Eating on $1.75 a day

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You may have heard of this new initiative Live Below the Line launched for the first time in Canada last Monday, April 29th, by the Global Poverty Project and followed by hundreds of citizens across Canada to support four non governmental organizations: CUSO InternationalResults/Resultats CanadaRaising the Village and Spread the Net.

“Live Below the Line” is an innovative awareness and fundraising campaign that is challenging individuals and communities to see how well people can live on just $1.75 a day. The principle of this campaign is quite simple but really powerful: by living off just $1.75 per day for food and drink for five days, anyone can bring to life the direct experiences of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty and can help to make real change.

I took the challenge for 5 days last week and raised money for Results/Resultats Canada. My mission accomplished, I went back eagerly to my real life. Moreover, I was still thinking about this valuable experience, how it has changed not only my perception of extreme poverty, but also my engagement as a nutrition security specialist, and more importantly, my implication as a citizen who wants to use her political will to enact change on global poverty issues. For me, the quintessence of “Live Below the Line” is still in motion!

To be honest, the first time I heard about “Live Below the Line” and started to picture myself doing this kind of challenge was an authentic moment of panic. How can I survive on $1.75 per day for food and drink? It was impossible for me to cope with the idea, since this budget was ridiculously low when compared to the Canadian standard of “eat well and be active.”

Living in Canada for many years now, I am used to a certain standard, and I expect to be able to attain healthy lifestyle without any major constraints. With $1.75 per day, mission impossible!

To give you an example, the city of Toronto defines each year the real cost of healthy eating, i.e., $49.87 per week for individuals my age range, which corresponds to $7.12 per day. In this context, $1.75 per day, which represents 24.6% of the cost of a nutritious food basket, is definitively below the line.

Forget as well the Canada Food Guide 3 fruits and 4-5 vegetables, 5-6 grains, 2 dairy and/or alternatives, and 2 meat and/or alternatives – during these five days, this won’t be possible at all.

When you are health & food conscious, “Live Below the Line” demands a good understanding of nutrition science, a lot of planning and a strong mental spirit. And I really tried my best. Two weeks before the challenge, I tested different recipes, localized best bargains for food, found ways to maintain my protein intake at an optimal level, and made some drastic choices between having fruits or vegetables – not both, too expensive. My menu for this 5-day challenge was quite simple: oat pancakes with banana for breakfast, congee (Chinese soup with rice and lotus seeds) for lunch, rice with split peas and grapes for dinner, two snacks (a boiled egg and an apple) to stave off hunger and the same tea bag for the whole day as well as a lot of water. No fancy French cuisine!

My first day was difficult, a few hunger pains, a mild migraine and caffeine withdrawal. But the fact that I had 5 small meals per day, a good breakfast to start, and a good intake of protein, helped me to adjust quite well with my new diet. An analysis of my food showed me that my daily calorie intake was slightly too low to maintain my body weight (-23%); these calories were mostly carbohydrate (+26%, when compared to my daily requirement) and protein (-12%). In contrast, my fat intake dropped significantly (-64%). Impossible for me to meet my daily requirement for essential omega-3 fatty acids, I didn’t plan to eat fatty fish, enriched eggs, flaxseeds, chia or raw hemp seeds or walnuts, too expensive.

The “Live below the line” diet had also a significant impact on my micronutrient intake, mostly because I was not able to diversify my food during these five days. As I was able to maintain my iron and vitamin C adequately, my calcium (43% of my daily requirement), vitamin A (40%) and vitamin D (0%) were significantly low or nonexistent. Hypothetically, continuing the same foods and nutritional pattern may ultimately affect my overall health. I might develop cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death for women in Canada, and suffer later in live from osteoporosis. This is a non negligible risk factor for me, mainly because I really think that access to diversified and nutritious foods is a pivotal aspect of a healthy and active lifestyle.

“Live below the line” requires a lot of discipline and self-control but this is not enough to ensure good health when nutritious food access is limited. There is no place for creativity around food. It is more like a routine. You fill your stomach, you just want to fill it and move on.

What I missed the most, was the possibility to diversify my food intake, to maximize my healthy food choices without financial constraint and more importantly, to cook, give and share food with my friends and relatives. Food defines our place in the society! Food is pleasure!

When doing this specific challenge, I was able to experience the dehumanization of the feeding process. Feeding ourselves, our family and friends is a social act. Generally, food is the most important thing a mother can give to a child. Universally, mother’s milk is definitely the best food for infants. Food is not just a symbol of love, it is also security, an opportunity for each child to grow adequately and develop his (her) full potential. Food is life!

As I am thinking one more time about my experience, I recall the definition of the Right to Food as a Human Right.  Each word resonates more deeply than before the challenge, and the whole statement becomes now a reality for me because I have modestly experienced the day-to-day life of people living in poverty. I was part of the “Live Below the Line” campaign.

Nutrition and food security are key in the context of human development, economic growth and poverty reduction; and a global effort has been growing around nutrition over the past decade. As a result, the G8 has now put global undernutrition high on its agenda. Moreover, 34 developing countries, “highly-impacted” by undernutrition, have committed to scaling up their nutrition programs.

On June 8th, the UK Government will co-host an event with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF): “Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science”. It is going to be a day of international action, bringing together governments, business, science, and civil society to improve the quality and quantity of food available to the world’s poorest people.

On the eve of the G8 Summit in London (June 17-18), world leaders will have an opportunity to support the developing countries that have developed cost effective plans for scaling up their nutrition programs through the SUN Framework. It is important that we continue to bring international attention to the issue of undernutrition, invest in and scale up nutrition programs that not only reduce child mortality but also consolidate the future of children by reducing the incidence of stunting and its detrimental long-term impacts.

At the June “Nutrition for Growth” event in London, Canada will have the opportunity, because of its leadership in nutrition, to inspire other members to invest in developing country-led efforts to reduce undernutrition.  It is extremely important that we work together to commit additional finances and political capital to invest in nutrition and food security, to make sure that less and less women and children live below the line in a near future.

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(Image from https://www.facebook.com/LBLca)

 

Published in the Ottawa Citizen – http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/2013/05/12/francoise-briet-eating-on-1-75-a-day/

Invest in Nutrition

Eden, a young boy of 3 years old, was just diagnosed with speech delay. This is one more illness that is affecting him. He also suffers from immune deficiency and deafness. All are related to his first year of life when he has faced severe chronic malnutrition. He looks normal, but the consequences are detrimental; this lack of food (hunger), at a critical moment in his early life, will hamper his ability to learn and hinder opportunities later in life.

This disturbing story may be the intolerable reality of children living in India or Ethiopia; but in fact, this story happens next door to us in America. Eden is one among other protagonists of a provoking documentary launched last month – A Place at the Table.

This documentary is thought-provoking mainly because it shows us that obesity and hunger are neighbours, our neighbours. Access to affordable nutritious foods in a world of plenty seems an unacceptable challenge for too many. In fact, this is increasingly the reality for many children living in both the developing and developed world, mainly because hunger and obesity are globally interconnected. We cannot pretend that it is not visible; it is in fact in our backyard. The burden of malnutrition is one major challenge in the context of the post-MDGs if we really want to achieve sustainable human development for every child in the world.

It is true that we have made significant progress over the past 50 years in the sector of population health. Life expectancies for men and women have increased. A greater proportion of deaths are taking place among people older than 70 years. The burdens of HIV and malaria are falling. Far fewer children younger than five years are dying. But this encouraging picture is being challenged by old and new threats. Africa remains the most afflicted continent, where maternal, newborn, and child mortality, along with a broad array of vaccine-preventable and other communicable diseases, are still urgent concerns. Malnutrition and stunting continue to be a long-term damaging stigma for children in Africa and South East Asia, with an estimated 75% of the world’s 165 million stunted children living there.

The link to extreme poverty is incontestable – as children in the poorest communities are more than twice as likely to be stunted, particularly in rural areas where as many as one third of children are affected.

On the other hand, more young and middle-aged adults in low and middle-income countries are suffering from obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases (diabetes, hypertension, stoke and cardiovascular disease…). These diseases are driven primarily by phenotypic predisposition and high consumption of ultra-processed foods. With increasing urbanization and shifts in diet and lifestyle, the result could be an escalating epidemic of such conditions in many low- and middle-income countries. This would create new economic and social challenges, especially among vulnerable groups.

Fighting stunting is the emerging battle in the context of optimal human development. It is the irreversible impact of not receiving enough nutrient dense foods within the first 1000 days of life, from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. But stunting is more than a problem of stature; this lack of nutritious food also impacts the overall physical (organ as well as immune cell function) and cognitive development, and determines the susceptibility to obesity and food-related non communicable diseases later in life.

During the first 1000 days, nutritional requirements to support rapid growth and development are very high, and the baby is totally dependent on others for nutrition, care and social interactions. For example, the first year of life is a time of astonishing change during which babies in normal conditions, on average, grow 55% in length, triple their birth weights and increase head circumference by 40%. Between 1 and 2 years age, an average child grows about 12 cm in length and gains about 3.5 kg in weight. During these crucial days as well as during fetal life, the body is putting together the fundamental human machinery (similar to hardware and software for computer). This process is done over a very short period of time and requires specific nutrients like vitamin A, iron, folic acid, zinc but also protein, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and choline. The immune-system and brain-synapse development are particularly vulnerable. As a result, any disturbance of this frantic activity leaves a terrible mark. Smaller than their non-stunted peers, stunted children are more susceptible to sickness. In school, they often fall behind in class. They enter adulthood more likely to become overweight and more prone to non-communicable diseases. When they start work, they often earn less than their non-stunted co-workers. The drama of this situation is the fact that an undernourished mother is more likely to give birth to a stunted child, perpetuating a vicious cycle of high prevalence of premature death (an estimated 60-80% of neonatal deaths occur among low birth weight babies), undernutrition and poverty.

It is imperative to focus on the first 1000 days of a child’s life as the crucial window of opportunity for change. It is during this time that proper nutrition has the greatest impact on a child’s health and potential future wellbeing and opportunities. A recent publication in Lancet has reinforced this idea, and has showed that attaining optimal growth before 24 months of age is desirable; becoming stunted but then gaining weight disproportionately after 24 months is likely to increase the risk of becoming overweight and developing other health problems. UNICEF’s latest publication “Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress” is closing the loop. It shows that there are proven low cost solutions for reducing stunting and other forms of undernutrition. These simple and proven nutrition activities need to be integrated together. They include improving women’s nutrition, early and exclusive breastfeeding, providing additional vitamins and minerals as well as giving appropriate nutrient dense foods, especially in pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life.

Investing in children’s and women’s nutrition is not only the right thing to do from a human right point of view; it is also a cost-effective investment. It can increase a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by at least 2-3% annually. Every US$1 spent on nutrition activities to reduce stunting will have a return on investment of US$30. This integrated nutritional strategy as proposed by UNICEF and other international stakeholders is the locomotive that can accelerate economic growth and pull millions of people out of poverty.

Let’s work all together to be sure that every children around the world has a place at the table. This is our responsibility!

This article was publish in the Ottawa Citizen last week. This is the link:

http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/2013/04/26/francoise-briet-invest-in-nutrition/

Don’t bring me the food that western people love!

Over the past few months, I was busy writing articles for different magazines and newspapers.

This is one of them: Don’t bring me the food that western people love!

OCIC article

This is part of a series of articles on food in the context of global development.

All the articles are really interesting. It will give you a different perspective on some key issues. But not only this, there is more. 

This is the link:

http://content.yudu.com/A24lyd/iAMVol4/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%3A%2F%2Focic.on.ca%2Fiam

Hope you will enjoy the voyage…  

Quinoa Year aims to ease food insecurity and transform the global diet

2013 is the International Quinoa Year: http://www.rlc.fao.org/en/about-fao/iyq-2012/

This is an interesting article published by the UN news Centre…. and I would like to share with you some of the key points and highlight why quinoa is an interesting staple in the global context of food security. However, quinoa’s success starts to initiate problems and challenges that need to be addressed if we want to make this food revolution sustainable locally as well as globally. 

Quinoa farmed on the Bolivian antiplano ranges in colour from white to pink to orange. Photo: Claudio Guzmán/FAO

Quinoa, a highly nutritious grain-like crop that has made its entry into the food basket of culinary connoisseurs has been a staple for centuries in South America, among pre-Columbian Andean farming communities from Colombia to Ecuador. In fact, most of the world’s quinoa is grown on the altiplano, a vast, cold, windswept, and barren 14,000-foot Andean plateau spanning parts of Peru and Bolivia.

By declaring 2013 the ‘International Year of Quinoa’, the United Nations is hoping to popularize a life-sustaining seed that could help promote food security and poverty eradication, cut malnutrition and boost biodiversity in support of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It is also a way to recognize the indigenous peoples who preserved quinoa through traditional knowledge and practices passed down through the ages.

Quinoa famers in Bolivia show off their latest crop which could help promote food security and eradicate poverty. Photo: Claudio Guzmán/FAO

In Resolution 66/221, the General Assembly declared the International Year of Quinoa in recognition of the Andean indigenous people “who have managed to preserve quinoa in its natural state as food for present and future generations, through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature.” Hence the theme for this year: “A future sown thousands of years ago.”

Pronounced ‘keen-wah’, quinoa is not really a grain, not really a vegetable. It is a pseudo-cereal, part of the chenopodium family related to beets and spinach. Quinoa seeds are gluten-free and have all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins needed to survive. Due to its high nutritional value, indigenous peoples and researchers call it “the golden grain of the Andes.”

One cup of quinoa (a single serving size) brings:
  • 220 calories (70 % carbs, 15 % fat, 15 % protein)
  • 40 grams of carbohydrates (13 % daily value)
  • 8 grams of protein (16 % of daily value)
  • 3.5 grams of fat (5 % daily value with no saturated fat)
  • A glycemic load (blood sugar spike) of only 18 out of 250
  • 5 grams of fiber (20 % of daily value)
  • 20 % of daily value of folate (various forms of Vitamin B)
  • 30 % of magnesium daily value; 28 % daily value of phosphorous; iron (15 %); copper (18 %); and manganese (almost 60 %)

Quinoa’s link to food security

Cautioning that the crop is “still in the experimental phase” in some areas, Mr. Bojanic, who is the Deputy Regional Representative at the FAO Regional Latin America and the Caribbean Office and also serves as the Secretary for the International Year of Quinoa’s Secretariat, said that quinoa “is beginning to be taken up by countries that would not have thought of having it a few years ago.” Those include Canada, China, Denmark, Italy, India, Kenya, Morocco and the Netherlands, which are already producing or undertaking agronomic trials towards commercial production of quinoa.

Bolivia and Peru account for more than half of the annual 70,000 tons produced of quinoa, with the United States responsible for about 7,000 tons and France close behind, FAO reports. Quinoa is hardy. It thrives in temperatures from -8 degrees Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius, at sea level or 4,000 metres above, and is not impacted by droughts or poor soils.

This crop can be grown under very difficult conditions like semi-arid, at high altitudes, sea level, with no fertilizer. It’s an amazing crop in terms of the adaptability that it has to stressful environments,” Mr. Bojanic said.

Researcher from the University de Valparaiso with quinoa farmers in Chile. Photo: Didier Bazile/CIRAD

This adaptability makes quinoa potentially viable for areas with regular droughts, such as the Sahel Region – which includes Senegal, Chad, Niger and Mauritania – where million of people are in need of emergency food aid and malnutrition is rampant.

The latest figures in FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 Report show that despite significant progress, almost 870 million people – or one in eight – are still suffering from chronic malnutrition.

UN officials say there is still time to reach the Millennium Development Goal for reducing the proportion of hungry people around the world by half by 2015, but countries need to step up their efforts and quinoa offers hope.

The quinoa quandary

Agronomical and nutritional attributes aside, quinoa’s global success relies on making it affordable. Consumers will not buy what they cannot afford, and farmers will not grow large quantities of a crop that is not financially viable.

Such is the so-called quinoa quandary that as the demand for quinoa has grown in recent years, so has its price. Less than $70 per ton a decade ago, quinoa now sells for more than $2,000, according to FAO figures.

In Bolivia, quinoa farmers near Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest body of water, carry waist-high stalks covered with purple, yellow, green and orange flowers to harvest. This is considered the cradle of great civilizations for the Tiahuanaco and the Incas, and is the origin of quinoa.

“Now people everywhere are buying quinoa. In La Paz, they sell it in the markets. It’s everywhere. For that reason we are also able to sell small quantities. With that money we sustain our families,” Elias Vargas, a farmer, told the United Nations.

Mr. Vargas and his neighbours sell their crops to a Bolivian coffee chain, Alexander Coffee, which uses quinoa in its salads, sandwiches and desserts. The company bakery turns out more than 1,000 quinoa chocolate chip cookies per day.

In the beginning it was hard to change the mentality,” recalled Pamy Quezada Velez, CEO of Alexander Coffee. Quinoa used to be known as ‘poor man’s food’ with Bolivians preferring to eat wheat and rice. “More people are opening up to the idea, and we’re doing well with quinoa.”

The partnership between small farmers and small businesses is part of a project supported by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). While farmers like Mr. Vargas do not grow enough to sell to foreign markets, increased domestic consumption provides them with new opportunities.

Almost all of the estimated 250,000 acres of quinoa farmland is in the hands of small farmers and associations around the world. FAO estimates that at least 130,000 small quinoa growers from South America alone will benefit this year from increased sales, higher prices for their crops and a return to indigenous practices in a sustainable manner.

“In the traditional markets, it is still rather accessible to poor people but when you find it in the supermarket it tends to be rather expensive,” Mr. Bojanic said.

The rapid expansion of quinoa farming in the last years has been a double-edged sword. As prices rise, farmers are more likely to sell the quinoa crops they would have consumed, sparking concerns of malnutrition. About one-third of children under the age of five in the Andean countries are already chronically malnourished, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Quinoa fields on the Bolivian altiplano. Photo: Claudio Guzmán/FAO

The change in food choices as a result of higher income is also causing some farmers to turn from traditional staples to more caloric, processed foods. The change is particular among youth who would prefer a sugary soda to a home-made drink of boiled water, sugar and quinoa flour.

In addition, the increased incentives to produce more quinoa are also contributing to land disputes. “Land that had barely any use in the past and small farmers who were not in conflict are starting to – now that the land has more value – struggle among themselves so they can claim such lands to produce quinoa,” Mr. Bojanic said.

Property disputes are further aggravated by reverse migration, as the high prices for quinoa are motivating residents who moved to cities to return to plots, and by not giving the soil enough time to rest between harvests.

The push for increased production is seemingly at odds with the traditional life of the quinoa farmers, a main reason quinoa was selected for the honour. But UN officials stress that boosting the importance of developing sustainable production systems for quinoa consumption and food security are among the main objectives for the year.

Boosting sustainable agricultural practices and partnerships

The International Year of Quinoa, is overseen by the IYQ- International Coordination Committee composed of the ministries of agriculture of Andean countries and France. Bolivia has the presidency of the Committee, with Ecuador, Peru and Chile sharing the vice-presidency.

“The reaction is very enthusiastic,” said Mr. Bojanic. “Governments are looking at a coordinated approach to increase production nationally and regionally.”

Experimental quinoa plants at the Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias in Ecuador. Photo: INIAP

In the public sector, the UN is looking to engage with international agricultural research centres and national research centres on a global research network and gene bank database to maintain the crop’s 120 variations. The idea is that experts will test the crops and show farmers how they can best be grown under different conditions.

Professor Luz Gomez Pando is one of the local experts and scholars working with the UN in Lima, Peru. Based at La Molina University, she uses nuclear radiation to develop new varieties of quinoa that have a higher yield. The gamma rays speed up the evolution process that would take millions of years in nature. She then gives her seeds to the women farmers and at harvest time, cooks quinoa with them.

“I am from the highland above 3,000 metres and I was the daughter of two farmers,” Ms. Gomez told UN Radio and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “What we need right now is to have these crops very fast in big fields.”

The majority of quinoa is produced using traditional technologies that result in low yields. A hectare normally results in 600 kg of quinoa. FAO wants to raise the production to a ton of quinoa per hectare. That would help raise the overall production from 70,000 tons per year to 200,000 tones annually by 2018 through improved technologies and engagement with businesses already processing quinoa, including large importers and exporters.

02-20-2013quinoa

References:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44180#.US1C3jCR98E

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/10352/2