The Covid-19 pandemic was a double blow for countries with food shortages.
According to the report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world in 2021, published in July by five international organizations including the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), between 720 and 811 million people worldwide were living in 2020 malnourished.
That is around 10 percent of the world’s population and around 118 million more than in 2019.
Lauren Landis, country director of WFP’s Kenya office, told Korea JoongAng Daily in an email interview that the rice donation has been of great help to the Korean government at a desperate time.
According to the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, since joining the Food Assistance Committee in 2018, Korea has been providing food aid to four countries – Yemen, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
In 2020, Korea was the eleventh largest donor to the WFP. This year two other nations have received aid, Syria and Laos.
The Korean government donates 50,000 tons of rice annually.
Kenya is one of the top two recipients.
Landis pointed out the importance of rapid and strong support, including helping Kenya become self-employed in farming.
The following are excerpts from the email interview with Landis before World Food Day last Saturday.
Q. What is the food situation like in Kenya?
A. The Kenyan government declared the drought a national disaster on September 8th after two consecutive rainy seasons failed. Currently, an estimated 2.4 million Kenyans are experiencing a hunger crisis, more than 500,000 children under the age of five and nearly 100,000 pregnant and nursing mothers need urgent treatment for malnutrition.
Being malnourished causes children to wither or not grow and develop properly. In all of Kenya, one in four children has been stunted: and the effects in childhood are so great that children may never recover.
The hardest hit areas are in the north and east of the country, which we refer to as Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASALs). The United Nations is working to help approximately 1.3 million people in the hardest-hit communities by providing food emergency supplies, forage and a range of other benefits to aid recovery. Without this support, people will get by in ways that are not long-term good for them or their communities. Families regularly skip meals. Pastoralists (cattle herders), who are almost always male, will have to travel further and further from home to find water and food for their animals. Animals can get sick and die – and people who compete for increasingly scarce water supplies are more prone to conflict.
Meanwhile, women, children and the elderly are left at home, often with too little to eat. Children are more likely to drop out of school because they have to work on farms or try to earn money on groceries. Girls are more likely to marry off early in a crisis such as a drought. It is a very worrying time for rural families in Kenya right now.
Q. What are the main reasons for food insecurity in Kenya?
A. Kenya is an emerging middle-income country, but inequality is a challenge here. Many families struggle to earn a living on the outskirts of agriculture or move to large cities such as Mombasa or Nairobi, but find work only infrequently.
The greatest challenge at the moment is the drought. The number of people with acute food insecurity is currently three times as high as it was a year ago. And the main reason for the drought in Kenya is climate change. The country is expected to experience increasingly irregular and infrequent rainy seasons, and when the rains come they are likely to be unpredictable and potentially damaging in intensity.
Q. What is the Covid-19 vaccination rate in Kenya? How has Covid-19 affected the nutritional situation?
A. Covid-19 was obviously a challenge everywhere. In urban areas, many people who made a living in the informal services sector, such as domestic workers, drivers and street vendors, lost their livelihoods when government restrictions were put in place to contain the outbreak. With support from the governments of the United States and Finland, WFP made cash transfers to nearly 400,000 people in urban areas to help them purchase groceries. This program was a useful complement to the actions of the Kenyan government and marked the first time that the WFP helped in urban areas outside of school meals. In Kenya, the vaccination rate is lower today than in many other countries, but it is increasing rapidly and there are moderate restrictions.
Q. How is Korea contributing to the WFP operation in Kenya? How many benefit?
A. WFP is extremely grateful to the Korean government, our second top donor in Kenya in 2021. The donated rice, worth around 10.1 billion won ($ 8.5 million), will feed hundreds of thousands of people in refugee camps this year. Some of the beneficiaries we’ve spoken to include school girls who eat rice with yellow peas for lunch and mothers who say Korean rice reminds them of home or makes their children happy.
Q. What other types of assistance can you get from Korea? How can Koreans help?
A. In recent years, the Korean government’s generosity has also supported the life-changing resilience work of the WFP. This is an exciting, evolving field of work for the WFP: Instead of distributing food aid, we support farming communities in switching to drought-resistant and nutrient-rich crops. We support them with irrigation systems and equipment to safely harvest, store and process the food. And we help them find customers for their products. People benefit from improved incomes, better nutrition and health, and are better positioned to weather the next drought. So far, we have supported 64,000 smallholders in Kenya in 2020-2021 to sell 29,000 tons of products worth $ 8.6 million. We have helped protect more than 2,000 hectares of cultivated land through soil and water protection measures, and provided 7,100 tree saplings to combat desertification and land degradation.
Korean readers can directly support the work of the WFP by downloading the Share the Meal donation app. For only 950 won (80 cents), the World Food Program can feed a child for a day.
Q. The food crisis in East Africa can affect global food insecurity in the long term. What are some of the challenges if the international community does not step in soon?
When you are hungry, acting early saves lives and money. In some areas, crop production is falling by up to 70 to 90 percent. There are increasing signs that the next rainy season will also be bad. When a child or pregnant woman goes from moderate malnutrition to acute malnutrition, the cost of treatment increases three to four times. Helping people with a water infrastructure to protect their livelihoods is far more effective than waiting for disaster. Every dollar invested in preventive measures later saves up to $ 2.80 in treatment and assistance costs.
Q. It is not easy for people in developed countries to understand the relationship between food crises and climate change. Could you explain
A. For an agriculture-based economy like Kenya, the relationship is very simple: if it doesn’t rain, the crops won’t grow and animals get sick or die. In the case of floods, crops are destroyed. Without enough to eat, people become dependent on food aid. WFP is committed to tackling the root causes of this type of hunger by helping farmers adopt climate-friendly farming practices that offer both nutritious food and insurance against drought. Speaking of which, we also offer them real crop insurance: farmers receive payouts after losing their crops to help them plant again after the drought is over.
Q. Any news for Korean readers as the head of all WFP operations in Kenya?
A. We cannot prevent the drought in Kenya directly, but we can prevent it from causing widespread suffering. We really appreciate the interest of the Korean people in our work, especially at this time of World Food Day.
BY LEE HO-JEONG [[email protected]]