Who are the people in your ‘food neighborhood’?

Nita Oigoan, a Filipina farmer. Vicente Jaime “Veejay” Villafranca for Bread for the World.

By Stephen H. Padre

Remember that sketch on “Sesame Street” with the catchy tune that asked, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” It talked about the police officer, the mail carrier, and the shopkeeper – the “people that you’ll meet when you’re walkin’ down the street.”

Consider for a moment who the people in your “food neighborhood” are – what types of people are involved in bringing you a loaf of bread, for example. There are the growers of the wheat, the baker, and the people who work at the store that sells it to you.

It’s a “food chain” of producers and people who add value to a product. We rarely think about these food chains in our own country, but in developing countries, these food chains are not well-established in many places. Developing this food chain is one of the things that Beth Dunford wants to do. She’s head of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

Dunford visited Bread’s offices last week to speak with staff about her work and her hopes for the future of Feed the Future.

Feed the Future is the initiative that would become permanent under the Global Food Security Act. Bread advocates have been pushing for passage of this bill for many months because of the ways it would help end hunger in poor countries. Both chambers of Congress have passed their own versions of the bill, and they need to be reconciled before final passage in Congress and the president can sign it into law.

Going up and down the food chain, as Dunford describes it, and creating new producers and those who can add value to food as a product is one way to move people out of poverty and thus give them the means to get more and better food to eat. The idea centers around smallholder farmers, who, by definition are growing only enough to feed themselves and their families.

When these farmers are given the right knowledge and resources to grow enough to feed their families and some extra to sell, then the economy starts growing little by little. They can employ a truck driver to transport their extra vegetables to a market to sell. Or they can sell their fruit to a processor. With increased demand for new products, the food processor will buy more equipment for her small factory, and she might hire more people to work there. It’s creating a virtuous circle in which more people are earning money – and spending it. It’s the same way American politicians speak of creating jobs here at home.

Thus a food chain is built up around family farmers, and the “neighborhood” around that farmer grows with people earning money. When this happens, people’s lives tend to improve, not only in their diets, but often they can send their children to school and pay for visits to the doctor.

It’s a simple but powerful idea – taking a product that is already being produced and enhancing it. If Dunford and Feed the Future can help grow the neighborhood, then the future looks very bright.

Stephen H. Padre grew up on “Sesame Street.” It taught him a lot that he still employs as Bread’s managing editor today.

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