Frances Davidson, noted international expert in nutrition dies

Frances Davidson, an international expert in nutrition passed away Sunday May 12, 2019 in Washington, DC after a sudden and severe brain aneurysm.

Hunger Notes conducted an interview with Frances in 2012 after she retired from working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for 24 years dedicating her efforts to improving the nutritional well-being of people in developing nations. She served as acting Director of USAID Office of Nutrition and Director of nutrition programming at USAID during that time.
Here is the interview recounted:
After completing a doctorate at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Davidson came to Washington, DC, with her husband, who took a post at the British Embassy. She was hired in 1987 to work in the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Nutrition and soon afterwards rose to directing the office. She oversaw the merger of the Office of Nutrition into the larger Office of Health and Nutrition (later the Office of Health Infectious Disease and Nutrition-HIDN) within USAID where she continued to focus on issues of malnutrition in low income countries.
During her tenure at USAID, she grew the Agency’s nutrition program by establishing relationships with related sectors such as reproductive health, education, infectious diseases, agriculture, and gender.

As an anthropologist/nutritionist, she recognized the need to consider socioeconomic and cultural factors related to the prevention of malnutrition in differing contexts. Her view is that child malnutrition is a symbol of a systems failure within a country and only by focusing on all parts of the system, e.g., food production, distribution, health care and the policy framework could long term prevention and control of malnutrition in all its forms be prevented.

Given the modest resources of the nutrition program, she worked with colleagues to catalog the reasons for malnutrition in a particular country and then identified the aspects that were appropriate for USAID investments. To this end, she built upon previous work and continued the funding of research and analysis, both scientific and programmatic in developing countries through agreements with universities, governments, non-governmental organizations, foundations and private enterprise organizations.

One of her major accomplishments was to continue supporting vitamin A research and propelling forward vitamin A policies and intervention campaigns to address this debilitating deficiency. Part of that initiative was to support Dr. Alfred Sommers’ groundbreaking research on vitamin A’s relation to young childhood morbidity and mortality. (Sommers’ research on vitamin A in the 1970s and 1980s discovered that dosing severely vitamin A deficient children with an inexpensive, large dose vitamin A capsule twice a year reduces child mortality by as much as one-third. The World Bank and the Copenhagen Consensus record vitamin A supplementation as one of the most cost-effective health interventions in the world).

The USAID Office of Nutrition drove the vitamin A research through grants to non-governmental agencies such as Helen Keller International (HKI) to conduct some of the piloting field work. Monies and mentoring opportunities were made available to young researchers, especially women, in developing countries through NGOs such as International Center on Research for Women (ICRW). Davidson recognized that Vitamin A deficiency and programs to overcome it were more easily understood than the complex of malnutrition factors. By helping countries accomplish vitamin A deficiency prevention programs, USAID gained the confidence of colleagues and could expand programs to include other nutritional deficiencies.

Congressional support for efforts to increase child survival and prevent childhood malnutrition allowed Davidson’s office to expand the original idea of blindness prevention through vitamin A distribution to one that included treatment, rehabilitation and skill development to enable individuals with varying types of sight impairment to lead productive and meaningful lives. USAID worked closely with the Perkins Institute on blindness prevention as well as the SEVA Foundation HKI, the International Eye Foundation(IEF) and others to achieve this. In order to maximize impact, USAID sought out innovative ideas to reach those in need and beyond the range of most programs. In order to help accomplish this, the Office of Nutrition worked on developing private and public partnerships, such as with Hoffman La Roche/Sight and Life Foundation and BASF Global (Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik) to supply vitamin A capsules and conduct research. For instance, Hoffman La Roche supported “Sight and Life” to promote young investigators’ work.

In recognizing the need to document the impact of USAID programs and track program progress in collaboration with host country colleagues, nutritional surveillance efforts were supported. She considers it an accomplishment that USAID supported countries incorporated indicators of nutritional status into their ongoing health indicators reports. Along with USAID Mission colleagues, she worked to get nutrition mainstreamed with other important health interventions such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDs, food fortification with key micronutrients (vitamin A, iron, iodine)—vital nutrients often missing in people’s diets in developing nations. A focus on diet quality and micronutrient nutrition became a strong component in USAID mission policies and programs especially where there was high young child mortality (under five- year-olds) signaling micronutrient deficiencies – the silent cause of death of young children.

Additionally, she and her office developed and fostered private sector partnerships to promote food fortification with micronutrients and other important nutrients in a number of countries. The Division of Nutrition joined with the Gates Foundation and others to help start GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, with the focus on expanding the application of food technologies to improve nutritional quality of foods in as many low income countries as possible.

Translation of science and technology into programs that were appropriate to low income countries and that improved lives was central to her work.

Political will is a universal aspect of successful programs. She noted the critical importance of having devoted congressional support for USAID’s efforts. Political leaders such as George McGovern, Tony Hall and Mickey Leland, and key staffers such as Tim Rieser were essential, as was the Select Committee on Hunger which raised the visibility of the problem and encouraged cooperative and innovative solutions. The existence of an office or committee on Capitol Hill with a mission to improve food security and nutrition to push forward the knowledge base and programs to combat malnutrition was important to the success of USAID supported programs.

Recognizing the fact that if a population was deficient in one critical nutrient, such as vitamin A, there was a good chance they were deficient in others, Davidson expanded the program and policy portfolio to include a range of vital nutrients, in particular iron deficiency anemia which has compromised the well being of countless women and children. In order to help countries document the extent of the deficiency, USAID supported the development of the hemocue, a simplified field tool that could be used by minimally trained field workers to assess iron deficiency. DHS began using it in select country assessments.

In addition to documenting the extent of anemia in populations, Davidson and her office worked hard to get important nutrition indicators such as dietary diversity to better understand nutritional deficiencies and their health outcomes included in Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), health surveys conducted in many different developing countries over a many years which have been crucial in demonstrating progress, or the lack of it, in key measures of health. There were many obstacles and challenges to having these questions integrated into the DHS; however, it was important information to enable ministries and governments to weigh and consider the ramifications of nutritional deficiencies and what they meant in terms of development for their country’s populations. Likewise, it was important for those funding nutrition programs to gain an understanding of the impact of nutritional on national security, political stability and overall development issues. One core factor in USAID’s nutrition work has always been the close collaboration with other agencies, and host country colleagues in order to ensure suitability of programs. Policy impact and sustainable improvements in the health and well being of the most disadvantaged.

The efforts of Davidson and her colleagues at USAID have advanced overall knowledge of micronutrient deficiencies, their role in health and wellbeing and policies and programmatic practices to treat nutritional problems in order to promote the development of individuals and their communities.

After retiring from USAID, Frances became a master gardener, loved to knit, enjoyed swimming and being with family. Obituary and funeral details can be found at

Frances’ work and accomplishments in the field of nutrition will be remembered for decades.

Overcoming the ‘Double Burden’ of Malnutrition

August 17, 2018

Despite the fact that obesity is often discussed in this country as though it’s an individual failing, mounting evidence illustrates that the United States’ rising obesity epidemic is more likely a societal problem tied to rising economic inequality. Why? Because one of the primary variables related to obesity is not genes, race, or presence of a raging sweet tooth: it is poverty.

The poverty-obesity link is especially impactful for children, since those who experience obesity early in life are much more likely to be obese as adults. And because children living in low-income neighborhoods are 20 to 60 percent more likely to be obese than those in more affluent areas, poorer children are likely to grow up challenged by many health problems associated with obesity: diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, asthma, and others.

Fortunately, there are ways low-income families can take small yet meaningful steps toward helping their children escape what is known as the “double burden of malnutrition”—that is, obesity that occurs alongside malnutrition.

Obstacles to Healthy Living

There are several reasons why the most nutritious foods may never make it onto the plates of children in low-income homes, and why those preferable foods might be replaced with high-calorie, high-sugar, and low-nutrient alternatives. To begin with, even simple meals built around lean proteins and fruits and vegetables take time and some skill to prepare, and low-wage jobs often require that parents work around the clock, leaving no one at home to turn on a burner or mix up a salad. Left to their own devices, many children and teens will reach for the fastest and easiest alternative—and, as it turns out, this option is often the least nutritious.

Contributing to this problem is the fact that many low-income communities in the U.S. also qualify as “food deserts,” which the USDA defines as a community where at least a third of the population lives greater than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. In food deserts, the most accessible food is what can be found for sale at gas stations and convenience stores—businesses where it’s much easier to find a wide variety of prepackaged, high calorie, least nutritious food.

Finally, organic options often come with a higher price tag—which can prove prohibitive for families on a tight budget.

Policy Proposals

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance to low-income households, could gain importance as an avenue for promoting healthier diets on a national scale. Groups including the Bipartisan Policy Center have recommended expanding financial incentives for SNAP participants who buy fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as for retailers that stock them. Some experts have also called for restrictions on the use of SNAP dollars to purchase unhealthy items like sugary beverages.

Other proposed policy solutions include expanding nutritional counseling services through the federal Medicaid program, imposing taxes on processed foods, and increasing funding for obesity research.

Overcoming Obstacles through Lifestyle Changes

When working with malnourished children who are also obese it is important to confront the weight loss situation one piece at a time. The first step should be to attempt to investigate and understand their lifestyle, diet, and conditions at home. After that foundational work has been completed, the next step is to enable and empower the families to come up with solutions. The following steps can prove vital in improving nutritional standards and overall health outcomes for these children.

  • • Meal preparation is key. The head or heads of household should sit down and figure out the weekly meal budget. Then, they can determine what they can feasibly cook with that amount of money. Beginning the meal-planning process with a cookbook like this one, which promises to help the reader “eat well on $4 a day,” can be a great starting point.
    • Many healthy meals can be repurposed so that one night of meal prep can provide meals for the week. Ingredients can be purchased in bulk when on sale. Intentional meal prepping is critical to successful meal planning in terms of allocating both time and money to purchase and cook the food.
    • Canned and frozen produce is often cheaper than fresh varieties—and money is less likely to be wasted on produce that spoils easily. Canned foods are often easier for older children to cook on their own, so integrating these food staples can be a more manageable step in the right direction.
    • Identify school and community meal programs for children whose parents work early in the morning and/or into the evening can be very beneficial. Organizations that provide such resources include Feeding America, Food Research & Action Center, and many more. Parents can inquire at local public schools about programs in their community.
    • Encourage the entire family to get involved in the conversation. For example, parents can ask children about their activity levels and how they would like to get moving more. Perhaps they have an interest in sports. Many city-based sports programs are quite inexpensive and are subsidized to support wide inclusion.
    • Demonstrate to parents the value of modeling good behavior and encourage a family approach to eating healthy food. Success will be highly dependent on whether everyone is dedicated to unified goals: eating right, staying active and trying not to eat after 7pm—a healthy habit that has been shown to contribute to weight loss.
    • Encourage children of all ages to get involved in meal planning and preparation with age-appropriate tasks. Even children in junior high can be instructed how to have a few simple, healthy meals that they can prepare unassisted.
    • Start with small goals and give children ownership over their choices to make it less daunting. For example, establish a goal of committing to 15 minutes of vigorous activity (walking, running, biking, etc.) at least 5 times a week and then increase from there. Take the time to explain in easy to understand language to parents and children that healthy foods and increased activity will help to prevent against chronic disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure. And remind them that healthy choices now will prevent against childhood as well as adult onset of chronic disease.

Although challenging life situations are unavoidable, it’s possible to take intentional steps toward a better diet. Remember, it’s not enough to just tell someone to lose weight and buy nutritious food—they need actionable items they can take that acclimate and accommodate with their lifestyle.

Author Biography: Rachel Borton is the director of the Family Nurse Practitioner online program at Bradley University. Professor Borton’s advanced practice clinical experience includes urgent care, maternal-child, and family practice. In family practice, Professor Borton is passionate about preventing childhood obesity and educating families about healthy choices that will help prevent obesity in adult

*This is an independent article and does not necessarily reflect the views of WHES.

Poverty to Early Marriages and Early Marriages to Poverty: The Endless Chain in Rural Communities in Cameroon

July 23, 2018

Child marriage is a violation of child rights, and has a negative impact on physical growth, health, mental and emotional development, and education opportunities. While regional disparities exist, child marriage has significantly decreased from 47 per cent (2006) to 27 per cent (2016). It also affects society as a whole since child marriage reinforces a cycle of poverty and perpetuates gender discrimination, illiteracy and malnutrition as well as high infant and maternal mortality rates.

Poverty is one of the greatest diseases that has plagued Africa in general and Cameroon in particular. It is a state of always being in want whereby thousands of people go for days without food or are not sure of getting a square meal per day. Rural communities are most affected by poverty in Cameroon. These areas are characterized by high mortality rates, high rates of illiteracy, high levels of underemployment and dependency rates. Not everyone in these communities are poor but the weaker members are vulnerable in as they are exploited by those who are financially stable in many ways. Some of the consequences of poverty are hunger, little access to health facilities, no access to education and early marriages.

Marriage is a union between a man and a woman. It is a mutual agreement whereby, a mature man and woman accept to live together as one for life. As a result of poverty, young and underage girls in most rural communities in Cameroon are forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers. Therefore, early marriages are forced unions between underage children or between an underage child and an adult.

According to the Resource Information Center (2002), the legal age for a child to get married for girls is 15 years and 18 years for boys, as stipulated by the Cameroonian laws. Despite these laws, it is common to find girls below this age in rural areas already married. In addition, statistics from the UNFPA in 2016 also indicated that, 20 percent of girls aged 15-19 in Cameroon, are already married.

Poverty is the main reason behind early marriages in rural areas as most families have large family sizes. With such families, most parents are unable or unwilling to take care of their children. Early marriages are therefore seen as opportunities to reduce this burden. Others who cannot feed or send their children to school, give young girls off marriage to older men. Some parents arrange marriages between their children and their creditors as a way of settling debts. The main argument here is, if early marriage will end poverty in these families.

The big answer is “No” as the chain of poverty continues and in some cases, aggravates poverty in these families. The impact is mostly felt by underage brides, especially in areas with no hope for empowerment. With little or no education and skills, most of them remain unemployed. This only increases the rate of dependency and intensifies poverty levels.

Sensitization and campaigns need to be carried out in rural areas in Cameroon. This is to transform the minds of parents who still believe in early marriages. They have to be educated on income generating activities that can help them take care of of their families.


United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Cameroon: Information on Forced or Arranged Marriages, 16 October 2002, available at Accessed on the 28 May 2018.

UNFPA, New rules to help end child marriage in Cameroon, 06 October 2016, Available at Accessed on the 28 May 2018.

About the Author: Nkwain Adeline Yafi is a Cameroonian writer. She holds a Double Bachelor’s Degree in Women and Gender studies and law and is currently in her final year as a Masters student in Peace, Conflict and Security at University of Buea in Cameroon. Poverty alleviation has always been her passion as it is one of the biggest concerns in the world today. She has particular interest in studying vulnerable groups, like women, children, the elderly, prisoners, people with disabilities and minority groups, who are the most affected by poverty and hunger. Adeline has served in several organizations like Women in Action against Gender Based Violence, The Social Centre (Ministry of Social Affairs, Cameroon) and Human is Right.

*This is an independent opinion editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views of WHES.


Hunger Fighters Interview- Andrew Green and Amruta Byatnal, Malnutrition Deeply

by Hunger Notes

Hunger Fighters Interview: Andrew Green and Amruta Byatnal

This is part of a series we are doing about real people who are working to fight hunger and poverty in various ways around the world. This episode focuses on the creators of Malnutrition Deeply, a website that provides up to date information on malnutrition issues around the world. Malnutrition Deeply is part of the parent website – News Deeply

Biographic Snapshot: Andrew Green is the managing editor of Malnutrition Deeply. He has reported on health and human rights from three different continents and for a variety of outlets. He was formerly Voice of America’s bureau chief in South Sudan and the web editor at the Center for Public Integrity. Amruta Byatnal is the community editor of Malnutrition Deeply. Before joining News Deeply, she was a program manager at The Africa Seed Access Index project at Cornell University. She has conducted research and consulted for NGOs and private organizations in various countries including Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Cambodia. Previously, she worked as a reporter for The Hindu in India. Malnutrition Deeply is part of the News Deeply set of platforms, led by the journalist Lara Setrakian. News Deeply started Malnutrition Deeply because of the rising need for news and analysis dedicated to the critical issue. Malnutrition Deeply, which just launched this January, aims to bring together those who work on and study malnutrition.

WHES: What drove you to start Malnutrition Deeply and how long have you worked on malnutrition issues?

Amruta: News Deeply approached us individually to launch the site, because they felt it was an issue that needed urgent attention and could benefit from the focused approach of reporting and analysis that the News Deeply model brings. As a journalist and student of gender and food security, I felt that it was an interesting way to not only tell these stories, but also connect people who were working on this issue, and that’s why I came on board as the community editor. Andrew brings his expertise as a long time reporter of health and human rights issues, which is valuable to the platform as we see these issues overlapping more every day.

WHES: Your website covers a range of issues related to malnutrition. Where do you get the majority of your content from and how do you evaluate it?

Andrew: We have a pretty diverse mix of content that can largely be broken down into two streams. There are reported stories, which we produce ourselves, but which we also solicit from a team of great freelance writers around the world. The idea behind these stories is to go beyond breaking news to highlight an innovation, to question received wisdom or to consider the impact of a policy or project. We want to ground these stories in a particular place, but also identify lessons that might be useful to people working on similar problems half a world away.

The rest of our content comes from our community, whether it is Q+As or opinion pieces from experts in the field who are sharing lessons from their experiences or their research.

WHES: One thing our readers often ask us about is how hunger and malnutrition are different in the developed and developing world. Can you talk about that?

Amruta: From our conversations with experts and practitioners both in the developed and developing world, we have found that there are many differences but also a lot of overlaps in the nature of hunger and malnutrition in both these situations. While malnutrition in the developing world is dictated by conflict and poverty and lack of food, in the developed world it can be because of lack of access to the right foods. Of course, as we have seen with obesity, these issues are now spreading to developing countries as well.

WHES: What do you think are the big misconceptions about malnutrition?

Andrew: One of the things that we’re eager to do at Malnutrition Deeply is to explain the many different forms that malnutrition can take, not all of them visible or represented by traditional photos of starving children. But all of them important and worth attention. We want to use the platform to raise awareness about the dangers of micronutrient deficiencies and the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity.

WHES: What has your research shown you are the most important ways or innovations to combat malnutrition?

Andrew: One of the things that we’ve found and have emphasized with our coverage is that there is no single solution to any of the problems of malnutrition. All of the situations we’ve covered where we have identified substantial progress in reducing some form of malnutrition have taken a holistic, cross-sectoral approach.

WHES: So we have many younger readers and we ask this question in all our interviews. What is your best piece of advice for students and young people who want to fight malnutrition and hunger in their own communities?

Amruta: I think the most important lesson we have learned is that malnutrition and hunger are not always visible – they can be hidden, and it’s imperative to notice the markers and the trends to identify them. It’s also necessary to be aware of the economics and politics of policy making both at the local and global levels, and understand why certain decisions that affect the most vulnerable people are made the way they are. So our advice to students would be to not limit yourselves to a single discipline, but look beyond the obvious and to keep questioning the status quo.

WHES: What’s next for Malnutrition Deeply

Andrew: We’re continuing to expand our coverage, both geographically, but also in terms of the issues that we’re addressing. In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out series that look at specific, critical issues in some significant depth. We’ll also continue to expand the roster of people who are contributing their expertise to the Malnutrition Deeply community. Ultimately, we want to become the hub for nutrition experts and also people who are interested in learning about nutrition to visit, to engage and to learn.

WHES: Any parting thoughts for our readers?

Amruta: We’re always looking for new developments in the world of nutrition, so I would urge your readers to share ideas with us and we’ll do our best to explore them through Malnutrition Deeply.

WHES: Well thank you for sharing your experiences and your new website with our readers! You can learn more about Malnutrition Deeply here:



Debates About U.S. Food Assistance 2018

June 14, 2018

For more than a decade, a movement to reverse US policies for food aid has built momentum among some analysts and Europeans who have lobbied hard to reform how the United States provides food aid overseas. The arguments have been largely the same for over 15 years, and they come largely from outside the food aid community, without reference to the community of humanitarian relief and development agencies who originally lobbied for our food aid legislation, who routinely have to analyze local food needs and markets in countries, and who then implement the food programs, evaluating their lessons afterwards.

To start, no one disputes the reality is that US food aid has had enormous good in the world, largely in the form of battling hunger. Reducing hunger is the goal of these aid agencies. The challenge is how to reduce malnutrition where it is high, increasing or out of control.

However, the reform movement skirts talking about nutrition or food security, which Congress defines as the goals of food aid. It focuses only on certain dimensions of logistics, arguing for replacing food aid with cash. The reform platform argues that food aid surely must be inefficient because it costs money to ship food, and surely it hurts these countries because they should not need to import foods to combat hunger in their borders.

But the reform movement neglects two aspects of food aid. First, almost all the countries where USAID food aid is provided are net food importers of food commercially. NGOs do not try to bring food into countries that are awash in local grains and have no hunger.

Second, more than half of US food aid targets zones of crisis, including famines and wars, where food markets are disrupted already, and people cannot access food. Buying food in these markets (instead of providing food) poses far greater problems and risk to these locals. Yes, food aid is an inefficient form of assistance in many places in the world. It is not necessarily inefficient, however, for those parts of the world where there is a severe, overall shortage of food, places like Yemen, Ethiopia and refugee camps.

US food aid rests within a larger fabric of food aid from many countries, channeled often through the World Food Programme. When the US responds to food needs in many countries, the WFP already is pursuing creative local-sourcing options. Today, the US remains one of the only providers of actual food overseas, to address imbalances in places like North Korea, South Sudan, Somalia, DRC and Syria.

The food aid reform platform complains repetitiously about how US food aid is shipped on expensive US ships (carriers). US food aid has been required by Congress to be on US-flagged ships (US-based companies). This is referred to as “cargo preference,” meaning some preference is giving to US ships. The reform community argues that Asian and European fleets are less expensive. These facts have not been in dispute. But, the reason for Cargo Preference, as articulated by the very powerful Pentagon lobby decades ago, is that this subsidy helps the US to have some minimal fleet of merchant vessels legally based in the US. Otherwise, the trend has been for the US to have no US-based marine fleets at all, which many security analysts feel can be a weak link in times of war. (Just think of Dunkirk). So, food aid reform is really not about food aid at all, it’s about whether the US deems it valuable to maintain a merchant marine fleet, enabled by subsidies.

Another mantra of reform is to do away with “monetization” or food sales, which NGOs lobbied for in the late 1990s. During the 1992 and 2010 Somali famines, when there was an overall shortfall of food in the country, and the prices were so high that Somalis could not buy foods in their local markets, the efficient response was to sell food into those markets, infusing food across the country, reaching all. In both cases, US food aid in fact was used in this manner, in a way that other donors, will not do today, nor WFP. US food aid has that flexibility, in part because it is works with a range of partners: with non-governmental organizations, IOM, Unicef as well as WFP.

Overall, the reform movement argues against monetization in a broad brush-stroke manner, as though all monetization surely must be wrong, because, after all, markets are the enemy of the poor. But they neglect the fact that monetization exists because of years of lobbying and education of Congress by NGOs like CARE, CRS, Save the Children, World Vision, and others, who are able to flexibly use the proceeds of local food sales to save lives, strengthen health systems, promote innovative nutrition outreach, fortify foods with micronutrients, etc. When the reform platform asserts that all monetization is inefficient they cite none of the extensive data that has been arrayed and compared. Yet, before any NGO is approved to conduct monetization in any country, they have long been required (by Congress) to analyze the local markets and determine whether or not the monetization – or direct food distributions – will harm the local food economy there.

A key reason why NGOs and the community of aid workers who live with the poor overseas, programming US food aid, have hesitated to support the reform movement is their worry that if the Foreign Affairs committees convert these programs into all “local” purchases overseas, then over time, the constituencies in the US supporting food aid all along will dissipate. Eventually, USAID will be making choices about whether to buy food in, say Tanzania, or – instead — medicine, seeds, ballots, training services, electric generators or any of the great many other things we spend money on in our broader aid program. And then food aid, which is expensive overall, will lose out.

Maybe food aid should lose out. Maybe the US should give less food overall, in respect to all the other forms of aid the US gives. Maybe the US should stop being a leader, and allow other donor countries like China, Brazil, Russia and France give more to stop famines. But the reform movement avoids addressing that.

The American people have expressed themselves millions of times (including through their Congresspersons) as caring about hunger. The food aid reform debate may want to start from that discussion: how to reduce hunger and what the public wants to see done in their name.

About the Author: Steve Hansch is a WHES Board Member with a two decade long standing association with Hunger Notes.

*This is an independent opinion editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views of WHES.


Hunger Fighters Interview: The Borgen Project

Hunger Fighters Interview: The Borgen Project

This is part of a series we are doing about real people who are working to fight hunger and poverty around the world. This episode focuses on the staff of The Borgen Project, an advocacy group that works to increase awareness and action to alleviate global poverty by engaging with political leaders.

Organization/Biographic Snapshot: The Borgen Project is a non-profit organization fighting to end global poverty by raising awareness and mobilizing political leaders to support key bills. Kim Thelwell (KT) is The Borgen Project’s Political Director. Kelley O’Conor Morgan (KM) is a Public Relations/Marketing Intern for the organization.

In 2017, The Borgen Project held 525 Congressional Meetings with their grassroots volunteers from more than 750 cities across the U.S. and mobilized over 61,000 emails to Congress.

WHES: What drove you to join The Borgen Project and how long have you worked on global poverty issues?

KT: Interestingly, my background is in finance and technology services, but I always felt a pull to work in the nonprofit world. I joined The Borgen Project in 2015 and have enjoyed every minute of the experience, particularly our organization’s innovative (and efficient) approach to alleviating global poverty.

KM: I have only been working for The Borgen Project (TBP) for three months, and it has been such a wonderful experience so far. I knew I wanted to get involved in an organization that had a greater purpose for the world, and helped open the eyes of those around me about what we can do to help others in need. I think it is important to be involved in something that you are passionate about, can learn tremendously from, and can be humbled by.

WHES: How does The Borgen Project work to fight global poverty and hunger?

KM: Many ways. First, TBP urges political leaders in the United States to be aware of global poverty issues, and to support key bills that would work towards ending that. TBP mobilizes anyone around them to email or call Congress to fight for these key bills, as each call/email becomes a tally on a list of bills that Congressmen and women view. The more the tallies, the more attention the bill will receive. Apart from mobilizing people to contact Congress, TBP raises awareness by recruiting volunteers to reach out to local areas with fliers, informational events, and videos that tell TBP’s story as well as the importance of fighting global poverty and how that can also help our own country.

WHES: You work in the advocacy space. How do you encourage political leaders and decision-makers to listen?

KM: Because political leaders are very busy, it can sometimes be difficult to get your point across in a meaningful way. TBP uses a few strategies. As mentioned before, each call or email to political leaders regarding a key bill translates into a tally mark for that bill on a master list of bills for review. The more calls/emails regarding said bill, the more attention it will get. We try to highlight to interested people that it only takes 20 seconds to call or email Congress. We also facilitate their ability to engage with Congress directly through our website. Volunteers for TBP make videos about TBP or a specific bill, and direct it towards one or more political leaders, even including their name(s) in the video title and sharing it on their social media pages. Volunteers post them to political leaders social media pages (i.e. Twitter, Facebook), and also write personal hand-written letters. When speaking with these leaders, it is important to explain why helping global poverty not only helps countries in need, but also helps the United States as well.

KT: This is where the messaging becomes powerful because we are able to showcase that foreign aid is an investment, not a hand out. Programs funded by the International Affairs Budget create jobs here at home by opening new markets to American businesses and protect our national security by fighting terrorism and preventing conflicts before they start.

WHES: Why do you focus on political leaders in particular versus other kinds of work in hunger and poverty?

KM: TBP believes the United States is the most powerful country in the world, so reaching out to its primary leaders is key to influencing how the United States utilizes its power. TBP wants to raise awareness to anyone it can, but we actively reach out to political leaders to urge them to support key bills that would help end global poverty and help save the world. We also work at the political level to promote funding and continuing support of already-in-place bills. By helping other countries get out of poverty, we increase our own national security, and boost our economy via creating more consumers.

KT: We focus our attention at the highest level: influencing policy change to make the biggest possible impact. Here’s an illustration of the effectiveness of this model.

• $5,000: Amount an aid agency needs to build one freshwater well that provides 250 people with clean drinking water.
• $2,000: Amount we need to meet directly with 70 congressional offices and build support for a bill that will provide 100 million people with access to clean drinking water (Water for the World Act).
• Advocacy in a Nutshell: With the amount an aid agency needs to assist hundreds of people, The Borgen Project is able to shape policy that helps millions of people.

WHES: How do you measure success? And what do you consider some of your biggest successes?

KM: You can see our ‘Success Tracker’ online, actually. We measure how well we are doing as an organization as well as how global poverty as a whole is doing. We measure TBP’s success by keeping track of how many people have visited our website, how many cities have TBP volunteers, how many meetings TBP has had with Congress/Congressional staff, and how many people have applied to work/intern for TBP. We also look at how many bills that TBP advocates for pass. Another measurement is how our funding has helped those living in poverty. Examples include the amount of people treated for Tuberculosis or AIDS, how many vaccines have been given, how many supplies to protect against malaria and other health issues, food aid, and more. We track the success of decreasing global poverty (as a whole) by looking at the number of people living in poverty, starving, without access to education or health care, and those living with preventable health ailments.

TBP is proud of its accomplishments. Because of the hard work of its employees and volunteers, acts such as Water for the World Act, Electrify Africa Act, and READ Act have been passed. The Water for the World Act helps to ensure impoverished areas around the world have access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. The Electrify Africa Act helps millions have access to reliable electricity and power. The READ Act ensures that the United States would prioritize and use its resources to provide quality education in developing countries.

WHES: What do you think are the big misconceptions about global poverty in the U.S.? What do you wish more people knew?

KM: Most people believe that the United States does enough already, helping other countries takes away from funding our own problems, the United States offers 25% of our foreign budget to helping global poverty, or that they do not have a voice. These are all false. First, the United States does not do enough at all. The United States has the unique opportunity to end global poverty by itself. It has been estimated that $30 billion per year could end global poverty. The United States spends close to $700 billion every year on its military. Even if we could shift $30 billion of that $700 billion towards global poverty, the United States would still have the most expensive and powerful military on the planet. With that being said, the United States definitely has more to give. The UN set a goal to contribute 0.7% of foreign budget towards foreign affairs and aiding global poverty. Compared to other developed nations in the UN goal, the United States contributes less than 0.7%, and ranks among the worst regarding amount given. Many people believe, and I was one of them, that the more we give to other countries, the less we have to use for our own. A commonly held belief is that we have homelessness and poverty in the United States, and that we shouldn’t have to help other countries before we help our people. But this isn’t true! There are two separate funds: domestic, and foreign. Domestic funding is used for issues within the United States, and foreign funding is used for things such as global poverty. The best part is that these two funds have nothing to do with each other. Spending more in one fund does not mean we have to spend less in the other. Lastly, I believe many people don’t realize how much of an impact they can make by giving even $1 to global poverty. And if not money, give 20 seconds of their time to email/call Congress to ask them to support a key bill.

WHES: We see that you have some resources for teachers who want to discuss these issues with their students. What is your best advice for educators who wish to talk to young people about global poverty issues?

KM: TBP offers curriculum designed for four different age groups: K-2nd grade, 3rd-5th grade, 6th-8th grade, and 9-12th grade. All of these curriculum help to familiarize the students with issues of global poverty and what can be done to help, according to their level of understanding. My advice is to approach these issues without a stance, but rather as an objective regulator in a discussion. Or even to allow students to find their own opinions by assigning research on what are pros and cons to certain issues. I also think it is important not to overwhelm kids about the issues of global poverty if it is not something their age could typically handle, emotionally. However, touching on the topic is definitely something that every student should have access to, and diving into the details should come with age, education, and readiness.

WHES: So we also have many younger readers and we ask this question in all our interviews: What is your best piece of advice for students and young people who want to fight poverty and hunger?

KM: Anyone can help. And helping can be at any level! Calling or emailing Congress urging them to support a key bill only takes 20 seconds and has a great impact. Donating money, if possible, also helps, no matter how large the donation is. Organizations such as TBP are always open to volunteers as well. Volunteers may spend time raising awareness, fundraising, posting on social media, or meeting directly with Congress. There are endless possibilities and ways to help fight global poverty, but it is easy to start with getting familiar with the issue. TBP’s website has a lot of awesome information about how to get involved and why it is so important.

KT: Don’t worry about your age. Some of our most successful advocates have actually been high school students who have gone on to raise huge amounts (over $1,000 each) on behalf of the world’s poor, mobilize their friends and families to get involved in the cause, and lobby their Congressional Leaders to support key poverty reduction legislation. The best part about getting involved — regardless of your age — is that you don’t need to be an expert on any of these topics. All you need is passion and the ability to communicate that as a constituent.

WHES: What’s next for The Borgen Project? Are there any big issues or projects you are working on right now?

KM: Personally, I am working on hosting a fundraising/informational garage sale with a percentage of the proceeds going towards helping TBP aid global poverty. I have also started a campaign asking people to spare 1 cup of coffee (of $5), and instead, donate that money to a child in need at TBP’s main project and goal is to promote continuing support and acknowledgment of global poverty in general. This means fighting for and funding present bills and Acts, as well as getting our voice out there as to how to strive towards ending global poverty via supporting upcoming bills.

KT: Building support for a robust International Affairs Budget continues to be a top priority for the organization. In addition, we are also focused on getting the following bills across the finish line: the REACH Act, the BUILD Act, the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education Act, and the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act.

WHES: Any parting thoughts for our readers?

KM: The world is an amazing but broken place. Although there are important issues everywhere, it is easy to forget how much easier we tend to have it here in the United States. Getting involved in any way will make a huge difference. You could be part of how global poverty gets ended once and for all! Please take a read on TBP’s website or dive into your own research. It is so important for everyone to know what is going on around the world. I believe it makes for a much more well-rounded mind to be familiar with different perspectives. I have been humbled so much by working for TBP.

WHES: Well thank you for sharing your experiences with our readers! You can learn more about The Borgen Project here:



First 1,000 days of child’s life are the most important

At last year’s World Economic Forum, young children’s health was a part of the agenda, because the first 1000 days are most important to children’s development and our collective economic success. This article, part of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, explains why.

What’s the most important thing a child has? It’s their brain. And yet, we’re not caring for children’s brains the way we care for their bodies. This should concern all of us – including business leaders.

The first 1,000 days of life – from conception to age three – open a critical and singular window of opportunity. During this period, children’s brains can form 1,000 neural connections every second. A three-year-old’s brain is twice as active as that of an adult and the connections their brain makes are the building blocks of their future.

France to force big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities

Legislation barring stores from spoiling and throwing away food is aimed at tackling epidemic of waste alongside food poverty

French supermarkets will be banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food and must instead donate it to charities or for animal feed, under a law set to crack down on food waste.

The French national assembly voted unanimously to pass the legislation as France battles an epidemic of wasted food that has highlighted the divide between giant food firms and people who are struggling to eat.
World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions
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As MPs united in a rare cross-party consensus, the centre-right deputy Yves Jégo told parliament: “There’s an absolute urgency – charities are desperate for food. The most moving part of this law is that it opens us up to others who are suffering.”

Supermarkets will be barred from deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.

“It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods,” said the Socialist deputy Guillaume Garot, a former food minister who proposed the bill.

One Third of Food Lost, Wasted – Enough to Feed All Hungry People

Believe it or not, the way to eradicate hunger from the face of the Earth is as feasible as it is handy. In fact, the current loss and waste of one-third of all food produced for human consumption would be just enough to feed the nearly one billion people who go to bed hungry every single night.

Here, the figures are self-explanatory: as much as 1.3 billion tons per year of food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial agricultural production down to final household consumption, according to the UN.

Moreover, it is not just about losing or wasting food—it also implies a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs, increasing the greenhouse gas emissions.

“Up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed by people. It is an excess in an age where almost a billion people go hungry,” adds the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).