Brian Hilton, World Vision Australia Food Security Advisor
“Zero Hunger” is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. It aims to ensure that nobody goes hungry, regardless of where they live in the world.
A recent United Nations article, titled "Can we feed the world and ensure no one goes hungry?", highlighted the challenges remaining in achieving this global goal. While enough food is now produced to feed every person on the planet, hunger is increasing in some areas. Conflict, climate change and a lack of biodiversity in agriculture all contribute.
Yet the article also shared solutions, exploring some of the innovations and technology enabling progress towards Zero Hunger.
World Vision’s work in Timor-Leste provides another encouraging example, helping communities maintain food security even amid the uncertainties of drought and flood. To achieve this, we are empowering farmers to produce not just more but also better-quality food.
Timor-Leste is a microcosm of food security and nutrition development. The civil war is long over. The refugee camps were gone more than 10 years ago. Yet Timor-Leste is very food insecure and has alarming rates of both malnutrition and anemia, which is dangerous for children’s development. A recent World Vision study showed an anemia rate of 64 percent among pregnant women in one municipality.
Family farming in Timor-Leste involves mostly small plots in rocky soil, few new varieties of crops, low yields and little food storage. There is also poor caregiver knowledge on nutrition, with disposable income often spent on two-minute noodles and sweets for children.
With this context in mind, any discussion on food must consider food quality as well as quantity.
Improving nutrition is essential in Timor-Leste, which has one of the world’s highest rates of undernutrition.
World Vision Australia has designed a combined agriculture and nutrition intervention to resolve food quality and quantity issues with a project called Better Food Better Health. Funded by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program, the project improves access to and utilisation of food in four municipalities in Timor-Leste.
The project supports and promotes six nutritious but highly underutilised foods. These nutritionally dense “superfoods” are eggs, moringa, orange sweet potato, mung bean, red kidney beans and soybeans.
To encourage farmers to produce these superfoods, one of the things Better Food Better Health does so well is demand creation. The first step is creating positive changes in food preferences, through food demonstrations and taste testings at local markets.
Another step in increasing demand for nutritious foods is supporting processing and commercialisation. Recently, a food store in Dili started purchasing hundreds of kilos of orange sweet potato directly from project farmers. Additionally, several of the project’s soybean groups are now selling tofu and soy milk as an after-school snack to children. These nutritious snacks are replacing donuts and candy.
A group supported through our Better Food Better Health project sells nutritious superfood at a market stall.
Being able to feed the family adequately requires knowledge and technology.
Better Food Better Health teaches nutrition to parents, so they know which food groups their young children should be consuming on a regular basis. This is done through cooking demonstrations within local parents’ groups.
Superfoods are often underutilised because people do not know how to cook them into delicious meals or how to ferment or sprout them. The cooking demonstrations share this information and have been one of the project’s most in-demand activities.
Community health volunteers run a cooking demonstration, showing parents how to prepare nutritious meals from widely available ingredients.
While nutrition and new crop varieties are important, the project also focuses on soil improvement. Lack of food in many parts of the world can be traced to dry, impoverished soils which cannot supply plants with adequate nutrients.
To improve water infiltration and reduce runoff, the project supports farmers in making soil contours. We are also applying manure and crop residue to enrich soil fertility and increase carbon stored in the soil. Healthy soil has greater resilience to climate changing events.
Project results so far have been stellar. Consumption of vitamin A-rich fruit and vegetables has almost doubled in 18 months among participating families. Consumption of other fruit and vegetables, eggs, fish, red meat, beans and legumes has increased five to 16 times. We anticipate continued improvements in nutrition along with a sharp reduction in anaemia during the next round of blood testing.
As this example shows, it’s possible for the world to feed itself with better crops, improved soil care and improved nutrition knowledge. But governments need to support basic nutrition and agricultural research and extension programs which work directly with local communities.
Better Food Better Health is one of the many ways World Vision Australia is contributing towards Zero Hunger and other United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
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