Food insecurity is a serious and growing problem in many parts of the world, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and conflicts. According to the World Bank, more than 800 million people are estimated to be undernourished in 2023, up from 690 million in 2019. Food insecurity not only affects people’s health and well-being, but also their dignity, livelihoods, and social cohesion.
In this context, food banks play a vital role in providing food assistance to those who need it most, while also reducing food waste and promoting sustainable food systems. Food banks are organizations that collect surplus food from various sources, such as farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants, and distribute it to community-based organizations that serve people facing hunger, such as soup kitchens, shelters, schools, and churches.
How food banks operate
There are different types of food banks, depending on the local context and needs. Some food banks operate as warehouses, storing and distributing large quantities of food to partner agencies. Others focus on recovering prepared food from catering services, hotels, and events, and delivering it directly to people in need. Some food banks use virtual platforms to connect food donors and recipients, and facilitate the transportation of food through volunteers or third-party services.
The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is an international organization that supports and connects food banks in more than 40 countries. GFN provides technical assistance, strategic grants, product sourcing, and advocacy to help food banks increase their capacity and impact. GFN also promotes the development of new food banks in areas where they are needed, through its New Food Bank Development Program and Incubator Program.
How food banks promote food security
Food banks are not only a source of emergency food relief, but also a driver of food security and nutrition. Food banks ensure that people have consistent access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food that meets their preferences and dietary needs. Food banks also help prevent food loss and waste, which is estimated to account for about a third of the global food production. By rescuing food that would otherwise be discarded, food banks save resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to environmental sustainability.
Food banks also support the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, Zero Hunger, which calls for ending hunger, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030. Food banks work with various stakeholders, such as governments, multilateral agencies, companies, and civil society organizations, to address the root causes of hunger and food insecurity, and to advocate for policies and programs that protect and empower vulnerable populations.
How food banks respond to the global crisis
The global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and conflicts has increased the demand for food assistance and challenged the operations of food banks. Food banks have faced disruptions in food supply chains, transportation, and logistics, as well as increased costs and safety risks. Food banks have also had to adapt to the changing needs and preferences of the people they serve, who may face restrictions on mobility, access, and choice.
Despite these difficulties, food banks have shown resilience and innovation in responding to the crisis. Food banks have expanded their networks and partnerships, diversified their food sources and products, enhanced their technology and infrastructure, and increased their outreach and advocacy. Food banks have also implemented new models and strategies, such as mobile food pantries, home delivery, online ordering, cash transfers, and vouchers, to ensure that people can access food in a safe, convenient, and dignified manner.
Food banks are an essential part of the global food system, and a lifeline for millions of people who face hunger and food insecurity. Food banks need more support and recognition from the public and private sectors, as well as from the general public, to continue their work and to scale up their impact. Food banks are not only a solution to the problem of hunger, but also a catalyst for change and a source of hope.