By Sophia Auld
A lack of food is one of the biggest health challenges facing the world – and it’s only likely to get worse. But one innovative new social enterprise may have developed a way to curb this trend.
Hungry for Change
Imagine trying to teach when you have a classroom full of starving students. In many communities around the globe, this is the daily reality. According to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one in nine people worldwide are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Their recent report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, reveals that world hunger has risen for three consecutive years, with almost 821 million people facing chronic food deprivation in 2017, rising from 804 million in 2016.
Climate change is expected to further increase this number. Hunger is one of the most urgent challenges to global health – yet the world currently produces more than enough food to feed everyone. So how do we create a world free from malnutrition?
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) explains that farming systems must be viable to secure the long-term livelihoods of rural populations, and help reduce poverty in developing nations. Sustainable food production can offer pathways out of poverty, by connecting farmers directly to higher- value export markets, for example. But this necessitates the development of sustainable food value chains – which are highly complex systems. Breaking the poverty cycle requires cooperation between agribusinesses, governments, farmers and community groups.
Globally, various public, private and non-government organisations are all collaborating to design and implement sustainable food solutions. The UNEP’s Sustainable Rice Platform, for example, promotes sustainable rice cultivation through a global alliance. Partners are working to drive resource-efficient rice production and improve livelihoods for rice growers, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment.
Food Ladder is another such organisation. This not-for-profit social enterprise uses hydroponics and environmentally sustainable systems to create food and economic security for communities that are otherwise dependent on outside aid. Their environmentally-controlled growing systems have been designed to work in extreme climates and withstand weather variations associated with climate change.
One system can produce enough food to supplement the diet of 250 people, and – when operating at full capacity – is five times more efficient than traditional farming methods.
Each system features a galvanised steel structure encapsulated in a shield of polycarbonate. Inside, a variety of growing systems can be installed, such as vertical towers designed for growing herbs like coriander. Solar panels with battery storage power – coupled with water treatment technologies – enable Food Ladder systems to operate even in the most isolated, inhospitable and arid places on Earth.
Much of the technology is automated and computer-integrated, allowing it to be monitored remotely and adjusted to minimise risks to food production from weather changes.
Social enterprises are businesses that deliberately tackle social problems and help communities, deriving their income mostly from trading instead of government funding. When Food Ladder started 10 years ago, they were forerunners in the social enterprise space, says CEO Kelly McJannett, who had previously worked in Indigenous education in remote communities.
Food Ladder’s founding chairman, Alex Shead, wanted to use his business background to generate social change. When they started working together, McJannett says “it was a marriage of experiences and ideas”. Shead had already created social enterprises that provided jobs for the long-term unemployed, including three cafés in Melbourne that employed homeless young people. When he and McJannett discovered they had a shared passion for food security, they thought his business model could be replicated and then used on a global scale in communities tackling malnutrition.
McJannett had seen first-hand the effects of malnutrition in remote and poverty-affected communities, where people don’t have the financial means or access to obtain nutritious produce.
Read the full story here.