KRISTEN GRIFFITH The Chronicle of Philanthropy
The pandemic has caused world hunger to skyrocket, but now the war in Ukraine is making the problem even worse. Given that Russia and Ukraine together supply 30% of global wheat exports, much of the world is losing access to food.
Now, one of the nation’s largest foundations is trying to address some of those challenges with a $105 million plan to improve access to food, make nutritious, healthy foods more widely available, and advance the food production in a way that does not harm the planet.
Rajiv Shah, chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation, said the pledge is the largest nutritional effort in Rockefeller history. Over the next three years, the Good Food Strategy aims to ensure that 40 million people around the world have better access to healthy and sustainable food.
“Due to climate change, food prices were already the highest in a decade, even before Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine further decimated the world’s food supply. Now the world is on the brink of a global humanitarian crisis,” Shah said in a statement.
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The foundation and other experts say the way the world produces and consumes food is disappointing people and the planet. So he came up with a new strategy that he hopes will shift the focus from increasing the quantity of food to improving its quality.
Rockefeller aims to not only increase access to healthy, affordable food, but also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the food system and expand opportunities for small food producing businesses to thrive.
The foundation has innovative approaches to achieve these goals. For example, it provides for:
Encourage doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables instead of drugs when appropriate, as they may be both healthier and cheaper. Ten health insurance companies are working with Rockefeller to test the idea.
Pay for healthy food in schools, hospitals, prisons and other government facilities.
Help farmers change their production practices to adopt approaches that reduce the release of carbon into the air after tilling the soil.
Fund more small and medium food businesses to diversify distributors and prevent supply chain issues.
The ad builds on one of philanthropy’s most successful efforts, the Green Revolution of the 1960s.
Rockefeller funded technology that helped fuel food production in a way that staved off starvation in the world’s poorest countries. However, it lacked sustainability and fairness. That’s what today’s effort is designed to tackle, foundation officials say.
Barron Segar, president of the US World Food Program, agrees that something has to be done now. Rockefeller gave the program $3.3 million in 2021 to provide nutritious food for school feeding programs in Africa.
“We are facing the biggest food insecurity crisis we have ever seen,” Segar said. “Today, 811 million people do not have access to quality food and do not know where their next meal will come from. We are at a pivotal moment in history where we have 45 million people marching towards starvation.
Last year, Rockefeller released a report to assess all the ways food systems in the United States affect health, the environment, biodiversity, and livelihoods. He revealed that Americans paid about $1.1 trillion in the cost of producing, processing, retailing and wholesaling food in 2019. But if other costs, like l impact of the food system on climate change, were included, the cost would be $3.2 trillion per year. .
One of the Rockefeller grantees implemented some of the ideas that are part of the Good Food strategy.
FoodCorps, which received at least $500,000 from the foundation last year for its work to provide healthy food for children in school, has already had success in influencing food policy.
In California, FoodCorps advocated for the passage of the Free School Meals for All Act last year. And in Connecticut, the nonprofit helped the state achieve its first farm to school grant program, which will put more local food in school lunches, give educators more resources to teach students about nutrition and nurture relationships with local farmers and producers.
Rockefeller is also working with Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare company, on its Food as Medicine program. A combined investment of more than $2 million will go towards three research studies that will evaluate healthy food prescription programs for participants who suffer from or are at risk for diet-related illnesses. The two groups are also gathering evidence to prove that product prescriptions are healthier and cheaper in some cases than traditional drugs.
“Everyone needs and deserves access to healthy food they can afford,” said Pamela Schwartz, executive director of Kaiser.
Another element of the Rockefeller plan is to focus on changing the composition of food production.
Roy Steiner, senior vice president of food subsidies at Rockefeller, said the pandemic has exposed just how fragile supply chains are. And it doesn’t help that only a few large food distributors monopolize the industry, he says. Diversifying power and wealth in the food industry is healthier for the economy, he said, which is why part of the Good Food strategy is to prioritize small and medium food businesses .
“It has to be a diversity of crops that can be grown by a diversity of farmers,” Steiner said. “So when things go down you have multiple players and multiple sources of supply.”
The pandemic is not the only crisis that has worsened hunger. Climate change and conflicts in Ethiopia, Yemen and Ukraine have also contributed, Steiner says.
“We wouldn’t be in such a crisis if we had more regenerative and distributed systems,” he said.
Segar, who visited the Ukraine-Poland border last weekend, said the World Food Program was working to feed 3.1 million people in Ukraine. Food and drinking water shortages are reported in Kyiv and Kharkiv, two cities hardest hit by the war. However, the resources of the World Food Program are beginning to dwindle.
Segar said the Rockefeller Foundation takes a novel approach to improving food production, and that’s one his organization strives to embrace. The foundation not only gives money, he said, but educates the public about food and uses data and research to make decisions. He referenced Rockefeller’s “True Cost of Food” report, which analyzes the impact of food on people and the planet. Segar also cites Rockefeller’s Periodic Table of Foods, an effort to create a database that breaks down food composition.
Segar said her organization was able to use what she learned from Rockefeller and teach communities in Central America about healthy meals.
Segar said the World Food Program and Rockefeller both want to create a food system that is accessible to everyone.
“The right nutrition at the right time can save lives,” Segar said.
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The AP and the Chronicle are supported by the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations.