No matter where you live, motherhood is a universal concept. As a chef, I know the importance of nutrition and the types of food I should be feeding my four children to ensure they grow healthy and strong. I find comfort in knowing that malnutrition is not a danger they face. Unfortunately, this certainty is a luxury that many mothers around the world do not have. Globally, over 795 million people are chronically hungry and over 160 million children are stunted.
In August, I traveled with the poverty-fighting organization CARE on a learning tour to Mozambique to learn more about global food and nutrition security. CARE and the World Wildlife Fund are partnering together on a program in Mozambique to conserve the fragile ecosystem of the Primeiras e Segundas, a chain of islands and coastal communities in the Indian Ocean off of Africa’s southeast coast. The goal is to protect the region’s wildlife and habitats while strengthening the livelihoods of the people who depend on the area’s marine and terrestrial resources.
For Alima Assane, a mother I met in northern Mozambique, access to nutritious food is a daunting task. It’s not a matter of going to the grocery store and whipping up a quick meal. Instead, it’s more than eight hours of gathering, cleaning and preparing the food that she can access on her small island. In Alima’s community, women harvest small fish, crabs and clams from the mangroves, which is their main source of food. Men fish in the estuary or the open ocean. However, they are catching fewer crabs and fish due to overfishing and the impacts of climate change on the environment.
Alima faces particular challenges as her husband left to find work in Beira, a city in central Mozambique. She is now left alone to provide food for her family. Since it is taboo for a woman to fish from a boat due to cultural beliefs, Alima and her five children must rely on the small snails and occasional crabs she catches. A typical meal at her house consists of cassava and sea snails with peanut sauce. She has to rely on the generosity of her neighbors for fish and other foods. Alima and her family’s ability to access food is directly linked to the health of the mangroves, which are being cut for firewood, highlighting the importance of protecting the mangroves and promoting the sustainable use of natural resource management for this community and other poor communities around the world.
The problem is larger than just availability of diverse foods and the environment that provides the food, however. The hours women spend struggling to put food on the table is time not spent earning an income, getting an education, supporting their children’s education, or accessing better health care. This is where my inner advocate goes into overdrive. Women’s empowerment has to be at the heart of all development programming.
Malnutrition — particularly in the first 1,000 days from a mother’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday — can permanently impair physical and cognitive development, creating a vicious cycle of poverty and hunger. Furthermore, feeding and nourishing today’s global population and a projected 9.6 billion people by 2050 while protecting the planet is perhaps today’s most significant challenge.
But this year Congress has an opportunity to do something about it. As I witnessed in Mozambique, sustainable natural resource management and women’s empowerment are critical to feeding millions and ending the cycle of hunger in developing countries. The United States’ Global Food Security Act of 2015 (S.1252 and H.R. 1567) requires a comprehensive and coordinated strategy for global food security that focuses on women and smallholder producers and leverages best natural resource management practices. This bill maintains and improves U.S. programs in developing countries that increase sustainable and equitable agricultural development, reduce global hunger and improves nutrition. The Global Food Security Act also requires a strategic, effective and transparent approach to U.S. food security assistance, with annual reporting to both Congress and the American public.
Join me in urging the passage of this bill and changing the trajectory of the current food crisis. It’s critical that we prioritize these issues for mothers and their families around the world.
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