table. Most of the time, it is the result of the failure to access and consume affordable healthy foods. In most cases among low-income households, they tend to choose to serve their families food that have high sugar and fat content because these are more stomach-filling and are cheaper. They are oblivious to the fact that because of these unhealthy diet patterns, they put their families’ health at risk. This is evident in the growing statistics, which show large numbers of population suffering from obesity, diabetes, and other serious medical conditions. These chronic illnesses are often caused by poor eating habits. As a consequence, sick and unhealthy people put an additional burden on the government. The cycle is quite vicious; it seems to never end, and there seems to be nothing anyone can do.
It is the responsibility of the state to adequately provide for the basic needs of its citizens. Governments are not remiss in looking for measures to resolve the issues that particularly afflict the vulnerable groups. But then, the recipients also have the responsibility to fully cooperate with the state so that they are able to avail of the benefits of the programs that are intended for them.
No Food Shortage Problem
There is no food shortage problem in America. In fact, year after year, across several states, thousands of farmers (operating local, small, and large-scale farms) produce tons and tons of fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and other foods with high nutrient values. However, while production is continuous, it does not automatically equate to consumption. For some reasons, a large percentage of households, most of which are below the poverty line, are not able to include healthy foods in their dietary systems. These reasons and factors, which affect the ability or decision making of consumers on the access of affordable but quality food include the following:
- Lack of awareness and adequate information on food value, availability, and pricing
- Misconception on the affordability of high quality food
- Lack of access due to low income or inadequate money in people’s pockets
- Lack of access due to geographic barriers
The Truth on the Issue of Affordability and Accessibility
In communities with a high incidence of poverty, there is a noticeable dearth of knowledge on the importance of serving nutritious food to family members. Oftentimes, those who are tasked to prepare and serve meals on the table or put food in their children’s lunch boxes are not even aware which types of foods are rich in nutritional value. They are mostly overwhelmed with the day-to-day pressure of putting something together that they can eat when their stomachs rumble.
In other instances, the high costs of healthy foods prevent households from including them in their shopping lists. Mothers with less time on their hands and obviously with a limited budget in their purses would grab ready-to-eat snack items from the store shelves and counters rather than prepare healthy, homemade snacks using natural and organic ingredients. To a certain extent, there is some truth in the perception that health foods are pricey. Ordinarily, local and small farmers have high production costs. Understandably, to recoup their capital and investments, they have to adjust farm gate prices. Transporting farm produce to where they are accessible to consumers also increases the farmers’ operating expenses.
On the other hand, studies reveal that there is also a misconception on natural foods being less affordable compared to processed foods. Again, the lack of information or misinformation causes the households’ failure to make evidenced-based or informed decisions when comparing prices between goods.
In recent years, organic food products have gained popularity. As more people from the higher income bracket become health conscious, they are captivated with the benefits of healthy eating, especially by consuming fresh and organic foods. The growing interest of people who can afford to eat at high-end restaurants and other chic places contributed to the escalation of the prices of these kinds of foods.
In most cases, the poor cannot afford healthy food because of the lack or absence of buying capacity. It is simply that they are left with fewer or no choice at all. Thus, in reality, the lack of money is the major impediment in acquiring and maintaining healthy eating habits.
Statistics show that geographical barriers also heighten the issue on food accessibility. In rural areas and depressed communities, there are fewer stores and food outlets that carry and stock highly perishable but nutritious goods. This is because these communities are not considered ideal business places and not many would want to invest in putting up stores where there is little traffic of customers and buyers. These areas are commonly referred to as food deserts. For the residential communities, the nearest stores where they can pick their household needs are located miles away. With low or no budget for food items, it can be assumed that there is a high likelihood that these people cannot afford other bigger-priced necessities such as a car or any means of transportation. It is also probable that in these remote areas, there are no available means of public transportation. These factors prevent the consumers from accessing healthy and quality food.
Solutions and Interventions
Formulating the right solutions and appropriate interventions in promoting the consumption of healthy foods, particularly among disadvantaged groups, is a tough job. It requires hard work, determination, and an understanding of the complexities of the poverty situation.
The data collated from various researches and studies discussed above are significant and useful in establishing evidenced-based approaches. By correctly identifying the challenges, authorities are already halfway in solving the problems. It should be noted that the varied and unique circumstances of the marginalized require different approaches. Hence, there are no common solutions that are suited and applicable to all groups. However, standard approaches may be identified based on the results of comprehensive studies. Some of these may be pilot- tested in priority areas and properly monitored and assessed.
On the issue of awareness, improving communication channels from relevant support agencies in the grassroots level must be enhanced. The agencies may conduct information dissemination campaigns to increase people’s knowledge on the importance of eating healthy food for their well-being. Using education as an intervention approach, experts will also be able to improve the negative perceptions of consumers on the affordability of nutritious food. Seminars and road shows led by local government units, in coordination with national and federal organizations, will increase people’s awareness on various programs aimed to improve their situation. Sometimes the programs already exist on the ground and yet people have no knowledge about them because of the lack of information dissemination efforts. In this regard, It is necessary to educate the beneficiaries on the various interventions that are intended for their welfare. Orientations, meetings, and briefings at grassroots levels will improve people’s awareness on what is happening around them and how they would benefit from it.
Expanding access to farm products is a win-win solution for both the consumers and the producers. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture, is aimed to provide poor households more purchasing power. Authorities should advocate for the expansion of SNAP in more areas. Increasing enrollees under SNAP will increase demand, as more families will be able to have the means to purchase nutritious food. More consumers will increase the demand for agricultural products, which will in turn benefit the farmers or producers. The government can also be instrumental in reducing prices at more affordable levels by helping farmers reduce their costs. These can be accomplished through grants and subsidies and non-financial support services such as technical and technological assistance.
Moving the Markets to the People
With regards to geographical barriers, these can be addressed by establishing distribution channels such as farmers’ markets and food hubs that are accessible to a larger number of consumers, especially the underprivileged sectors who live in far-flung areas. Another win-win solution is to create linkages between farms and institutions such as schools and hospitals. This method ideally shortens the food route and lowers the costs to the buyers/consumers while increasing producers’ profits by eliminating middlemen or distributors.
Another strategy is to encourage residents to engage in backyard farming and community or co-op gardens. In order to motivate them on these projects, the government and other sponsors and donors may provide them with adequate financial and technical support. Ultimately, all these efforts will increase economic activities in depressed areas. As the beneficiaries witness the enormous support extended to them by various stakeholders, their engagement will intensify. The people’s buy-in on programs that are expected to bring positive outcomes for the upliftment of their living conditions will be heightened. These will also serve to revitalize their areas and propel economic growth and development. A robust economy will boost agricultural production, resulting in the creation of more jobs and employment in the localities.
On the issue of people’s need to go from one place to another, it is recommended that the government provide adequate public transport facilities. They are then able to reach stores, food terminals, and farmers’ markets where they can access the food items that will provide nourishment to their families.
The future of a nation largely depends on the health of its people, particularly the young generation. Healthy and robust citizens can positively and actively contribute to economic growth and development and ultimately in the building of a better world for tomorrow’s children. Thus, ensuring food security and promoting health and nutrition must always be part of the national agenda.
Government and other stakeholders continuously identify solutions and interventions to empower the poor and help them achieve and preserve their fundamental rights as human beings. These include policies, programs, and projects aimed to make healthy foods more affordable and accessible to all. Several initiatives are undertaken to increase people’s awareness of healthy living through healthy eating. It should be highlighted that programs and projects must be sufficiently funded to increase and ensure success rates. However, inasmuch as the government is willing to allocate budget to fund these priority programs, there are other pressing concerns that require resource allocation.
This situation may be considered a setback to the smooth implementation of government sponsored interventions and initiatives. But on the other hand, this also opens the door for generous and caring individuals to lift their hands and extend assistance and support. As a strategy, collaboration and coordination among different players significantly improves the sustainability of interventions. Collective efforts of like-minded personalities will diminish the chances of failure.
There is a lot of work to be done in order to help the needy and the less privileged sustain their basic needs; promote their health; and improve their living conditions. While the government formulates policies and implements appropriate programs, these efforts will achieve more positive results if they gain support from the private sectors as well.
A trickle coming from numerous sources will eventually fill the bucket to overflowing. If you are looking for ways to help out in the successful implementation of pro-poor development programs but don’t know how to go about it, check us out at http://www.borderlesscharity.org.
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