Innovation in food security and why we need it

Innovation Consultant Amalee Nsour shares her experiences working with the World Food Programme in Jordan on innovation in food security through blockchain and more. Find more from the World Food Programme on Twitter.

 

Not knowing where your next meal might come from, if you can afford it, or whether it will be nutritious enough, is the distressing reality over 800 million people face worldwide every day – and 800 million reasons why the fight against hunger is far from over. How can we ensure that everyone has access to safe, nutritious and affordable food? This is a question on our minds at the World Food Programme (WFP). One piece of the puzzle is simply tackling these problems with innovative approaches. WFP, an agency where innovation lies at the heart of programming, works on providing food security solutions for the most vulnerable people around the world.

In Jordan, home to 9.9 million people, including more than 660,000 refugees registered in the country (UNHCR, September 2020), WFP is actively involved in promoting food security. These communities, along with vulnerable local populations, are at the centre of an unfolding story about how innovative solutions can address food security challenges. WFP has been present in Jordan since the 1960’s, working to support the Government with ensuring people have access to food, providing humanitarian support in response to shocks such as the Syria crisis, and building resilience to enhance long term stability for vulnerable households.

Around half a million of the most vulnerable refugees receive cash assistance from WFP every month to meet their food needs, while other WFP activities focus on building people’s resilience through livelihood activities in multiple sectors like food production, agriculture, and trade, in addition to training opportunities in life and business skills, as well as linking people to the market. WFP also delivers schools meals to over 420,000 school children during the school semesters.

But COVID-19 has pushed the limits of the global food system in almost every aspect; disrupting supply chains, stalling movement, and impacting the economy with i  job losses and industry slowdowns. These realities only add further pressure to a world facing growing threats to food security due to ongoing and protracted conflicts, displaced populations, systemic poverty, climate change and extreme weather events. The people of Jordan and the refugees they host have, between them, experienced many of these ripple effects, eroding food security for the most vulnerable

WFP estimates that globally, around 270 million people are expected to be pushed into severe hunger levels before the year’s end – an 82 percent increase from before the pandemic began.

Across Jordan, WFP is at the forefront of the local response to the pandemic and the escalating food crisis; providing emergency food, cash and logistics support for communities facing the highest risks along with the Government of Jordan. In a survey of affected populations across Jordan immediately after lockdowns were instated around March (UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, Multi-Sectoral Rapid Needs Assessment Report, March 2020), 32% of households reported not having enough to eat, with the overwhelming reason being lack of money from lost income.

In countries like Jordan, where over 80% of food is imported, food systems are highly susceptible to international shocks. Adding in the complexity of shutdowns and movement restrictions caused by the pandemic has required WFP and other organizations to respond creatively, with new ways of operation and delivery models to ensure the necessary support for vulnerable communities. This crisis has highlighted the critical fault lines that already exist in the food system, and where it’s critical to implement more innovative approaches.

But it is also our chance to build more resilient food systems globally and locally.

Niyaha, a Jordanian woman living in Azraq city, learned how to use hydroponic methods through WFP. She uses it to grow fresh green fodder to feed her cattle and sell to other farmers. Photo: Julia Mills/WFP

As we continue to deliver emergency assistance for those who need it most in the short term, we are also rethinking how to enhance resilience in food systems for the long term; ensuring food systems, from agricultural production to supply chains are ready when the country needs them, whether it’s another pandemic, a natural disaster, or lockdown restrictions on the normal way of business. This sentiment is one that is shared with our Government partners as they devise paths forward for food security in Jordan. The food and agricultural sector has recently been highlighted by His Majesty King Abdallah as one of the most critical sectors in the country and WFP is working closely together with key ministries, including co-chairing the National Food Security strategy led by the Ministry of Agriculture.   

To shift towards more resilient models we must address both the availability of food itself, as well as the economic context which vulnerable communities are in. New approaches for how and where food is produced, processed, transported, stored and distributed is critical to ensuring that food can be accessed by all at the best possible prices. Innovations that address the entire supply chain – from ensuring the availability of agricultural inputs to inclusive financing for smallholder farmers to invest in better capital and better storage methods – are pivotal, given supply chains losses and inefficiencies contribute a significant portion to food costs.

Innovation can be a piece of this puzzle as we reimagine the much-needed evolution of food systems – food systems which ensure everyone, everywhere can access nutritious, affordable, and adequate food for their needs at all times.

In Jordan like so many places around the world, the determining factor in food security is not whether there is enough food available, but whether people can afford to buy it. Food markets may be overflowing but without access to stable incomes or livelihoods, households will still struggle to meet basic needs. Creating stable and inclusive work opportunities, for vulnerable populations can be one of the key antidotes to hunger alleviation. WFP Jordan has been pioneering innovation within its own operations across the Kingdom, by providing life saving cash assistance through blockchain technology.

In many humanitarian settings, distribution of actual food has often been the traditional model of providing support in times of crisis, but it can stunt the ability of local markets and supply chains in their development, and doesn’t give people choice in what they receive.

Every month, WFP in Jordan transfers around USD 14 million in cash assistance to half a million refugees across the country. In camps, the cash-based transfer system is based on blockchain , creating more efficient and secure cash distributions. The cash value is stored to an “account” maintained on blockchain – an encrypted ledger of records. Each account is tied to an individual’s biometric data—in this case an image of the refugee’s iris. The platform is integrated with iris scanning technology at the point of sale in WFP’s contracted shops for bread and food at refugee camps. These shops also use local suppliers as much as possible, hence supporting local supply chains and benefit from cash injections, supporting long term local economic growth.

Unlocking innovations in food systems is essential if we are to support communities gain access to food in a way that is safe, effective and reaches those who need it most, regardless of disruptions and shocks. At WFP, we partner across the spectrum with private sector partners, Governments, start-ups, and others thinking innovatively and creatively about reinventing food systems for improved futures for all.

If you have an innovation that could #disrupthunger, WFP has an open call for high-potential solutions to disrupt hunger. Apply for the WFP innovation bootcamp, where teams get access to mentorship, potential funding opportunities, and access to WFP operations.

AMALEE NSOUR

AMALEE NSOUR

Innovation Consultant at the. Jordan Country Office of the World Food Programme

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