Food Insecurity Soaring in Hotspots According to UN
The United Nations (UN) highlights In a recent news release that food insecurity is soaring across 20 countries and regions. The causes of food insecurity in these regions is conflict, economic shocks, natural hazards, political instability, and limited access to the regions themselves for humanitarian aid. Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen were identified as the regions of highest concern. In these areas, people are currently experiencing or projected to experience starvation and death, and they need the most urgent attention.
In addition to these highlighted regions, the New York Times (NYT) recently reported that global food prices have risen to their highest levels since 2011. This increase in global food prices is in part due to supply chain issues caused by COVID-19. Consumers have seen increases in numerous items, such as grains, vegetables, dairy, and meat. Cooking oils have hit their highest price since tracking and indexing began in 1990. Price Indexes for these items can be found in the FAO Food Price Index.
Both sources’ reports highlighted that the causes of food prices increase are multifactorial. Farmers have faced challenges due to changes in climate and natural disasters such as drought and ice storms ruining crops. Rising prices for fertilizer and fuel as well as labor and supply chain disruptions associated with the COVID pandemic have also made it difficult for farmers to grow crops and efficiently get them to market. Combined with difficulties in crop production has been the recent spread of African Swine Fever, disrupting global pork supplies and prices. The instability created by these factors is expected to be most felt by the poorest and most vulnerable globally.
USDA Reflects on Efforts to Address Food Insecurity Over Last Year
The USDA put out a press release on January 21, 2022, addressing its efforts over the past year to address food insecurity in the United States. Highlighted in the press release were changes to SNAP benefits, ensuring children receive meals despite school closures, and expanded food assistance efforts for vulnerable communities. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service was aided in these efforts through $12 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.
SNAP benefits were temporarily increased by $3.5 billion (15%) to all beneficiaries, in addition to $1 billion dollars additional monthly specifically targeted to the lowest income households through emergency allotments. Due to the pandemic and the associated school closures, many children who relied on free or reduced school lunches were at risk of experiencing “meal gaps”. To address this concern the Pandemic-EBT program was expanded by approximately 16%. Additional resources were made available for vulnerable communities such as unhoused individuals under the age of 25, and those participating in the WIC program were also made available.
Food insecurity is defined by the USDA Economic Research Service using 2 separate terms. Low food security indicates people are not experiencing reduced food intake, but the quality, variety, and desirability of their diet is reduced. Those experiencing Very low food security report “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.” According to USDA data from 2020, 10.5% of households in the united states are food insecure.
University of Minnesota Hosts Food Security Dashboard
The University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences in collaboration with MBOLD coalition and the State of Minnesota have created an interactive dashboard which models estimated food insecurity in the state of Minnesota quarterly through 2023. The goal of the platform is to create greater transparency and better planning for the food insecurity faced by those in our state as a way to help ensure food security for Minnesotans.
The dashboard generates predictions about the percentage of Minnesotans who are food insecure with quarterly rate changes in the percentage of people who are food insecure, as well as providing information about local food shelf locations. Other highlights of the dashboard are the ability to provide information at the census tract level, where food gaps are located, as well as other social vulnerability index factors like socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status, and the concentration of housing and transportation.
MBOLD has previously published information on their website highlighting the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has played into exacerbating food insecurity within Minnesota. According to MBOLD the “meal gap” has risen 40% during the pandemic leaving 1 in 9 Minnesotans food insecure. For those who need help with food and groceries, the state of Minnesota has access to many support mechanisms, including emergency food support, food shelves, a free meals for kids app, SNAP outreach specialists, and the WIC program amongst other options. These resources can be found on the Minnesota government website linked here or below.
UN News Report
FAO Food Price Index
USDA Press Release
USDA statistics on Food Insecurity
Minnesota Food Insecurity Dashboard
MN Gov Food Resources