After a year of rising inflation and shocks to supply chains during 2022, little relief is expected in 2023, with many of the world’s economies now staring down the prospect of recession in the coming year.
So much so, as countries and international businesses gathered at Davos, the World Economic Forum is called for “bold collective action” to address the “sheer number of ongoing crises.”
Ultimately, the access to healthy food will be at the forefront of the coming economic upset, with acute food insecurity projected to reach new peaks, surpassing even the food crisis of 2007 — 2008.
Poorer communities generally pay a higher proportion of their incomes on basic needs like food, and as such, will be most affected by the continued economic crisis. In Colombia, for instance, although inflation sits at around 12 percent, food inflation reached 32 percent in December 2022, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable in society.
The potential of a recession this year also comes on the heels of other recent famines and food crises. The demand for food bank services, which provide communities with a vital buffer against hunger and food insecurity, has already risen significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic in many areas of the world, and in the last year.
Now, entering the fourth year of the pandemic, and with economic instability seemingly here to stay, food banks will continue to play an outsized, crucial role in addressing the interconnected crises of the present day.
From hunger and nutrition challenges to the rising impact of — and our food systems’ contribution to —climate change, food banks offer a multifaceted solution in both the short- and long-term. Crucially, food banks can also become embedded as a central solution to food insecurity in our societies, helping to ensure that, if a recession does arrive, people already in vulnerable situations are not left to fend for themselves.
To protect the most vulnerable in society against these rising challenges, countries and businesses must further incorporate food banks into their plans to address the interconnected crises of hunger, climate change and rising economic insecurity.
To begin with, governments should move to adopt more supportive policies for food donation and broader social protection.
The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas, a collaboration between the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and my organization The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), shows that in many parts of the world, ineffective policies around food donation and food waste are preventing food banks from achieving their full potential in supporting communities.
For instance, few governments have adopted tax incentives to promote greater levels of food donation from manufacturers, retailers and other businesses — despite this being a vital means to reduce food waste and ensure healthy and nutritious food can feed those who need it most.
Secondly, corporations should ensure that they are implementing food donation policies and supporting initiatives that mitigate their food loss and waste.
This is particularly important as food loss and waste from businesses accounts for a significant proportion of the overall total. In the United Kingdom, for instance, food waste from manufacturing, hospitality and food service and retail, accounts for 31 percent of the country’s total food wastage.
Businesses should increase support for food recovery organizations to ensure that, instead of ending up as waste, surplus food can play a key role in addressing the joint crises of hunger, climate change and rising economic insecurity.
For instance, The Global FoodBanking Network mobilized corporate support in reaction to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, eventually serving up to 40 million people worldwide — up from 17 million in 2019.
Finally, governments and businesses should unite to implement better tracking and management of food loss and waste in our societies.
The impact of lost and wasted food — and the missed opportunities this represents for addressing hunger and climate challenges — cannot be understated, but effectively addressing its root cause means first developing unified tracking, measurement and management of these figures.
Closer support for food recovery organizations from governments and businesses would not only help to grow our knowledge of how much food is lost and wasted in our societies, but it would also ensure that this food ultimately serves a good purpose: supporting communities in need.
Nearly four years ago, food banks played a vital role in helping communities around the world weather the worst of the initial COVID-19 pandemic, providing food and support in a time of unprecedented need.
Now, food banks can again address the challenge of rising hunger and food insecurity worldwide. With greater, unified support from governments and businesses, we can maximize their impact for the most vulnerable communities.
Lisa Moon is the CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), a network connecting more than 950 food banks in more than 40 countries worldwide.