Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Global expert to Maine: Not all hungry people are 'welfare cases'
19 March 2016

Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, a global leader in the sustainable farming movement and the fight to end hunger and food insecurity, will deliver the University of Maine School of Laws Justice for Women Lecture in Portland on Thursday.

By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff
Posted March 19, 2016, at 8:13 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine - Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda remembers as a child looking forward to drinking a big mug of milk with a tablespoon of cereal in it every day after she walked to school in Zimbabwe.

At the time, she said, she didn't understand hunger was a global issue.

"We just thought it was part of going to school," Sibanda, CEO and head of mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, said Friday, speaking with the Bangor Daily News by phone from New York. "But today that doesn't happen. Children who walk to school barefoot - they've not had breakfast. That would have made a big difference to me."

Sibanda coordinates policy research and advocacy programs in 17 countries in Africa focused on food security, climate change and advances in agriculture. She will visit Maine next week, talking with children and adults about barriers people encounter to accessing affordable, nutritious food and sharing solutions for overcoming those obstacles.

On Thursday, Sibanda will deliver the fifth annual Justice for Women lecture at the Abromson Community Education Center at the University of Maine School of Law.

"This topic could not be more timely. Hunger and food insecurity are on the rise here in Maine, as they are in too many places around the world," Danielle Conway, dean at Maine Law, said in a release. "Dr. Sibanda is an incredible resource to discuss problems and solutions, and hopefully to inspire action both here and abroad. We're honored to be her host as she engages Mainers in these crucial conversations."

"I'm keen to learn and understand how Maine is grappling with the issue of food insecurity, because food insecurity is a global issue," Sibanda said Friday. "I want to believe some of the challenges in Africa could be similar to what Maine encounters."

Sibanda said she is eager to learn about school feeding programs in Maine "and whether they're available to all school children." Some countries in Africa, she said, can no longer afford programs like the one that fed her as a child.

Sibanda will focus on strategies to provide nutritious food to those in need. In recent years, farmers in Africa have moved away from diverse cropping to growing single crops such as corn, wheat and rice, which are favored by markets.

Sibanda said sweet potatoes, peanuts and watermelon - known as "traditional female crops" because they are raised by grandmothers in their backyards - have dwindled, leaving children with less diverse nutritional options.

As people have sold off livestock, sources of protein such as eggs, poultry and meat have disappeared. As a result, most people eat "empty calorie" diets based on corn porridge and thickened corn for all three meals.

"Without this livestock, we're seeing high cases of malnutrition," Sibanda said. "Currently in Africa, one in three children are stunted because their mothers are deprived of nutrient-dense food and children are not getting access to a diverse diet."

Sibanda also hopes to discuss with Maine policymakers how to increase "climate-smart," sustainable agriculture.

"That's something the whole world can learn from each other," she said. "We have to adapt to a changed climate, and that requires more research: The crops we grow now won't be relevant to the future, and the future is now. What type of research should we be doing? How do we enhance soil quality? That's conservation agriculture. And sustainable intensification - intensifying yield while minimizing damage to the environment."

Sibanda also will share with policymakers in Maine one strategy used by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network in Africa to best provide assistance to households according to their needs.

"We look at households and say no one size fits all," she said.

The network divides households into categories according to their assets: human assets such as the number of individuals, education level and ability to do agricultural work; physical assets, such as a decent home and livestock to use as income and to power a farm; natural assets including access to land for farming; and financial assets and social networks.

"Then we score the households, dividing them into 'coping,' about to fall off the table,' and households that are 'welfare cases,'" she said.

The categories help the network provide assistance that enhances, instead of "stifles" the capacity of the household. For example, a household that is "about to fall off the table" might best benefit from livestock to allow its members to farm goats or a dairy cow.

"We help the government understand that not everyone is a welfare case," she said. "Less than 10 percent of households are 'welfare cases.' You've got to have targeted assistance and know what the need is and not generalize. Every bit of help should leave the person better off and able [to move to the next step]. No one wants to be a permanent dependent."

Sibanda also will share strategies to get the continent's "burgeoning youth population" entries to the job market after they obtain education.

She's eager to visit with Deering High School students next week "to share and learn and listen and observe."

"I'm ready to answer any questions," she said. "Also, if I can leave them with some bigger vision of what it means to come from Africa and to live in a global village where we are all responsible citizens."

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