Hunger: an Australian story

Foodbank_End_Hunger_report

Foodbank launched its End Hunger in Australia report in Canberra today.

Hunger afflicts 2 million people in Australia. That’s how many people do not have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food.

I’ll bet you didn’t know the extent of the problem. The Federal and Opposition governments are happy to talk about how many Australian households have access to broadband and the percentage by which that will rise when, and if, their respective broadband schemes are implemented, or the country’s low unemployment rate of about 5 per cent, but hunger isn’t talked about. It’s not on the political agenda.

Nor is it something that most Australian households contemplate.  When I skipped breakfast yesterday — out of choice rather than necessity — i didn’t consider those who are forced to skip meals most days of the week because of their dire straits.

Today, the issue of hunger is well and truly on the table. Hunger relief charity Foodbank Australia has launched its first End Hunger report, which spells out the extent of the problem.

The greatest financial pressure felt by low-income families is partly due to the rising cost of food in Australia. Food makes up a relatively larger share of spending for the needy. The cost of food has risen 24 percent over the period 2003-04 to 2009-10, during which time the prices for fruit, vegetables and eggs more than doubled.

The greatest pressure on food prices in coming years may be driven by a fall in the Australian dollar, which would result in food imports rising in price and increasing pressure on low-income households.

Foodbank collects surplus food from supermarkets and other organisations, and arranges the manufacture of key staple foods, which it distributes it to welfare agencies country-wide.

It distributed 24 million kilograms of food and groceries in 2011 up from 5 million kilograms in 2003-04. The organisation wants to double volume to 50 million kilograms by 2015.  But economic and commercial forces are against it. As demand for food relief is rising, so is pressure on the source of donations from the food and grocery industry for a number of reasons, including;

  • More efficient inventory control has limited the supply of surplus stock
  • Increased product specialisation has narrowed scope of stock donated
  • Increased industry concentration has narrowed the donor companies

The impact of these factors has led to a plateau in donations of ‘surplus to need’ food items over the past two years. The report points out:

“The traditional Foodbank model of collecting surplus manufactured food has peaked. New solutions are necessary to achieve this growth such as arranging the manufacture of key staple foods through our collaborative supply program and collecting more fresh food and ingredients at the farm gate level.”

This takes funding and policy change, which is where governments — and industry — come in. Foodbank has identified three changes that are necessary if it is to reach its growth target by 2015:

More funding
In 2010 the group put a business case to the federal government for $4.5 million annually over five years to proactively source and manufacture key food staples. It currently receives $1 million per annum but says “serious change is reliant on our initial funding request being realised”.

Stronger partnership with the transport industry
Moving food and groceries from where they originate to where they are needed is one of the single biggest challenges, and costs, in Foodbank’s operations.

Amend tax laws to provide companies with an incentive to donate to Foodbank
A change in the tax laws favouring the donation of food has been adopted in the United Sates with great success, according to the report.

The End Hunger report is a call to action — predominantly by industry and government. But it’s much more than that. It’s also an important awareness raising campaign. Without community awareness of the extent of hunger in Australia there will be less pressure on government, and industry, and ourselves, to implement important changes. That’s where you come in.

If you care about reducing hunger in Australia, spread the word about the  End Hunger campaign; write about it on your blog; or get involved in community projects, welfare agencies, and food charities.

And if you’re involved in a food-related charity, community group, or a personal food-related project, tell us about it. Inspire us.

Note:  A link to the End Hunger report will follow.

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12 Comments

Filed under Food Issues

12 responses to “Hunger: an Australian story

  1. Rachel, this is excellent, thank you for bringing to this the attention of the community. I will most certainly promote this important initiative. Food and hunger should be on the agenda for every one of us.

    I was honoured to be involved with Oxfam’s Stop Hunger Start Cooking campaign earlier this year. You and your readers may be interested to download the free cookbook http://www.bizzylizzysgoodthings.com/2/category/stop%20hunger%20start%20cooking/1.html

    • Thanks for your comments Lizzy and for sharing your own experience. I’ve just checked out your post of earlier this year and look forward to downloading the recipes. Lovely of you to drop by.

  2. Vanesther

    Great post and well done for raising awareness. I didn’t realise food poverty was also a problem in Australia. It’s not the image promoted overseas. It’s a very similar situation in the UK with food banks under greater strain than ever before.

    • Hello Vanesther and thanks for dropping in. I understand the food banks and food welfare agencies are under great strain here as demand for food relief rises. According to the End Hunger report, more than 1 in 4 agencies reported an increase in excess of 15% over a 12-month period with 1 in 10 agencies experiencing an increase greater than 30%. It’s a real predicament, that is only going to get worse, particularly if the Australian dollar (which is currently very high) falls, which will make it more expensive to import food and thus push up prices. I agree, it’s not an image that Australia promotes, even amongst its own citizens.

  3. Good article. It’s a huge problem and they definitely need government support to help overcome it. I remember when I went to see things first hand, I was shocked at the amount of waste there was! Sadly they couldn’t take it all and it was heartbreaking.

    • Interesting, Lorraine. I wonder why they couldn’t take it all. Was it because they lacked the resources to process it, or it just wasn’t the foodstuff they were looking for?

  4. Hi Rachel, this is a fabulous article and I also agree with others that it is an issue that needs to be discussed amongst many and not just swept under the carpet by politicians. Food security (access to nutritious, safe and healthy food), food choices and food supply should involve all people, as all people should have the right to eat nutritious, safe and healthy food everyday. Should that not be an Australian right for all Australians?
    It is also fabulous to see that FoodBank is tackling the food poverty issue, although it saddens me that governments do not get behind these sorts of initiatives, but rather are more interested in investing in the exporting of Australian food overseas. Even to the extend that the government believes that Australia could be the food bowl of Asia.
    So what is it with that – the government does not consider helping to feed the low income earners in Australia, but prefers to financially gain from the wealth of the developing countries to the north of Australia?
    Oh there is so much to this discussion, but better for your readers that I stop before I get started and they get bored!
    So thank you again for opening up this topic and I hope that there will be more open public discussion on the Australian food dilemma.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Elena. It’s obviously an issue that you are very passionate about. I’m not sure what traction the End Hunger report has gained in Canberra this week. I hope they managed to get their message across, and embarrassed the government into giving more financial support.
      Interesting, isn’t it, that the government is keen to investigate Australia’s capability of becoming the food bowl of Asia, but isn’t interested sufficiently to investigate the extent of hunger in its own backyard. Let’s hope that Foodbank has made further inroads this week.

  5. Thankyou for this really thought provoking post; i’ve bookmarked it to read again when i’m more awake, and to check out the foodbank report. i think this should also make us – if we are individuals forutunate to be able to comfortably afford groceries and even throw a treat in the trolley every now and then – to be very respectul of that fact. i hate wasting food and will freeze, compost or feed to the chooks whatever i do not eat. for me this is respect for the produce, and for the fact i have either spent money to buy it or time and resources to grow it (i know what has gone into puttign that potato on my plate). watching masterchef and seeing the contestents not get something right, and therfore bin the lot, made me angry. financially that can’t make sense for restaurants, and morally it is not right. more repsect for your produce, not to waste it – and then remembering those who cannot afford to feed themselves. i think there are lots of issues intertwined here! or maybe it’s just me.
    thank you again.

    • Thank for dropping by. And yes, i think it underscores the fact that there is a lot of food waste out there that could be used somehow, or donated. But i think it also underscores the fact that there is a lot of burying heads in sand going on out there. I know i do that. I can afford safe healthy food, ample treats, and to swan about nice (not necessarily expensive) restaurants etc, while people in the same city don’t have enough food. It sticks in my throat, a bit. And so it should.

  6. I don’t know much about this issue but the three key changes make perfect sense. I believe, for the most part, that there is enough food to go around – it just needs to be distributed properly and not go to waste.

  7. Thanks for dropping in Leaf. I suspect it’s an issue many Australians don’t know much about, as it’s not something that’s really talked about. It’s a good job there are organisations like Foodbank bringing it to our attention.

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