Children are most impacted in global food crisis says ChildFund

Children are most impacted in global food crisis says ChildFund

Like so many people around Aotearoa now, you probably find yourself quietly wincing at your food shopping bills. With basic food items like cheese, broccoli, and bread increasing 20% plus, even a quick stop in at the supermarket can put a hole in your wallet.

These food price hikes have hurt households even more as they are coupled with significant increases in mortgage interest rates, sometimes up to 70%, plus rising fuel costs. Kiwis are feeling the squeeze.

The rising costs of food and fuel are a complex problem and are driven by everything from supply chain issues to government spending to consumer demand to international conflicts. The war in Ukraine, that has been ongoing since 24 February 2022 when Russia invaded, has added to increases in fuel and grain prices. The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s economy are still felt and the world is seeing  a major setback in global poverty reduction..

Tragically, around the globe this crisis is driving millions of extra people into extreme poverty, magnifying hunger and malnutrition with children being the most vulnerable.

Food insecurity can cause all kinds of problems for children. When a child isn’t eating enough, or they’re not getting adequate nutrition from their food, the child’s physical and cognitive development is at risk. Hunger hurts – and a food crisis always impacts children first.

We asked ChildFund experts in two of the countries we work in, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, their thoughts on how soaring food prices impact children the most – and how you can help.

Meet Sandamali Rajapaksha, who has been a ChildFund programme specialist on nutrition in Sri Lanka since 2007. She helps design and execute programmes that boost children’s nutrition – especially for children under 5-years-old, when they are most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition.

Meet Issa Kipera, a program and sponsorship director for ChildFund Kenya. He helps design, plan and implement programmes, plus oversee sponsorship activities with Kenya’s local partner organizations.

Tell us a little bit about how the global food crisis is impacting people in your country. How are children affected, in particular?

Sandamali: Sri Lanka is suffering from the worst economic crisis in the country’s history. We continue to experience high food inflation – the fifth-highest in the world, according to a recent World Bank report – along with rising commodity prices, power shortages and lack of fuel. In fact, the average monthly cost of a healthy diet has increased by 156% since 2018. Higher prices for food and other essentials, coupled with losses in income, are making it more and more difficult for families to afford their meals, so they are eating less and consuming cheaper, less nutritious food. This affects children in so many ways, and not just in terms of actual hunger. According to focus group discussions we’ve had within communities, child abuse cases are on the rise as parents and caregivers undergo increased stress about food. More children are being placed into state orphanages by families who are no longer able to provide for them. And children without parental care are especially vulnerable to harm. Girls are at particular risk of child marriage or forced marriage, early pregnancy, sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as dropping out of school. When food is scarce, girls and women often eat less and last.

Issa: Kenya is facing a food crisis due to an increase in food prices. That increase has been driven by three key factors: the ongoing drought in our country, which has affected local production; an increase in the price of fuel, which has pushed up the costs of production and transportation; and the Russia-Ukraine war, which has adversely affected Ukraine’s ability to export foods we depend on here in Kenya, like maize, wheat and cooking oil. Of these, the drought is the most critical issue. For five years in a row, the 23 counties in the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya have not received adequate rainfall. As a result, more than 4.2 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance, mainly food and water, and hundreds of thousands of children are facing acute malnutrition. Just like Sandamali said, this food crisis actually leads to other issues like increased rates of child neglect, abuse and exploitation. Since caregivers are less able to provide for their children, some kids have been exposed to exploitation, including sexual exploitation, and harmful child labour. Physical and emotional abuse is also on the rise because families are stressed by the situation and struggling through mental breakdowns.

Do you know any children or families in our programmes who are currently battling hunger, personally? How are they coping?

Sandamali: One family I know lives in the Siyabalanduwa area, where ChildFund has programs. There are two little boys in the family – a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old – and their father is a chronic kidney patient. They have always worked as farmers, but lately, because of the economic crisis, it has been difficult to afford the fertilizers and agrochemicals they need to farm successfully. So the boys have only been able to eat twice a day. Rice is so expensive here that the family typically only eats vegetables like manioc, yams, jackfruit and breadfruit. Animal products like fish, chicken and eggs are a luxury that the boys rarely get to see on the table. Neither of them have an appropriate weight for their age – they are both suffering from moderate acute malnutrition – and their mother has started working at a nearby sugar factory to help provide for them.

Issa: One young child we have supported is a little girl named Kabale.   Like many families in the arid region of Kenya, her family are pastoralists; they raise cattle for a living. But because of the drought, their herds began to die, leaving them without any income to buy food. Kabale was already facing severe acute malnutrition when we intervened. Her family was going two or three days between meals. Fortunately, ChildFund stepped in to provide a fortified porridge that helped her gain weight quickly and improve her health. The family has received supplementary food like maize meal, beans, cooking oil and rice, as well as emergency cash transfers, and they’re getting enough to eat now. But there are so many families like theirs, and I know the mother still worries about their long-term stability. About half their herds have died off, and she has little means of paying for school fees.

How is ChildFund’s programmes in your country supporting children through the food crisis?

Sandamali: ChildFund Sri Lanka has designed an initiative that is empowering communities to respond to their own needs and develop sustainable solutions that are deeply embedded in the local context. Through these community hubs, community members themselves play a pivotal role in designing programs to address children’s most critical needs. One thing we’ve done to help prevent food insecurity is set up community kitchens throughout ChildFund’s program areas. Each community kitchen has an average of 100 participants, most of them families with children under age 5, and they gather three times a week in a central location to cook a protein-rich lunch together. ChildFund provides the bulk of the food, while the community provides the firewood and cooking utensils. There are currently 42 community kitchen programs, and around 2,600 children benefit from them. It is filling some critical gaps because these are some of the only times during the week when many children are getting a healthy, nutrient-rich meal.

Issa: ChildFund Kenya supports families affected by the drought with cash transfers, food assistance and other non-food items. Specifically, in Marsabit, Isiolo, Samburu, Turkana, Kajiado and Kitui counties, we are reaching more than 4,000 families with cash transfers, school lunch programs, malnutrition screenings, access to clean and safe water, and animal feed.

What, in your view, are the strongest tools we can use to fight child hunger in your country?

Sandamali: In terms of treating hunger, we need both short-term and long-term interventions. Our short-term interventions include planning activities to make sure children have access to food right now, through programs like the community kitchens. Kids who participate in community kitchens are gaining weight, demonstrating the program’s strength as a short-term tool. But we also need to think about the long-term. That’s why ChildFund Sri Lanka works to improve community awareness of children’s nutrition through our women’s groups, also called “Lead Mother” programs. In these programs, we help young mothers identify affordable, locally available nutritious foods to feed their children. We also support them to establish home and community gardens so that there are a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and grains available to meet children’s nutritional needs.

Issa: The strongest way we can address child hunger is by building resilience in families. We can do this by adopting more sustainable, climate-smart farming methods, investing in children’s education and supporting youth to develop skills that will allow them to make a living in ways beyond subsistence farming.

How You Can Help a Child Facing Hunger

A child who is hungry can’t learn, play or just be a child. ChildFund helps children access nutrition food through initiatives like greenhouses in preschools, nutritional and cooking courses for parents and distribution of agriculture like crops and livestock. ChildFund also provides children access to programs designed to improve their education and help them build the life skills they need to succeed in the long term.

Right now, you can help children and their families survive the drought and food crisis in Kenya through supporting the Kenya Hunger Crisis Appeal. Your donation today will support ChildFund's multifaceted response to this crisis. You’ll help:

  • deliver clean water, essential food items like rice, beans and cooking oil to families in need. As well help schools to provide free lunches to students.

  • health clinics continue to identify and support children and family members who are suffering from malnutrition and other illnesses related to hunger or drinking water.

  • families build financial resilience with things like drought-resistant crops and solar-powered water pumps.