Greg Barrow is head of the World Food Programme’s UK & Republic of Ireland Office. The opinions expressed are his own.
Hopefully, someday soon, we can think about marking World Food Day with a celebration of our victory in the fight against hunger. Sadly, the scourge of food insecurity and malnutrition that continues to afflict around a billion people across the world means that party will still be on hold this Oct. 16.
Working in the humanitarian sector, you really want to tell a good news story to inspire your supporters, but it’s hard when you’re dealing with an issue as pervasive and seemingly insoluble as hunger and our inability to ensure that every child has enough of the right food to grow up strong and realise his or her potential.
Hunger is a tough subject, and we’ll be trying, once again, to promote a broader understanding about why it still endures on World Food Day this year. We’ve all experienced that mid-morning feeling of emptiness that comes after skipping breakfast, when lunch is still some way off. But very few of us know what it’s really like to live through the gnawing hunger of going without nutritious food for weeks, months, or even years.
Even fewer understand the lifetime of damage that is inflicted by a lack of proper nutrition in the first one thousand days of a child’s life, between the moment of conception and the second birthday.
Outside of the big high profile emergencies caused by drought, floods, cyclones, or earthquakes, the horrific impact of grinding under nutrition on the lives of children is a big, dirty secret that has remained hidden for far too long. This is a hunger that holds back development, stirs up social unrest, and shames those countries of the world where the biggest challenge is still how to limit food waste, rather than to end food shortage.
It is difficult to argue against keeping hunger high on the political agenda. The recent Hunger Summit, hosted by the British government during the Olympic Games put it front and central, and now, the prospect that global food security and nutrition could be a prominent feature of a civil society campaign around the G8, when Britain assumes the presidency in 2013, means that the issue is at least fighting to stay up where it belongs.
So how do the humanitarian agencies most engaged in this pressing issue take advantage of World Food Day, to build on this momentum?
The Food and Agriculture Organization, has declared that the focus of this year’s World Food Day will be agricultural cooperatives, and their role as the key to feeding the world.
At the World Food Programme (WFP), we’ll be promoting the agricultural cooperative theme on Oct. 16, but we also have the latitude to push other content to help stimulate a global conversation about hunger on World Food Day.
More than anything we want the public to engage more directly and to appreciate how little it can take to make a difference for a hungry child.
Drawing attention to a pressing issue like global hunger is a first step towards building a more meaningful relationship with a potential supporter and donor. As an agency that depends entirely on voluntary donations, this public outreach could not be more important.
These are testing times for all humanitarian agencies. The budgets of our major government donors are stretched to the limits, and there is a worrying public debate in some countries about whether foreign aid should remain immune from the cuts that other government departments have had to face.
As we all work harder than ever to keep the conversation about hunger going, the search for the kind of content that inspires and motivates the public is ever more urgent.
The makers of the Kony2012 campaign demonstrated this year the impact that a well-crafted message can have if it is built around compelling content, good story-telling and a strongly pitched call to action.
We’re hoping to replicate this approach around World Food Day, by drawing on the talents of a Kenyan schoolgirl called Molly, who took up our invitation to take a cheap digital camera into her home in Mathare slum in Nairobi and capture the important things in her life on camera, not least, compelling footage of the time in the day when she receives a free WFP school meal.
This kind of content doesn’t fall into our hands often, and the combination of Molly’s charm, creativity and insight have given us the opportunity to share an inspiring story about how something as simple as a free school meal programme can help to change a girl’s life and open up a world of opportunities that might never otherwise have been available to her.
It carries a powerful message for World Food Day about how something as simple as a free school meal can help to keep girls in school, give children access to the vital nutrients that allow their brains and bodies to develop, and help them to realise their true potential in society, wherever they are growing up. And that’s something worth celebrating on Oct. 16.
To watch WFP’s World Food Day video and meet Molly, visit this page.