We are celebrating World Food Day (16 October 20) this week. It's a great thing to have front of mind because, despite the world being able to produce more than enough to eat, plenty of people still go hungry. In fact the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation concludes that food production will rise by 30% by 2050. But the same study notes more than 800million people are hungry. The globe doesn't have a production problem. It has a distribution problem.
One of my responsibilities when I was in Afghanistan was the oversight of food distribution to the poorest of the planet's poor in provinces such as Kandahar. These were programs we operated under the auspices of the World Food Program (WFP). Our trucks brought food in from Pakistan (produced there or shipped to that country) where it was stored in Kabul before being distributed to various parts of the country.
The local communities work closely with the WFP to identify those who are genuinely destitute among them. In Afghanistan those people invariably can't read or write so they are identified by a fingerprint when they come to collect their food at a designated food distribution point. The distribution point in the photo is in the desert about an hours drive out of Kandahar. It's an old British Army warehouse in remarkably fine condition thanks to the dry climate. Those who are entitled to food are checked into the compound where they mill about waiting for the identification process to be completed - lots of questions about who they are and then finally a fingerprint identification.
Kandahar is of course Taliban central and the group of twenty or so men sitting on the steps watching proceedings were from the local chapter. As the distinct and only foreigner there they were very interested in who I was. That I represented the WFP kept them calm. But we didn't press our welcome and I departed prior to people collecting their food bundles and heading home.
As you can imagine from the photo transporting that volume of food is a real challenge for those too poor to own cars or even donkeys. It's an all of family effort but can also involve the wider community helping out. But it also means some of that food is stolen.
Part of the challenge of distributing food to the poor is that they are also the people in the community least able to resist having it stolen from them. Free food is attractive to the unscrupulous who co-erce it from the poor and sell it in the local markets. Some of our team would regularly scour the markets looking for our food. Cooking oil was the most sought after commodity.
In the photo the stacked food includes rice from the US and cooking oil from South Korea, funded by Japan. All of my work in Afghanistan was meaningful and rewarding but being part of this food distribution effort was the most gratifying.