Yesterday Namibia edged a step closer to dealing poverty and hunger a killer blow when President Hage Geingob officially launched a food bank in Katutura.
A decade ago food banks hardly existed. They are a relatively recent phenomenon, whose development accelerated in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. According to the European Federation of Food Banks, the idea started after John Van Hengel, from Phoenix, USA, saw a widow and her 10 children sifting for food through rubbish behind grocery stores in the late 1960s.
Action against hunger is recognised internationally as key in the fight against poverty and, therefore, other related social ills.
In Namibia, seeing children – and even adults – going through hazardous rubbish in search of something to eat is now an everyday occurrence. They would walk from their shelters, mostly the streets and bridges, to affluent suburbs where the rich might have disposed unwanted and spoilt food.
This, therefore, means the rationale behind setting up food banks in Namibia is congruent with the very aim for which the world’s first such bank was established.
True, food banks cannot be an end in themselves if government is really serious about putting the final nail into poverty’s coffin. We must, therefore, ensure that while addressing hunger of the stomach, long-term sustainable solutions are being hammered out for the lasting prosperity of our nation.
By 1992 food banks had spread across Europe, with centres set up in Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal. Between 1994 and 2001, food banks appeared in Poland, Greece and Luxembourg.
Since 2004, they have been established in the United Kingdom, Germany and Hungary. It is said that the UK – one of the wealthiest nations on earth – now has 423 food banks, from which 913 138 people have received three days’ emergency food.
One of the questions that have popped up in recent months is how the food bank concept will be implemented in Namibia – and successfully.
In the UK, all food donated to the food banks by the public is sorted by volunteers. Frontline care providers, such as doctors and social workers, identify people most in need. They are then given food packs with three days’ worth of nutritionally balanced meals in exchange for a food voucher.
There is no reason why Namibia cannot take a leaf from the model used in the UK, as we juggle between various formulae to find one that best suits us.
Poverty is a growing concern in Namibia. In fact apart from social poverty, many Namibians suffer from what development economists now call ‘hunger poverty’.
Food banks are one of the best ways to address the hunger problems before we roll out solutions for social poverty, which is often a result of unemployment and related ills.
The food system is fundamental for human life. It provides the energy and nutrition that people need as a basis for economic and social advancement. As we read this piece, there are thousands of Namibians who will go to bed without a meal tonight. Others suffer from hidden hunger, or malnutrition.
Namibia needs a food system that can provide every person, every day, everywhere with a nutritious and affordable diet, delivered in a sustainable way.
To achieve these goals, we need action. And action is what we witnessed in Katutura yesterday when the president officially ushered the country into a new era of fighting hunger and poverty. The challenge now is to sustain this initiative and to ensure it serves its original and intended purpose.