Advancing Food Banks

Food Sourcing 101: Four Unique Ways Food Banks Recover Food

How do food banks source and recover food? Collecting from food drives or obtaining surplus products from food manufacturers may come top of mind, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Food sourcing is a complex and dynamic process as food banks recover wholesome food from a variety of sources across the supply chain—from farmers, grocery and retail, restaurants and the hospitality sector, and more. And sources of food differ from country to country because the food banking model is tailored to the local food system.

Read on to learn four unique ways members of The Global FoodBanking Network recover food to meet the needs of their communities.

Anne Kamau holds carrots harvested from her small-scale farm to be donated to Food Banking Kenya. (Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/Brian Otieno) 1. Partnering with Farmers

For Food Banking Kenya, a significant amount of the food they recover comes from the agricultural sector, the main industry in the country. In 2021, Food Banking Kenya recovered over 417,000 kilograms of surplus vegetables and fruits from commercial farms, small-scale farmers, and produce pack houses. In addition to recovering wholesome produce that might otherwise have gone to waste, the food bank supports farmers who have difficulty accessing markets by purchasing produce and eliminating burdensome transportation costs by collecting the produce directly from the farmer.

Doña Clementina Rocha Escalera poses next to crates of citrus that she sells at Mercado Campesino wholesale market. (Photo: Banco de Alimentos de Bolivia) 2. Recovering from Markets & Wholesalers

Banco de Alimentos de Bolivia has developed strong partnerships with vendors from the wholesale produce markets, Mercado Campesino and Mercado Santa Barbara, over the past three years. Vendors, or caseritas, like Doña Clementina Rocha Escalera, who sells citrus fruits, donate thousands of kilograms of surplus produce to the food bank every week. The contributions of the caseritas are significant—at least 70 percent of the produce Banco de Alimentos Bolivia distributes is donated by these wholesale market vendors. And it’s a mutually beneficial partnership—Doña Rocha shares that she is happy her fruit doesn’t go to waste and instead, through the food bank, provides essential nutrients to people who need it.

Madame Vola, the president of the Mitambatrasoa Cooperative, stands next to machinery that processes gari. (Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/iAko Randrianarivelo) 3. Procuring from Manufacturers

While many food banks receive donated products from food manufacturers, they don’t only work with large, multinational food companies. Banque Alimentaire de Madagascar partners with the local Mitambatrasoa Cooperative, which manufactures gari, a flour made from cassava which is used to make stews and baked goods. Gari is a staple item distributed in the food bank’s food parcels and to schools in their child feeding program. Through this partnership, Banque Alimentaire de Madagascar supports small-scale producers and the local food economy.

After assuring the quality and safety of surplus food, No Food Waste transports it to be distributed in a timely manner to people experiencing hunger. (Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/Narayana Swamy Subbaraman) 4. Sourcing from the Hospitality Industry

For No Food Waste in India, collecting prepared foods from the hospitality sector has been the primary method of food sourcing since the food bank’s inception. “I just wrote on my social media, if someone has surplus food, please call this number,” said Padmanaban Gopalan, who founded No Food Waste in 2014. “I will come and pick it up and deliver to people in need.” Now, the food bank boasts a robust collection strategy, recovering surplus food from offices, weddings, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments in over 10 cities. Once the food bank inspects potential food donations and determines that it is safe, the food bank quickly distributes it to people in the nearest “hunger hot spots” in the community.

These are just a few ways that food banks creatively recover surplus product and source food from across the supply chain, reducing food loss and waste and ensuring that wholesome, edible surplus gets into the hands of people who need it. By doing this, food banks improve food access for their communitiesand in ways that are specific to their local food system.

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