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:
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.