With globalization acting as an evolving force for a long period of time now, the number of global challenges that we must readily fight to overcome have increased and our task of maintaining a sustainable and viable future for our posterity has only gotten harder. While solutions on the global scale remain imperative for the eventual cessation of such plights, we must start shifting our attention to how people and institutions on the local level can start creating their own change in order to deal with these problems more effectively. One of the most prominent examples of a global challenge that local institutions can confront to better effect change is food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the lack of both physical and economic access to sufficient food required for leading a healthy life (“Definitions of Food Security”). While there have been many global initiatives over the years to help curb the rise of food insecurity, it is estimated that nearly one billion people across the world still suffer from this problem (“Just Facts About Hunger”). An interesting case for food insecurity in the U.S. is in San Francisco where hunger problems have only gotten worse over the years despite annual increases in government spendings (Duggan). The local nonprofit organization San Francisco-Marin Food Bank (SFMFB) in particular, has been responsible for feeding hundreds of thousands of people every year through the distribution of millions of pounds of food, but has proven repeatedly to be unable to mitigate the severity of food insecurity. As a result of this, it is essential that SFMFB start considering redirecting its resources in a way that expands its role to have a longer-termed impact—through the funding of programs designed to improve small-scale farmer production, enhance farmer entrepreneurial skills, or revamp its global advocacy programs—to create a system conducive to more food security. And though there are limitations to what SFMFB can achieve as a local NPO, its actions can still represent meaningful contributions that can inspire greater awareness of the need to achieve real global change.
Now, it is true that the actions of a local institution are limited in breadth regarding what can be achieved over the long run and on a global scale, and especially if the global issue tackled is one that entails developing complex distribution and production systems, such as food insecurity. That does not mean we should abandon all our efforts in attempting to achieve a positive global impact; change is a gradual process and if it does not start at the local level, then it can never reach the national, and more impactful, one. And perhaps this is the reason why SF-Marin Food Bank has maintained its devotion for over thirty years to helping develop sustainable models aimed at ending hunger. Since the number of those in need of food banks is only rising, and there is a limit to how much donations and subsidies can increase to catch up with such growing demand (Bazerghi et al. 7), the food bank has been finding it very difficult to witness tangible results regarding San Francisco’s (and Marin’s) hunger problem. This is why SFMFB should start investing in novel and innovative ways to combat, or at least attenuate, food insecurity—away from the sole distribution of food. SFMFB has all the necessary funds and resources available, and so it is just a matter of optimally allocating such resources to initiatives that can have a long-term impact.
Empowering small farmers and funding programs aimed at improving small-scale farmer production, for example, can go a long way toward improving the integrated food system required for increased food security. While large-scale, industrial farming has always been thought of as the ultimate solution for feeding growing populations, small farmers produce about seventy percent of the world’s food and can be considered key players in fueling the growth of the economy (Nowakowski). Since these farmers are in the midst of a constant battle with global warming and climate change, which increase the intensity of storms and rains and also cause more severe droughts, the effectiveness of small farmers has been diminishing over the years (Nowakowski). Water management systems are also not getting any better, and this only causes further diminishment of farmer yield and productivity (Giordano 4). There are also many market inefficiencies, such as high taxes and transaction costs, that impede farmer decision-making, and which some reports suggest have forced the farmers to finance investments in small-scale agricultural production themselves (Giordano 4). This shows that the farmers’ situation is by no means ideal, and means that SFMFB’s contributions, even if minimal, can actually improve the status quo. SFMFB could, for example, remove some of the burden forced on the famers and allocate portions of their donations to invest in technologies that can enhance agricultural practices, including the capturing, storing, and distribution of water. SFMFB could also invest in technologies that improve urban farming techniques including hydroponics that obviate the need for large amounts of water for production, which would allow for more food to be produced under traditional methods (Corbould). In any event, these sustainable practices would allow a wider diversity of crops to be produced, also considering that with such practices, the need for fertilizers and pesticides—chemicals known to reduce the quality of crops produced —is minimized (Giordano 4).
Granted, resources must first be allocated to research and development, and the process is an elongated one. It will prove to be worthwhile in the long run, as with increased farmer productivity and a more developed production system, the food system as a whole becomes more efficiently integrated in a way that can ensure thousands of people have access to nutritional food sustainably (Quack). SFMFB’s current program distributes food to the San Franciscan populace, but that is carried out to meet day-to-day dietary needs, with no outward look to the future regarding how the current food bank clients can achieve independence to no longer rely on them. And although this might only solve, or at least alleviate, San Francisco’s local food insecurity problem, the sustainable practices developed might encourage other U.S. states and nations around the world to start implementing them, realizing that the solution does not lie in distributing more food to more people
It has been found that farmers nowadays are lacking sufficient access to relevant agricultural information that can help improve their farming activities, and this has been the cause of various inefficiencies regarding the integrated food system of producing, processing, and distributing food (Galadima 18). This is termed as “agricultural illiteracy” by farm bureaus that have been representing the farming community and that have been fighting for the effective dissemination of innovative agricultural education. These bureaus recognize that the farmers’ lacking relevant information means that they will be unable to generate new ideas to overcome the pressing challenges that they face, such as rapidly changing agricultural systems and increasing global competition (“Agricultural Illiteracy Problem”). This is of great importance because despite contrary belief, farmers can be some of the most innovative people out there; for hundreds of years, they have been forced to develop innovative approaches to work with nature during times when nature stood against them—like when they discovered to use plants to naturally resist pests (“Information Exchange”). This is why it is pivotal to encourage farmers and help them adapt to the rapidly globalizing world by allowing them to recognize their unfulfilled potential. With all its resources and funds, SFMFB could facilitate educational programs in conjunction with what the farm bureaus have been attempting to do and provide incentives for the farmers to enroll in these programs. SFMFB could perhaps initiate an online course so that the content spreads further outside of San Francisco and perhaps to regions outside of the U.S. for an enhanced global effect. These courses and programs can prove to be very effective in the long run regarding increasing awareness of the current technologies and approaches that can be used to improve agricultural yield, especially if the content was user friendly and with a language that farmers could understand. If not, many farmers are motivated or incentivized to enroll, then at the very least, information and idea exchange among the few farmers that have enrolled could be refueled to further drive innovation (“Information Exchange”). Admittedly, it is unlikely that SFMFB with such initiative will witness tangible changes regarding food insecurity problems locally, but if SFMFB sets an example to the other local and global institutions regarding the importance of farmers’ agricultural literacy, then it could be setting the foundations required for increased farmer efficiency in the future that would eventually lead to a larger number of the world’s growing population being more food secure.
Additionally, as a supplement to ensuring sustainable access to agricultural information, it is important that SFMFB also invest in plans to help farmers grow more entrepreneurial in nature. In a recent gathering hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2016, one of the main points of discussion was how farmer entrepreneurship, or “agropreneurship” as they call it, could be supported in an effort to advance global food security by 2030 (“Agropreneurship for Food Security”). From this event, it was recognized that farmer entrepreneurship not only increases food production, but also improves our current infrastructural systems in a way that reduces vulnerability to hunger (“Agropreneurship for Food Security”). According to a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, our current storage infrastructure causes about one third of the food produced for human consumption to be wasted (“Financing Rural Infrastructure”); therefore, if entrepreneurial-led innovations caused even slight improvements in infrastructure, we could be looking at some 1.3 billion extra tons of food available.
Furthermore, entrepreneurship also entails developing the right set of skills required to run a profitable farm business, including being competent in risk management and knowledgeable about new market and economic opportunities (Sikhulumile et al. 84). This would allow the farmers to grow and create their own wealth in a way that improves rural prosperity and creates more jobs (“Treat Farmers like Entrepreneurs”). Although this might seem a bit too hopeful at first, it is not that far-fetched. Such competencies can be stimulated through training programs aimed at developing the ability to effectively strategize and critically think when running a business (Sikhulumile et al. 84), and such training programs have already been discussed by the FAO in an effort to encourage entrepreneurship, which makes SFMFB’s contributions even more worthwhile because the programs it would facilitate would not be run in isolation. And since SFMFB is one of the major NPOs in San Francisco, it can act as a motivator for other smaller NPOs to follow suit. With such initiatives, not only do farmers grow more entrepreneurial in nature, but farming in itself becomes more appealing for the younger generation to take as a potential profession, which can lead to a strengthened agricultural economy in the future.
If SFMFB fails to implement any of the above suggested actions, the least it can do as a local agent of change is revamp its advocacy programs in a way that provokes tangible change. Currently, SFMFB has an advocacy program that mainly helps ineligible low-income individuals get access to CalFresh’s food assistance program—a very stringent federal aid program that only very few families can have access to (Page). Although this can ensure more people have access to nutritional food, there is still a wide range of potential activities SFMFB could undertake in order to witness change at the local and state level. One example of that would be undertaking policy advocacy, which is the process of attempting to influence policymakers to enforce new laws and regulations (Galinson 30). This type of advocacy can involve educating legislators about the issue of food insecurity and why action is needed; it can also push the public themselves to express their views directly to the policymakers—something that does more than persuade and can achieve political power if done effectively (Galinson 30).
One drawback is that such increased advocacy, and specifically in that form, means that valuable time and assistance will be pulled away from providing the direct service of offering food (Galinson 32). Although we established that responding to hunger and food security by distributing more food is not in itself an effective solution, it still remains an integral part of the process that can grow more effective with the introduction of supplemental programs and initiatives, like the ones discussed. There is also the fear that SFMFB will lose its tax exempt status as an NPO if it partakes in intense advocation and lobbying activities, according to I.R.S. regulation (Galinson 54); however, that should not deter SFMFB from advocating, as there can be found ways to circumvent such regulations; advocacy remains very imperative because it allows those in power to recognize the severity of the challenge so that they can commit to actions that can ameliorate the problem. Various other food banks across the continent, such as Oregon Food Bank and The Stop in Toronto, have proven successful in being practitioners that advocate for anti-poverty solutions, including minimum wage increases, and have consistently championed for the structural change that reframes food as a human right (Galinson 60). And although advocacy is abstract in nature and does not guarantee action, due to its reliance on others to act, it can still highlight the severity of the problem of interest, and it is the least that a local institution such as SFMFB could do as an agent of change in a globalized world.
And in the end, although it remains the role of the federal government and global corporations to enforce change in a way that makes a difference, it is ultimately up to the institutions at the local level to determine the extent to which a particular global plight is urgent enough to grab the world’s attention. And especially now that we live in an interconnected world, the actions of several local institutions can add up to form a cumulative or collective impact that, at the very least, could garner support and raise global awareness that would press for real, effective action in the future. As it was found, food insecurity is something that cannot be solved by solely distributing food to meet day-to-day nutritional needs. There needs to be a systemic change that can grant current food bank clients future independence and sustainable access to nutritional food. Donations and subsidies are not going to swell and the world’s hungry are not going to abate. This is why it was shown that if SFMFB and other similar local institutions could alter their raison d’être to provide supporting programs aimed at improving the overall integrated food system, then they can more effectively address the root cause of food insecurity and ultimately recognize the realistic solutions that can be put into practice.
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