“One Namibian who dies of hunger is one Namibian too many” HPP

In first world countries food banks are a charity institution that has grown more rapidly than any other, but there is a brand new national food bank in my very own Namibia. A middle-income country right in the South of Africa (please don’t get it mixed up with South Africa… not the same).

This year the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) announced its 7th Goal of elimination of deaths by hunger, this goes hand-in-hand with Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals. I’d like to write about it because the Namibian food bank has been criticised for fostering complacency among Namibia’s people, and food banks in general have been accused of allowing governments to turn a blind eye to hunger by relieving them of their duties to feed the poor.

(photo: ciubaminrex)

Many food banks attempt to provide hungry households with food in a dignified way while encouraging a sense of community, this is occasionally achieved but sometimes food banks can involve long lines, people being turned away and humiliation.

The food bank being proposed in Namibia is not so much a place of food collection, but more a distribution of monthly food parcels to qualifying households. This is a step away from the original plan which included the building of “state of the art warehouses”, but was then thankfully rejected as being a waste of money. The work that will go into the operations of the food bank will be carried out by “street committees”, previously unemployed youths who have been trained to register needy households and distribute the food parcels. They have been described as the arms and the legs of the Food bank.

Although it hasn’t been directly mentioned in any of my reading, I believe that using youth, who already live in impoverished areas will make the approach more community centred, an essential component of social undertakings. My first recommendation would be to use these street committees not only as the arms and the legs but also the eyes and the ears of the Food Bank. They are in a perfect position to provide insight for areas of improvements and reasons behind the successes and failures that make up the landscape of all social projects. I would further state that to help ensure the success of the food bank the media is to play an important role in informing the public so that government can be held accountable to this plan.

A street committee member registering this young mother with the food bank scheme (photo credit: The Namibian newspaper)

Having described the basic procedure for the Namibian food bank scheme you’ll see what follows is an argument mainly focused on the concept of food justice (meaning the social concerns of some people having food and some not, and one that involves, in this case, political activism).

The Namibian food bank as a government initiative has been described as the most important social protection program in the country’s history by the Cuban Embassy, who is a major supporter of the project and has been providing Namibia’s government with expertise. According to the World Food Programme Cuba has lifted itself out of poverty and hunger through its effective social protection programs. With governmental backing this food bank may be more sustainable if does not rely solely on volunteers and donations as is often the case.

I’d like to broaden my case by looking at social protection programs generally. Initiatives like this may fuel similar activities, such as nationwide school feeding programs and there is room for collaboration with other sectors. At the moment in the monthly parcel is the food staple, maize-meal as well as cooking oil, yeast and canned foods etc., and there is also soap. As a former dental clinician, my first thought is “let’s get toothpaste in too”. Additionally I’d be interested to see how the environmental sector gets behind the movement. As food waste is a huge problem globally with a third of food going to waste, ending up in landfills and contributing to methane gas emissions, this might be a good opportunity to adopt something like in France where super markets are not allowed to throw out edible food, there is now the perfect place for this edible food.

One of my favourite YouTube videos of Hans Rosling’s, a statistician who uses data imagery to explain concepts of populations and poverty, argues that countries that have first placed an emphasis on human development and social growth, have then managed to stimulate economic development and raise their GDP very quickly. Even with relatively limited budgets. Rosling argues against the idea that it is only after economic growth that a poor country is able to meet human needs and insists that human development should take priority over monetary interests as  economic advances come naturally once the population’s basic needs are seen to.

This video isn’t necessarily about food as such, but it’s worth the watch as it covers poverty and food related issues and makes a good argument for the importance of investments made in human progression. I think that those condemning hand outs of vital survival commodities (food) to needy community members and accuse the action as promoting complacency, make an unjust argument.

I’m sure that some might argue that I come across as too optimistic and would be rightly able to point to the numerous times where Namibia’s government has failed to implement the programs which have looked like nothing less than master pieces on paper. But, bearing in mind my recommendations that although being a government nationwide initiative, it emphasize the importance of community involvement, using this as an opportunity for interlinking to create a more comprehensive effort in breaking the poverty cycle as well as media watchdogs doing their jobs to inform the public to holding government accountable in fulfilling their aims, we have little other choice than to remain hopefully optimistic.