Here at FEED, we believe that hunger is a solvable problem.  Every time you buy a FEED product, you are participating in the solution by investing in better futures for children and families around the world. We help these families through our giving partners on the ground, whom we rely on to understand real needs of local communities and identify areas of greatest need. One such partner is The World Food Programme (WFP).

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. FEED has supported WFP from day one of our existence, which you can read about here.

Today, we’ve asked Erika Joergensen, the WFP New York Director, to answer some questions for us about what it takes to keep operations moving and little bellies fed. 

Tell us a little bit about what you do for WFP, and how long you've been with the organization? 
I have worked for WFP since 2000. I started my first two assignments as Country Director, then moved on to a Regional Bureau, a Liaison Office mainly working with media and private sector partners. I then moved to WFP Headquarters in Rome working for the Executive Board before my current assignment leading the WFP New York office. This variety of assignments has given me a broad insight of our operations on all levels. In New York, we deal with decision makers. It’s part of my job to give them insight into how hunger and malnutrition affect people and societies. It is also important that we get information about processes and decisions that originate within UN systems in New York to WFP staff in the field.

For our readers who are new to the work of the World Food Programme, can you give us brief overview of your work and why it's important?
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Each year on average, WFP feeds more than 80 million people in more than 80 countries.  In emergencies, WFP gets food to where it is needed, saving the lives of victims of war, civil conflict and natural disasters. WFP uses food to help communities rebuild their shattered lives.

WFP also works hard around the world to address the underlying causes of hunger.  In many of the regions where we work, countries are committing to develop food and nutrition safety nets. WFP plays a vital supporting role by providing the expertise, resources to design, scale up and connect these sustainable and innovative programs and transform a bold vision for lasting food security into a concrete reality for many in need.

To help us understand just how important WFP's work is, can you give us a few facts about hunger and malnutrition in the world right now?

  • Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth.
  • The vast majority of the world's hungry live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four there is undernourished.
  • Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year.
  • One out of six children -- roughly 100 million -- in developing countries is underweight.
  • One in four of the world's children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three. Stunting starts before birth and is caused by poor maternal nutrition, poor feeding practices, poor food quality as well as frequent infections which can slow down growth.
  • 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

How does malnutrition and hunger affect other aspects of personal development and wellbeing?
Malnutrition is one of the world’s most serious yet least addressed problems. The human and economic costs of malnutrition are enormous and fall hardest on women, children and the poor. It claims the lives of millions of young children each year, yet it is almost entirely preventable. Close to 200 million children suffer from chronic nutritional deprivation that leaves them permanently stunted—unable to fulfill their potential to grow and thrive—and keeps families, communities and countries locked in a cycle of hunger and poverty.

Malnutrition early in life can cause irreversible damage to a child’s cognitive development, immune system and physical growth. This results in a diminished capacity to learn, poorer performance in school, greater susceptibility to infection and disease and a lifetime of lost earning potential.

The damage done by malnutrition translates into a huge economic burden for countries, costing billions of dollars in lost productivity and avoidable health care costs. For example, according to a 2015 study, Malawi’s economy loses nearly US$600 million annually due to the effects of child undernutrition.

We know that it's hard for kids to focus and learn on empty stomachs. That is one of the reasons we love the WFP school feeding program. Can you tell us a little bit about the program and its success?
WFP is the largest humanitarian organization implementing school feeding programs worldwide and has been doing so for over 50 years. Each year, WFP provides school meals to between 20 and 25 million children across 63 countries, often in the hardest-to-reach areas. WFP works to ensure that the most vulnerable children in the poorest countries receive sufficient nutrition to allow them to concentrate in school and develop into healthy adults.

WFP provides cooked meals, snacks, and/or take-home rations to encourage children, especially girls, to consistently attend classes. These school meals are often the only meal a child will receive that day. School feeding programs also motivate development by functioning as a safety net to help vulnerable households and communities survive difficult times and shocks without compromising their nutrition and food security.

In many countries, we try to link school feeding programs to local agriculture, an undertaking known as “home-grown school feeding.”  This helps boost local economies through the creation of reliable markets.

What does a typical meal look like in the school feeding program?
The type of school meal WFP helps provide generally depends on country and regional contexts.  The cooks in the schools generally make meals containing nutritious ingredients like rice, local vegetables, beans and sometimes meat or poultry.

Finish this sentence: "When a child has access to good food and nutrition, he or she can..."
…grow up and become a healthy, strong and productive citizen in his or her community and country!