Save Our Food Systems: WFP Innovations that Solve Systemic Problems From Seed To Plate

A food system is a complex network of resources, people and activities that are involved in producing food, transforming it, and making sure it reaches hungry people. Photo: WFP/David Fernandez.

The Bad Year: Growing green in the harshest conditions

The Bad Year or Lean Season is the first systemic problem. When crops fail due to heat waves or locust infestations, or during the lean seasons between harvests, food supplies are scarce and agricultural incomes plummet. Low-income families often cut back on meals to stretch out food supplies, sometimes for periods spanning months or even years. This leaves them chronically food insecure with meagre diets lacking in critical nutrients.

Low-income families often cut back on meals to stretch out food supplies

WFP’s H2Grow hydroponics project is putting nutritious food on the plates of many such families. Food can grow in even the harshest conditions — deep in the Sahara desert — because the technique uses 90 percent less water, 75 percent less space and zero soil. Its impact is far-reaching, enabling vulnerable communities to provide for themselves during the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 9 countries where H2Grow operates, people grow vegetables and animal fodder in non-fertile, arid and urban areas with limited space.

The Last Mile: Getting food to the farthest reaches

Besieged towns, flood zones, remote villages — the vast majority of the hungry poor are geographically, economically and politically isolated. This makes them highly vulnerable and hard to reach by conventional food systems. Even when food is available, transportation and other costs make it too expensive. Essentially, this second systemic problem is about reaching the “last mile.”

The vast majority of the hungry poor are geographically, economically and politically isolated

WFP is effectively deploying technology and innovation to face these limitations, responding faster to immediate needs and relieving barriers for the farthest behind.

Air deliveries can reach some of the most cut-off places on earth with innovative parachutes which ensure a soft landing of cargo. Photo: WFP/Tomson Phiri.
WFP Somalia designed, implemented and scaled up e-Shop to promote price transparency and competition; make nutritious food more accessible and affordable; reduce exposure to COVID-19 in the food assistance and retail process; and stimulate the market for local food suppliers, retailers and delivery agents. Photo: WFP/Ismail Taxta.

The Good Year: Preserving every single grain

The Good Year is the third systemic problem and is the most paradoxical one because it relates to a desirable outcome — the abundance of food.

Food systems in famine-stricken countries are typically unable to absorb food surpluses

New business models and digital solutions like the Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA) increase the markets’ ability to absorb the surplus food. Farmers find buyers and agree on the sales volumes in advance, so they can confidently plan their harvest and maintain a stable income. Taking this model further, FtMA launched the Farm2GO app where farmers can market their produce at competitive prices.

A simple text message can save livelihoods: a farmer reads a text message update on maize prices to choose the most optimal time to sell his produce. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji.

Transforming food systems for the future

Three things are clear. First, people are less likely to succumb to food shocks caused by war, pandemics and climate shocks where there are well-functioning food systems.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
WFP Innovation Accelerator

WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.