Working together to end global hunger during a pandemic

Wednesday, June 24, 2020
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Through Foodgrains Bank member World Renew, Aida, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, receives food supplies directly at home to reduce the health risk of gathering at group distribution sites. (Photo: MERATH)

How Foodgrains Bank members are adapting to continue their essential services

The spread of the coronavirus disease has created serious challenges for people at home and abroad. For the 690 million people facing hunger, the disruptions to food systems and economic slowdown have created new challenges and are adding to their numbers. Food assistance and protecting people’s livelihoods are as important as ever.

Just as grocery stores, food supply chains and the expansion of our social safety net have been treated as essential services here in Canada, we see our international programs as an essential service during this crisis and will continue to support and sustain these programs as much as possible.

Foodgrains Bank director of international programs, Barbara Macdonald, talks about how our members have adapted to continue their work of ending global hunger during the pandemic.

How are Foodgrains Bank projects being impacted?

Most disruptions have come from government lockdowns and regulations to stop the spread of the virus. There are some restrictions on movement of partner staff that work on the projects we fund, and we have had to postpone some training activities. Disruptions have been higher for agriculture and livelihoods projects than emergency food assistance projects. For the most part, our international projects have continued, and our partners and food suppliers are able to deliver much-needed food and other services to those in need.

How have Foodgrains Bank projects adapted to work amid COVID-19?

I’m encouraged to hear how quickly our partners have been able to adapt to this situation. They have developed new ways to distribute food to allow for physical distancing and are ensuring staff have disinfectant and protective supplies to keep themselves and the people we serve safe. For our longer-term work with farmers overseas, partners have had to restrict their travel to communities but are still able to connect by mobile phone. We also work with many farmers who are trained to provide agricultural support services to their fellow farmers from the same communities. These farmers have been able to carry on their work as usual.

What are you hearing from partners on the ground?

Our strength comes from our work with local partners. Our members and their partners are present in communities before a crisis strikes and will be there after.

Our partners are primarily concerned about continuing our current programs. The need that already existed has only been made worse by COVID-19. They are also asking us to be flexible and patient as they figure out new ways to do their work. It is also important for us to remember that conflict, climate shocks such as drought and floods, and other humanitarian crises have not gone away because there is a new global pandemic. We must remain committed to helping all who are hungry.

What makes the Foodgrains Bank well-positioned to adapt and respond to hunger during the pandemic?

We have a wealth of experience and expertise in providing food to those most in need all over the world. We know how to modify food assistance programs so they are appropriate for urban and rural communities, and we have an excellent supplier network. We also have a deep understanding of local food systems. We can work directly with farming communities to keep food production protected and ensure that produce continues to reach consumers. Most of all, our strength comes from our work with local partners. Our members and their partners are present in communities before a crisis strikes and will be there after. They know the local situation well and are trusted by communities.

What gives you hope right now?

What gives me hope right now is our staff, members and partners. They are proving themselves to be committed, proactive, flexible and creative as they respond to this crisis. I am also thankful that we can help meet such a critical need for food at this time. The Foodgrains Bank has an enormous network of experienced people all around the world ready to meet this challenge.

Barbara Macdonald, Director of International Programs

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