- Danielle Han
Borgen Project Articles
Last winter, I was accepted to the Borgen Project Journalism Program. The requirements included: drafting a weekly output on any economic and/or world-in-focus topic on global poverty; lobbying to political figureheads on bills and issues; and fundraising a minimum of $500 for the organization itself. The internship was unpaid, but was valuable for allowing me to establish a news presence and develop better writing skills.
These articles, among others written throughout the course of my internship, are all available via my featured LinkedIn links. I’d also like to share the raw, pre-edited versions of all my articles, which hold more refined language. Though these revisions were likely an effort made by the editing team to uncomplicate my words and appease the Borgen Project audience, I still hold my original articles in high regard, so I’d recommend giving them a read as well.
Period Poverty in the Philippines
The Philippines, located in Southeast Asia, is an archipelagic state that holds the third-largest Catholic population in the world. General statistics on period poverty in the Philippines are limited, but a broader question of implementing sex-education is blocked by religious influence. Reproductive health legislation poses a risk to bilateral relations between the government and Church, holding lawmakers at an impasse.
In the Philippines, many young women endure menstruation as a major economic and social determinant of success. Students in particular are ill-equipped to navigate their menarches, and the period stigma impacts the quality of their education and future. Policies to address this issue have been mostly ungenerous, with some advancements happening under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have been advocating to push period awareness campaigns to the forefront of the public health agenda.
Period poverty in the Philippines is part of a larger issue, where the nescience of women’s health connects back to soaring teenage and unexpected pregnancy rates. According to a survey that G.M.A. News conducted, most voters support the idea of government-regulated sex-education efforts. Political progress has been slow at best; the Church holds enough public sway to delay any legislative initiatives. The Philippines did not enforce the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Act of 2012 until 2019, when Duterte signed an executive order to mandate free reproductive health services, albeit against the will of the Church.
Sex-Education in the Philippines
Though a 2012 law includes mandating sex-education in school curricula exists, its application has been mostly overlooked. Determining lessons on periods falls to the jurisdiction of the teachers, most of whom are male, and it is in this setting where many girls start to fall behind because of their menstrual cycles. Currently, the way most young people learn about menstruation is from their mothers, and girls are told to sit on a coconut shell to alleviate their cramps. They receive little help from their teachers, and face standard forms of subtle embarrassment common to girls who get their menses for the first time.
The school setting also represents the larger-scale issues for people who menstruate in the Philippines. Toilets are limited in number and privacy, and windows are poorly positioned so boys will often peep at girls who are doing their business. Likewise, 14% of workplaces have inadequate toilets for women, and women must habitually carry their own toilet paper because there’s limited water for flushing and hand-washing in restrooms.
Improving sex-education could be a largely successful target to combatting period poverty in the Philippines. A U.N.W.A.S.H. study identified four key recommendations to improving girls’ menstrual health in the Philippines: better education; better facilities; better access to menstrual products and support systems for girls who take an absence. Though period poverty remains largely unchecked, further observation would promote a general betterment needed to combat women’s health inequities.
Initiatives to help fight the period stigma
At the social level, humanitarian organizations use community initiatives to provide support for people who menstruate. Save the Children Philippines assigns resident volunteers and teen advocates to dismantle menstrual health stigmas by reaching out to their peers with advice, support, and educational tools. COVID-19 has intensified the crisis, and Save the Children Philippines C.E.O. Alberto Muyot spoke in an interview with Business Mirror that now would be the key time to put menstrual health at the forefront of public health solutions. Currently, they are providing resources like hygienic kits and food offerings to combat the pandemic.
Addressing the period stigma is another initiative that comes in the form of an innovative strategy. Menstrual cups have had a profound impact on period poverty around the world; as a more economical and comfortable option than their disposable counterparts, they provide a solution that generally improves the standard of living. Sinaya Cup, a small business, retails menstrual cups catered to the specific needs and challenges girls face in the Philippines. For instance, besides promoting themselves as an eco-friendly and comfortable solution, they also promise a waterproof quality important to girls who wish to participate in recreational activities like biking, trekking, and climbing.
The attitudes surrounding menstrual health is a global issue that chronically impacts the economic wellbeing of women. Addressing the stigma requires a multifaceted solution. The emergence of COVID-19 has amplified concerns regarding where women fit into the public health conversation, making now the opportune time to address the issue of period poverty. Dismantling period poverty in the Philippines might begin with government and community initiatives, but the state must consider adapting its sectarian views to accommodate the needs of women’s’ health.
How medical cannabis tourism can stimulate the Mexican economy
Mexico is set to legalize the official use of medical marijuana in 2021. Though this is a significant legal milestone for one of the world’s largest drug markets in the world, there are concerns that the legislation gives large corporations an unfair advantage in a trade that employs a number of small farm- and business-owners. The countermeasure to this could benefit farmer and government alike: through stimulating medical cannabis tourism in Mexico, locals can perk the already-robust travel industry and the government can provide better employment infrastructure at all levels.
History of marijuana legalization in Mexico
Activists have long pushed the Supreme Court to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by recognizing it as a “human dignity” protected under an anti-discrimination decision ruled in 2000. Volunteers took interesting measures to protest during the COVID-19 pandemic by planting a garden of cannabis plants outside the Mexican Senate. Though recreational legalization was expected to pass as early as December, the government delayed the vote and instead established a set of regulations for medicinal use in January.
The most significant opposition stems from concerns over national security. Citizens are fearful that poorly implemented parameters could further aggravate the issue of organized crime activity. The new legislation, which regulates cultivation and sale, holds a number of legal complexities that farmers and sellers must adhere to. These requirements are likely to give large firms from Canada and the U.S. the upper hand, as they are already familiar with the trade. State protection has never been too generous for those in the trade; prior to U.S. legalization, crops would be sabotaged in covert operations, and farmers would have little protection as a consequence of dealing in illicit operations.
How cannabis tourism could address this crisis
Medical cannabis tourism in Mexico offers an innovative solution to combat these economic insecurities. As a newly developing branch of the travel industry, cannabis tourism offers itself as a beneficial way for locals to develop their businesses and the government to boost its gross travel revenue. A variety of experiences have garnered interest from potential travelers, offering new spaces like “420-friendly hotels” and dispensary tours. Other nations have also utilized this industry to boost their economies. Thailand, after legalizing medical marijuana, improved itself as a tourist destination when locals were encouraged to provide tours that would offer unique experiences and destigmatize the use of the drug. After recognizing its economic significance, Thai legislation was rearranged to adopt and facilitate the growth of these new developments. Currently, cannabis tourism in Thailand is projected to develop millions of dollars in tourism revenue.
The new legislation in Mexico allows for tourists and citizens to freely carry cannabis products around the state. Though these leniencies are inspired by the precedent set by Thailand and are meant to open the market for cannabis tourism, locals must be pointed in the right direction with the information that will allow them to capitalize on the market to come.
Mexico, the sixth most visited country in the world, has huge potential in medical cannabis tourism. Despite the lack of generous public protection for those who have been in the trade, this is also a large opportunity to rebuild trust and subsequently national security. Medical cannabis tourism in Mexico offers a promising future, especially if local businesses are adequately facilitated and protected. Additionally, the traffic will be a vital source of economic stimulus in coming years, with a likely surge in post-pandemic traveling.
Cannabis Advocacy in Mexico
Multiple organizations have repositioned their approach to supporting cannabis justice in Mexico, as the new laws reinforce a divide between governance and working people. One NGO in particular, Instituto RIA, aims to empower potential vendors in the trade by providing classes on business practices and entrepreneurial literacy. In an interview with the Borgen Project, co-founder Zara Snapp explained that “cannabis tourism will be immense in Mexico, if [one thinks] about the mezcal tourism, tequila tourism, vineyards.” She asserts that these changes are a “positive for the country and [a] means [for] creating greater economic opportunities across sectors and not about building the massive take-all corporate culture that [has been] seen in other industries.” Instituto RIA’s approach shows that by adapting to these new laws, NGO efforts can strategically position themselves to support an incoming robust trade of medical cannabis tourism in Mexico.
Along with grassroots empowerment work, organizations like Instituto RIA work to dismantle an unfortunate connection between national security and cannabis justice. Mexico has a complicated history with nonstate actors and human rights violations, especially ones that concern cannabis cultivation and use. As Snapp puts it, however, the state is an “actor [that activists] can seek to change as citizens of [the] country, whereas nonstate actors like organized criminal groups [activists] have zero influence over; [they] cannot [be forced] for transparency, but [conditions can be created] so that some of them will choose to transition to a legal space and legal market. What [activists] hope to do is change the way that the state shows up in communities and with individuals that will rebuild trust, that will begin to build trust… really it is about transforming a tiny piece of the structural conditions in Mexico that have caused great damage. This is not going to be the end-all solution to everything that is happening in Mexico, or the huge structural problems and inequalities that exist, but it is one of many. And the lack of access to justice, [is] one of many interventions that is needed in order to move in that direction.”
Cannabis tourism in Mexico could be a profound solution in reviving socioeconomic and political safeties. Though the new laws are revolutionary in the overall movement for drug justice, the working class persists through a struggle for fair protections. Small farm- and business-owners deserve recognition and commission for their hard work, as well as a space to provide ordinary establishments and experiences that can be enjoyed by tourists and the economy alike.
How Chicken Feathers can Combat Global Hunger
Thai researcher Sorawut Kittibanthorn recently served a gourmet meal — made of chicken feathers. He served chefs and food influencers a variety of dishes, including steak and film-like wrapped goods. The food received positive feedback, though the testers were surprised to enjoy such a food. Kittibanthorn, who obtained a Master’s Degree in London on Material Futures, is determined to promote zero-waste solutions in an effort to reduce global waste and promote sustainability.
The poultry market is a booming industry. Chickens are one of the most commonly consumed meat products in the world, and they are a cultural and economic staple in many countries. The birds’ feathers, however, produce mass waste; in the U.K. alone, chicken farms discard around a thousand tons of feathers per week. Few companies have taken notice of the potential behind these unwanted goods. Feathers have a high source of keratin protein, making them ideal sources of insulation, plastic or even animal feed. Kittibanthorn’s findings are uniquely bizarre, however, and shift the conversation towards a multi-pronged solution in combating global hunger using ethical solutions.
On top of reducing waste, Kittibanthorn maintains the idea that chicken feathers can be repurposed for elegant and elevated dining. The destigmatization of food waste is not completely unprecedented in the culinary world. Michelin-star Chef Massimo Bottura utilized a trash-to-table dining model in 2018 by recovering surplus ingredients to make nutritious and delicious meals for his community. Food waste is a largely uncomfortable issue around the world, and the U.S. alone generates 40 million tons per year. Through utilizing solutions from scientists like Kittibanthorn and chefs like Bottura, many countries could work towards resolving the issue of world hunger.
A zero-waste future
Utilizing chicken feathers as a zero-waste solution to combat poverty would fall in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which include seeking to end hunger and improve nutrition. In the context of agricultural initiatives, it opens the conversation on the collaboration between innovations like feather-based foods and organizations that promote crop diversity. The Borgen Project spoke with Rodrigo Barrios, the Strategic Partnerships Manager at Crop Trust, who explained how crop diversity includes two elements of action; use and conservation. “When it comes to waste”, Barrios explained, “the closest work we have done with biodiversity is a campaign called Food Forever.” This initiative seeks to enlighten the community with crop usability by connecting chefs to less popular crops, and giving them the agency to promote agrobiodiversity. Promoting crop diversity would also help reduce poverty, Barrios explained. “We identify all biodiversity, internationally, that is fundamental for food security and nutrition and agriculture, and we ensure that the gene banks are funded in perpetuity provided they are up to standard.” Crop Trust cooperates with the U.N., and is seeking to build more funding to support long-term conservation initiatives.
The practice of repurposing materials that are typically disposed, such as chicken feathers, has great potential to reduce poverty and push for more sustainable market practices. These trends would promote ethical decisions in the private sector, help communities with nutrition security and connect agronomics to crop supporting initiatives.
Impacts of Environmental Poverty on NomadicLife in Mongolia
The biosphere is rapidly deteriorating, and nomadic life in Mongolia is paying a high price. Those who lose their livestock to severe weather conditions also lose their main source of revenue and safety. Many abandon their farms to pursue life in the cities, where other calamities await. Today, the situation has grown more dire than ever.
How nomads are left behind
Mongolia’s abrupt transition from a Soviet satellite state into a free market economy left little room for nomads to enjoy fiscal mobility. Shortly after lands were privatized, opportunists secured farmlands and promptly overexploited them. These elites would excessively hoard horses, sheep and yak, who would subsequently mow the grounds down to bare land. Nomads, who had essentially lived as if land was shared, and had known how to properly cultivate and harvest from their farms, were left in the dust. Today, 80% of the country’s livestock belongs to the richest 20% of owners.
The agricultural inexperience of these people came at environmental and economic costs. “Herding is a skill [that’s learned] over a lifetime”, Dr. Timothy May of Eurasian Studies at the University of North Georgia told The Borgen Project in an interview. “Being a nomad looks [like] just raising animals and the animals know what to do, but [nomads] have to know how to manage the animals. What would work with their pastures and so forth.”
Overfarming and other sorts of extraction, such as mining, have radiated into large-scale issues like pollution and public health conditions. Gers, tent-like structures that serve as portable houses, are often heated by burning raw coal and cheap minerals. Particulate air matter, or dust particles, clog the air and damage respiratory systems. As a result, pneumonia is currently the leading cause of death in the country.
Possibly the most devastating climate crisis, however, is the largest determinant of nomadic poverty. Dzuds are various natural catastrophes specific to Mongolia’s shifts in weather, and are only growing in size and severity. Of the five types of dzuds, the most commonly known is a tsaagan dzud. During these, a layer of ice or snow blocks animals from reaching food or water, leaving them to die in mass groups. 2010 saw the worst of these, when 20% of the country’s animals were wiped out. This year, many experts are suggesting the risk of a dzud is unnervingly high.
Environmental poverty on the rise
With each environmental change, nomads are increasingly vulnerable to the clutches of poverty. Cities like Ulaanbaatar are already saturated with those who resorted to urban life, and public health concerns like food insecurity, maternal mortality, and water scarcity are further complicating the issue.
Not all hope is lost. Dr. May suggests that by empowering skilled nomads, Mongolia could start to untangle the economic and environmental damages. “Nomadic lifestyle is better not only for the animals but the quality of the product, there is an industry that can be there”, he says, “because there’s plenty of money to be made with the nomadic life….They can feed the country -- they can be self-sufficient, and with plenty to export”. These recommendations, among other solutions, are all important to addressing the cycle of climate change and poverty as a whole.
The situation of environmental poverty in Mongolia is best resolved through grassroots solutionism, as locals are most familiar with the nuances of villages that need support and their adjacent approaches that promise effect. One NGO has worked towards connecting nomadic communities through tourism economics. Ger to Ger connects visitors with nomads and their homes in an effort to promote environmental sustainability, empower locals and promise an excellent trip experience. Another recognizable NGO with a more internal community approach seeking to help those affected by environmental poverty in Mongolia is Source of Steppe Nomads, founded by Lena Khazidolda, who was actually born to a nomadic village. Source of Steppe Nomads bolsters the younger generations through refining disciplines like education.
Despite impressive NGO efforts such as these, the power of organization calls for bureaucratic efforts as well. The statistics clearly demonstrate that there is a growing concern that affects nomadic life in Mongolia, and international institutions must put forward more initiative to help contribute to resolving the issue. The crisis is recognizable; all that’s left to do is act.
How Plastic Bricks can Help Reduce Poverty
Gjenge Makers is a Nairobi-based startup company that offers a sustainable, practical and affordable solution to combat poverty; through selling the community the building blocks themselves. Their products — which include an assortment of bricks with differing functionalities and styles — are forged from recycled plastic and sand.
The plastics waste crisis in Kenya
Garbage is quickly accumulating all around the globe, and Africa is bearing the brunt of rising waste levels. Governments in resource-rich regions typically have the capacity to pare the trash down into a flakey substance, slashing the amount of physical space it occupies. This process is time-consuming and expensive, however, leaving several countries such as Kenya’s to instead address the issue by implementing a series of plastic bans.
Plastic ban policies typically have corollary socioeconomic and environmental consequences. Throughout the state are large piles of waste that have built up as a result of excessive plastic use, such as the infamous Dandora Dump in Nairobi. “Plastic traders” will scour these junkyards for limited resources like bottles and certain compounds, often risking their health and wellbeing for small cash rewards. Many at the lower end of the disparity are also disproportionately affected by policing under these laws; plastic bag distribution, manufacturing, and usage are subject to a fine and/or prison sentence. Additionally, multiple businesses will generally relocate to other states to avoid such strict laws, damaging economic interests and employment numbers.
Kenya had been taking a slow-moving approach in curtailing the plastics crisis when Gjenge Makers founder Nzambi Matee decided to take matters into her own hands. The entrepreneur experimented mixing recyclables with sand in her mother’s backyard, and eventually composed a formula to build a brick 5-7 times stronger than concrete. Her products are now a core economic ingredient toward upturning poverty and improving infrastructure at the community level.
The housing crisis in Kenya
Kenya is currently undergoing a severe housing deficit, with houselessness numbers rapidly escalating under the pandemic. The estimated numbers of households needed had been at two million before the pandemic, but factors such as limited resources are further distending the issue. Current policies are also damaging, as the homeless population will often hide from police after curfew hours. With limited protection and a lack of housing, many families are struggling to survive.
How Gjenge Makers can help
Gjenge Makers addresses both the plastic waste crisis and housing crisis through their plastic brick solution. In accordance with their “Build Alternatively, Build Affordably” model, they seek to contribute a key product that could empower individual communities by giving them the resource they need to rise out of poverty. Founder Nzambi Matee has declared eradicating poverty as a personal goal of hers, and her new innovation could potentially help build more shelters to combat houselessness. The company also seeks to make its products accessible to essential learning institutions such as schools.
Gjenge Makers currently receives plastic through a multipronged approach. They collect from factories and recyclers seeking to discard their trash, whether at a price or for free. They also use a mobile application which incentivizes rewards and allows homeowners to notify them when they have available plastic. The formula to build the bricks requires a particular type of plastic compound, often labeled on the products themselves.
The issues that make Gjenge Makers a significant champion of eco-friendly and economic empowerment are a crisis throughout the continent as well. Though the startup is currently based in Nairobi, they seek to eventually expand and support other African states as well. So far, they have recycled 20 tons of plastic and created a total of 112 jobs.
How Japan can Solve its own Hunger Crisis
Despite boasting a reputation as the third largest economy in the world, the effects of Japan’s poverty rate of 15% continues to worsen throughout the pandemic. The hunger crisis in Japan is a notably rising concern, as efforts to supply consistent meals to children were shortstopped once schools stopped convening. Shortages are not the issue here; the nation has enough stockpiled rice and resources to feed all its citizens. However, a lack of infrastructure around federally-mandated food security has left organizations and communities urging the government to take action.
The role of Kodomo Shokudo in feeding Japan’s hungry
Nonprofit organizations and communities step in to provide food welfare in Japan through Kodomo Shokudo, loosely defined as a series of programs that support students with a space to eat and socialize. The term was coined by restaurant-owner Hiroko Kondo, who kickstarted the movement when she had heard that all a student had to eat for the week was a banana. She decided to establish the first Kodomo Shokudo, where youth could pay affordable prices for a meal, without feeling the burden of receiving charity work. Her work eventually flourished into a huge network of other restaurants and community members participating in a mutual effort, all working to eliminate the hunger crisis in Japan.
The pandemic’s impact on Kodomo Shokudo has been significant. Though the heightened need for food pantries and services have boosted the number of participants up 33%, a survey showed that half of them were concerned to continue providing spaces to eat because of the risks brought on by the coronavirus. Many locations and vendors have recoursed to alternative solutions, such as donating bento boxes, and some organizations are working towards community-based solutions to simultaneously improve food distribution and help struggling businesses.
From the stockpiles to the hungry — how the government could help in food efforts
The pressure to distribute food is not a new challenge for the Japanese government. The state holds an emergency supply of rice to prepare itself for potential famines, an effort induced by a disastrous harvesting season in the late 20th century. These reserves currently hold a million tons, and they’ve helped assist Kodomo Shokudo vendors in the past. In a precedent set by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF), rice handouts for students are categorized as food education, but strictly dissociated from welfare efforts. However, recent challenges suggest radical changes will eventually need to take place, as the demand for food handouts has doubled during the era of COVID-19.
Though the government has partially relented, they continue to practice extreme budgetary caution. At the start of the pandemic, they allowed charities to take a limited amount of cooked rice — to eliminate any chances of scheming the system — and distributed a total of 10 tons from their main stash. Food banks are frustrated with the slow-moving bureaucracy of feeding the hungry, and continue to lobby for more generous rations.
The hunger crisis in Japan could be resolved by its own government, and to do so would be economically and politically beneficial. There already exist potential avenues to improve governmental help, whether through nonprofit organizations or Komodo Shokudo. Though the food crisis in Japan remains largely unrecognized — there are only forty food pantries in Tokyo for a residency of 14 million — the need for better general governmental welfare has not gone unnoticed. The pandemic has largely eroded at the prospects of economic security, and rates of unemployment are steadily rising. There are many reasons for the state to begin chipping away at its own poverty rate, and beginning with the hunger crisis is a promising start.
Child Poverty Rates Indicate Disparities in New Zealand
New Zealand is an island nation in Oceania that, according to the United Nations Happiness Index, boasts a reputation as one of the world’s happiest countries. The government currently holds especially high esteem in the international community, credited for an exceptional job in handling the pandemic. However, beyond these glowing numbers is an escalating crisis; child poverty in New Zealand.
New Zealand’s gaping poverty rates
New findings released by Statistics NZ and the Salvation Army’s State of Nation show gaping disparities among child poverty rates. 19% of Māori and 25.4% of Pasifika populations live without all of the basic household needs, compared to the overall rate of 11%. The issue of indigenous inequality is nothing new; Māori and Pasifika populations have faced historically disproportionate challenges that impact their quality of life, a number that the coronavirus has only pushed higher.
Child poverty rates in New Zealand were identified as a policy target for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s administration back in 2018, when findings showed a rate of 16.5% of children living in households that held less than 50% of the median equivalized disposable income. Until the pandemic hit, the government was actually partially successful in accomplishing the Child Poverty Reduction Act, a three-year plan to reduce the rate to 10%. However, the plan was disrupted once coronavirus became a widespread issue. There is now a data gap, as the collected numbers are only updated as far as March 2020; once the pandemic hit, collecting data became a concern due to the risk of infections. What the new numbers were already indicating, though, were an urgent call for Ardern and her administration to shift their focus on supporting Māori and Pasifika populations who have fallen behind.
How to close the gap
Luckily, recognizing the data gap is already a feat in the long road to challenging disparities. Until 2018, there had been both a lack of incentive to collect demographically based data and a caliber for poverty calculation. Now, a census team conducts household economic surveys to calculate the disposable income of each home. Now that the racial disparities have been made clear, the government must prioritize diversifying its numbers to show an accurate representation of indigenous populations in collected statistics. There are challenges to this — a legacy of colonialism has left indigenous communities with little trust to partake in census participation — but existing efforts to collect Māori and Pasifika data now include grassroots outreach, such as making sure having local marae members reach out to others in their community.
The advice from experts on the highest priorities remain mixed, though generally, most argue that the government’s current incrementalist approach is not doing enough. Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft, the government’s primary champion in reducing child poverty rates, has acknowledged the concerning disparities as “profoundly disturbing”. There are also a variety of determinants involved that indicate hardships that disproportionately impact Māori and Pasifika populations, such as; imprisonment rates, houselessness, and weather changes. Throughout the pandemic, many indigenous populations have signed up to receive more benefits and welfare payments, — emergency food grant applications have tripled in the past three years — indicating the government should do more to offer financial empowerment and support, such as education incentives and rent freezes. Another suggestion is to improve diversity within the government; taking steps to improve Māori and Pasifika representation at the public-sector level would give voice to the people who best understand how to tackle the child poverty crisis in New Zealand.
Many nonprofit organizations are also working to chip away at the numbers themselves. The Child Poverty Action Group holds a series of campaigns to address different poverty-related issues and call for action in policy advocation. They also provide a number of resources that make navigation among different available services easier. At the community level, some food banks have worked through coronavirus to support struggling families where they can, and provide warm shelter during cold weather.
Prime Minister Ardern and her administration has their work cut out for them. Though they’ve taken some promising steps to reduce child poverty numbers — such as their new policy requiring schools to offer free period products — their top priority must include the overrepresentation of Māori and Pasifika in poverty statistics. The government should, as experts and advocates alike are pushing for, do more.
How Coffee Diplomacy can fight poverty
Coffee production in Nicaragua is a steadily maturing industry. Despite contributing the lion’s share, however, small-scale producers are often left behind with paltry benefits. SOPPEXCCA (the Society of Small Producers for Coffee Exports) engages this by supporting farming families in Nicaragua, namely through empowering women and children. As a cooperative, they provide a community for growth and action through coffee. Coffee in Nicaragua
The rise of specialty coffee is promising for Nicaragua, who already contributes around 1% of the world’s coffee. The beans grown in the region are distinct for their mild and citrus-like taste, and are consequently gaining traction with the global market. 60% of the nation’s coffee output comes from northern regions like Jinotega, where SOPPEXCCA was founded. Most coffee growers face economic challenges beyond living a humble farming life. The crops require a decent amount of maintenance, and fall to environmental risks: a leaf disease called la roya claims 30-40% coffee plants per year, and hurricanes destroyed 10-15% of the coffee harvest in 2020. Additionally, many children often have to dedicate some time to the farms just due to the sheer amount of work there is to do when tending to coffee crops. Soppexcca
Soppexcca empowers farming communities with long-term solutions that stimulate financial literacy, strategy, and growth. Through building educational institutions, promoting gender equality, utilizing sustainable solutions, and communicating with farmers, the cooperative helps give farmers life skills to improve their economic standing. The cooperative works in accordance with the UN Millennium Development Goals, which include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Farmers and communities who join Soppexcca are also protected by a number of international securities, such as Fair-Trade certification and Food4Farmers benefits. Muchachitos del Cafe
Soppexcca’s youth movement, children of coffee, reaches out to the younger generations through education. With providing art and music classes, building schools, and establishing scholarships, Soppexcca looks to fund programs that help kids who come from farming backgrounds. The cooperative also requires children to graduate at least primary school, helping expand their education and knowledge.
Soppexcca is woman-led by Fatima Ismael, and also boasts a female membership rate of 40%. Ismael took over leadership in 1997, and pointed the cooperative towards a robust plan on a woman-centered approach. Participating coffee businesses and entrepreneurs have boosted feminine-related issues, such as improving public health by providing screenings and using proceeds from profit towards prevention programs related cervical cancer. The cooperative has also launched a number of movements to support women in the field of coffee agronomics, an industry generally typified with having “macho-culture”. Much of the work related to growing coffee is typically attributed to needing physical strength, and NGOs such as La Foundacion entre Mujeres within the cooperative seeks to benefit women with teaching skills attributed to masculinity. Soppexcca also supports female coffee producers by giving them the tools and knowledge needed to succeed in the industry, such as marketing and management skills. Farmers
Soppexcca also equips farmers with entrepreneurial skills required to participate in the fast-paced growth of the global coffee market. As a response to la roya, among other environmental challenges, they have partnered with a number of crop diversification outlets to point farmers towards growing more safe plants, such as cacao. The cooperative has started at least one chocolate factory to help create jobs and support farmers. Soppexcca also connects small-scale coffee producers with large corporations, such as Starbucks, allowing them to apply for loans that can jumpstart their business careers. The rise of craft coffee
Unique beverages are on the rise within the global market, and Nicaraguan coffee will likely be one contender among many pioneering trends. Soppexcca is a widely recognized name within the nation’s coffee industry, and will likely need to foster it’s excellently growing diplomatic practices if it is to continue helping farmers and families. Other nations can also take from this example of agronomic diplomacy, using community-run cooperatives rather than large business entities as intermediaries.
The Intersection of Food Insecurity and Eating Disorders
The study of eating disorders (EDs) has habitually focused on socioeconomically affluent communities, with the common assumption being that they predominantly affect white women. Recent research, however, indicates that EDs have less to do with being an accessory of privilege and more to do with the psychological and emotional connections that people have with food. Instead, EDs and food insecurity are heavily correlated. This puts communities who face erratic and troubled relationships with nutrition at a higher risk of disordered eating afflictions, especially those who experience scarcity.
Eating Disorders: What are they?
Defining EDs is complex work, as their aesculapian contexts are constantly changing. Most commonly they are identified through common symptoms, such as behavioral patterns and prescribed as ailments that are helped with in-advance treatment. The American National Institute of Mental Health broadly characterizes EDs as a medical illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the four diagnoses of EDs are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and any other unnamed EDs. These can include behaviors such as avoidant and restrictive food intake, often linking to external stress and psychological factors. Disordered eating is designated a less severe form of EDs, though it increases the susceptibility of an individual’s proximity to becoming affected.
Disordered eating is connected to mental pressures, stress and cognitive functioning. There is a clear correlation between starvation and psychological behaviors, with diet having a heavy influence on the brain. In an interview with the Borgen Project, third-year doctoral student at the University of North Carolina Rachel Uri explained how her Clinical Health Psychology Program is utilizing a holistic approach in understanding how these behaviors work. “Eating disorders are very biopsychosocial, in that [individuals] might have a genetic risk for eating disorders… in thinking about those who experience persistent food insecurity and deprivation over time, [it is known] that nutrition and adequate nutrition is super important for healthy brain development… food insecurity causes a great deal of stress for people that are experiencing it, and just poverty in general and those competing basic needs that have to be attended to.” Those living in scarcity may have poor eating patterns that are not connected to EDs, such as semi-starvation or the habit of eating less in the case that food runs out. Identifying EDs and food insecurity as correlative with stress heightens the connection they have with food insecurity, an issue that impacts real economic outcomes of individuals around the world.
How attitudes around EDs are changing
For an extensive period of time, western media and academia placed the focus on understanding EDs on white women, specifically adolescents. This interpretation was especially connected to America’s fascination with eating behaviors that burgeoned in the 1990s and the portrayal of skinny television stars who were portrayed as the beauty standard. The connection of EDs to richer women were also shaped by the sentiment that it stands as an issue of abundance, rather than stress. Though these attitudes may have been common, they were largely misdirected: in the same 1995 Newsweek Report study that concluded white girls as predominantly discontent with their body, findings on women of color were downplayed and arranged to perpetuate the notion that they were confident in being shapely.
New findings are proving that EDs and food insecurity affect all demographics and ethnicities at similar rates. The impact of the long-standing stereotype of the rich being most affected, however, has incredibly dangerous economic and health implications on communities of color. Apart from being introspectively displaced on the compass of EDs, patients are statistically proven to receive different types of quality care depending on their race. People of color in the US are less likely to receive help for EDs than their white counterparts, yet are just as likely to be affected.
Eating Disorders in the World
In the same way that EDs are narrowly detailed in the west, they are also massively overlooked within the context of global poverty. Inquiries into finding a correlation between socioeconomic standing and disordered eating has yet to be unpacked, though there are a few that have established some sort of connection. A study conducted in Australia indicated that indigenous communities in New Zealand are not exempt from EDs, while also being disadvantaged by the medical and health system. Uri explains that “looking at it from a global perspective, American researchers and European researchers as well have to be cognizant of the fact that the way we study food insecurity in [countries around the world] is not a one-size fits all approach.” Though there is a distinct trend of rising EDs throughout continents such as Asia and South America, they are typically comprehended through a scope that treats western EDs as the normative standard. Pointing to urbanization as the core factor is designated as a biased analysis, with the focus being incorrectly placed away from how EDs are connected to the cultural contexts in which they develop.
That’s not to say symbols imported by global influence have no cultural impact on EDs. Throughout many Asian nations, EDs are identified as reactory towards western media. In the same spike of attention on body image in the 1990s, television media became globalized. The unrealistic body standard interfered with several cultures that had previously standardized larger bodies as signs of wealth and status. Body dissatisfaction could have very well been introduced from abroad, but unrealistic standards are facilitated by the communities in which they grow.
Food Insecurity, Food Justice, and Food Agency
In the oncoming direction to connect disordered eating with food insecurity, there is a sense of urgency to apply this understanding to the global spectrum as well. The resolution towards world hunger is customarily seen as one that fights scarcity; those who receive nutritional aid, however, are limited in the types of dietary options they receive and the consistency in which they receive it. Food justice nonprofit organizations are starting to universalize this notion, with not only the food itself being a precious subsidy, but the relationship between food and those who live in scarcity being a priority as well. This integrated approach is termed by Uri as “what’s been termed more recently as food agency, and that is the concept of communities exercising control over the creation, distribution, preparation: really from when the crop grows on the ground to when it’s on [the] table. Having control, choice, autonomy in getting those things.” Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are likely to replicate this model in coming years, with the awareness that food justice includes more than delivering nutrition to those who need it.
Recommendations to improve EDs through addressing global hunger
Though there is an extensive amount of work to be done in deconstructing the degree and angles of identifying EDs and who they affect, academic and media articles have begun shifting the attention on all populations, regardless of socioeconomic status. This attention is important; it indicates a growing trend in correcting the course of how EDs had been diagnosed and approached, and commits an obligation to resolve the issue of EDs as a food insecurity issue.
Through tackling mental health as an issue that affects developing nations, the growing trends of EDs can likely be resolved. The attention on mental health in developing countries remains a low priority. The World Health Organization calls for more resources to go into tackling mental health issues abroad, as they are only growing in number and severity. Practices to improve mental health in communities should be in accordance with the communities and cultures in which they exist. Though psychology experts recommend exercises such as meditation and yoga to alleviate stress, clearly there is a more systemic pattern and significant solution required for those who live in scarcity to overcome their stress.
Individuals that are helping connect EDs to food security
Few US nonprofits, let alone NGOs, have begun incorporating disordered eating in their model to fight food insecurity. Individual experts in nutrition, poverty, food security, and disordered eating are advocating for a change to this however, with promising motivations. Along with Rachel Uri are other academics and doctors who are calling for disordered eating to be recognized as a priority of food justice. Kimberly Singh with the Eating Disorder Registered Dieticians and Professionals has worked to assist refugees with community-based solutions in overcoming food insecurity. Dr. Carolyn Black Becker, former president of the Academy of Eating Disorders, is also bringing to light how the stereotypes surrounding EDs have an impact on food insecurity. Becker spoke at an academic symposium on the issue, presenting a model of understanding EDs in the context of scarcity with her colleague, Dr. Keesha Middlemass. Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford at Harvard University has significant contributions as well, pointing to the impacts coronavirus has on food insecurity, increasing the vulnerability of disordered eating symptoms.
The development to understand EDs and food insecurity as intertwined entities is a newer topic in the field of western Academia. The impact of this awareness will likely influence the approach and model that food justice organizations use, and NGOs will likely follow suit. The best solution is, as Uri puts it, a self-sustaining system for organizations to deliver food agency to individuals and communities living in scarcity. Their cultural nuances all influence the specific ways EDs affect their communities, and self-sustaining systems are long-term solutions for food aid. The conversation is rapidly growing, and it must include global matters as well.