Nearly 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger, and the average age of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is roughly 60 years old. The United Nations' International Labour Organization (ILO) predicts that, worldwide, there will be 74.2 million unemployed young people this year, an increase of 3.8 million since 2007. To improve food security in the face of an aging population of farmers in Africa, it is therefore imperative that more young people find a place in their agricultural communities.
Paul Newnham, Global Youth Engagement Director at World Vision International, plans to tackle global hunger by engaging young people worldwide. Newnham is leading HungerFree, the organization’s new initiative to combat global hunger and inspire youth to discover a sustainable future in agriculture. Food Tank spoke with Newnham and Thabani Maphosa, Food Assistance Partnership Leader with World Vision, to find out more about this promising new initiative.
Food Tank (FT): Paul and Thabani, could you tell us more about how HungerFree got started?
Paul Newnham (PN): For a long time, we’ve been looking at how we could reposition and refocus World Vision’s Famine programming in multiple countries. We were seeing different branding and timing in several areas and said, okay, how can we refocus these efforts to work together and form a global movement of young people? Through our Famine programs, we currently engage 400,000 young people each year in 14 countries to experience hunger and raise awareness and funds to fight it.
Thabani Maphosa (TM): At the same time, our food programming teams were asking the same question. We had several initiatives that were experiencing success, and we wanted to combine those successes to move forward together. World Vision has been a leader for a long time in delivering food on the ground to food insecure communities, and we wanted to get young people involved.
PN: So, we chatted with Thabani’s teams and said, let’s grow a worldwide movement under a new vision where young people can help take these food programs to the next level; to elevate them in a way that makes the most of the success happening on both sides. That’s how we decided to begin the HungerFree movement.
FT: What is World Vision’s goal for global change with HungerFree?
PN: Our vision is simple: zero hungry people in the world. With the new Sustainable Development Goals, in which global leaders have committed to zero hunger, there’s a real climate of change and opportunity over the next fifteen years. World Vision and HungerFree are part of the larger global movement to reduce the number of hungry men, women and children to zero, and by partnering with other organizations we can create solutions for people to eliminate hunger now and in the future.
TM: If we can reduce the number of hungry people to zero, then we will be talking about a hunger-free world. That is what we want. We also want to help people understand what causes hunger and food insecurity. Part of eradicating hunger will be to educate people on its root causes and how it can be prevented. We believe young people can bring about this change of mindset. Solutions for young people need to be implemented over both the short and long terms by meeting their immediate food assistance needs, and then by asking and helping them to invest in assets that they can convert to income and food for tomorrow.
FT: Global hunger is a complex and enormous issue that many are working to solve. What unique role will HungerFree play in this crisis? What work has been done so far?
PN: Like Thabani mentions, we think young people make the difference. Often these leaders are being left out of solutions to end hunger because they aren’t the heads of their households or the focus of existing programming, but we see HungerFree as an initiative that focuses on and engages young people to free themselves and their communities from hunger for a lifetime.
TM: In many of our successful food programs, we have seen youth in South Sudan go from hungry to food secure in a short period of just 18 months. The HungerFree movement works using programs that have proven to be successful, in addition to focusing on young people who will learn skills and tools to continue to make a difference over the long term by becoming leaders in their communities. In a context like South Sudan, if these young people are not gainfully engaged there is a danger of them slipping into unproductive behaviors and becoming part of conflicts.
FT: HungerFree has a distinct focus on empowering youth to develop self-sustaining, food-producing economies in their community. What tactics will the organization use to achieve this?
TM: HungerFree will operate using World Vision’s Cash for Assets and Food for Assets programming. We want to unlock the power of young people by giving them the food they need in the short term, which, with assistance and training from World Vision, allows them the time to develop assets such as chickens or subsistence farms to generate sustainable income for the future.
PN: We also will work with different programs like Youth Ready to help these youth cultivate not only these assets, but also the skills necessary to manage them. Because young people will grow to become leaders in their communities, equipping them now with skills helps ensure they will remain at the forefront of change and that long-term objectives are achieved.
TM: HungerFree has many components, which is why we will pilot in Kenya and South Sudan to monitor the journey over several years and attempt to scale up effective solutions to address the problem of hunger facing other communities and to evaluate how to best address specific causes of hunger.
FT: What does “sustainability” mean from HungerFree’s perspective? What requirements must be met for you to consider HungerFree’s work truly sustainable?
PN: For us, sustainability means the solutions we’re creating are not just treating individual causes but the whole problem of hunger. When we talk about sustainability we’re talking about, okay, how can we use this food we’re generating in different contexts like droughts or conflict? How can we use that food to create specific outcomes and create a break in the hunger cycle?”
TM: I agree. Additionally, direct food assistance will always be a necessary part of ending hunger. But for us, it is not the end to hunger. Sustainability means to end hunger now and for a lifetime. We want to use the food being generated by Cash for Assets and explore how we can help communities free themselves from the need for food assistance altogether.
PN: So, really, we’re looking at two ways HungerFree might be sustainable. First, practically, we want to always be making sure our approach is environmentally sustainable, minimizing waste and maximizing the role of local value chains. This can create lasting impact. We also need to look at how to further exploit these methods to create economic sustainability; for example, we can take a product like a pineapple and add value to it through a variety of measures. Finally, a major objective is to scale up successful projects. Second, being a sustainable movement means we want to build a coalition of advocates within communities and around the globe to hold local, national, and international governing bodies accountable when making decisions that impact food production and hunger.
FT: What motivates you to continue your work with HungerFree? What accomplishments are you proud of?
TM: I have been a recipient of food assistance while growing up in Zimbabwe. Without the support of these programs I would not have been able to finish my education, so I have seen the impact food assistance can make directly in my own life. This motivates me to see young people have this same opportunity.
PN: I’m excited by the progress we’re already seeing on the ground. We’ve got a model that needs to continue to be developed, but is using tried and true programs and consolidating their efforts into one movement. I’m very proud of the fact we’ve been able to do that. Support is coming from inside our communities of impact, from those around them organizing for the cause, and from the global community, where HungerFree has spread to 40 countries.
FT: How can our readers get more involved with HungerFree?
PN: We’ve got three ways people can get involved with HungerFree right now.
First, get involved with our Double-Up Dinner campaign on World Food Day on October 16, 2015. World Food Day is about food, so why don’t we embrace food and our culture that loves to celebrate it? Why don’t we ask people to celebrate food with their loved ones as a way to help others have that same opportunity? We came up with an idea to celebrate a meal to help end hunger, rather than to go without one. Simply share a meal with your friends or family, celebrate food together, and then when you’re finished, we ask that you simply double up on your meal. That is, you take what you spent on your meal and donate it to the movement to support these programs in Kenya and South Sudan.
Second, you can join online to get updates and stories from the field, and stay in touch with the movement after World Food Day. Finally, consider becoming a HungerFree advocate in your community. Join us on social media and engage your channels, whether that’s online or in person. Challenge yourself to engage locally and more broadly with the movement by connecting with your communities and networks.