Globally, an estimated 690 million people go hungry, an increase of 10 million in one year and almost 60 million in five.1 Two billion people suffer from moderate or severe food insecurity, meaning they are hungry or at risk of hunger and are therefore forced to compromise their diet quality and quantity or miss meals entirely.2 Without intervention, the lives of those who are hungry and malnourished are stripped of their potential. Their health, employability, and productivity all suffer.
Children are among the most vulnerable. Adequate nutrition in the earliest years of life is key to proper growth and development. The prevalence of children under five who were stunted in 2019 was 21.3 percent, or 144 million children. And 6.9 percent of children under five, or 47 million children, were affected by wasting.3 Shorter-term health effects of hunger include impaired cognition, decreased concentration, and poor academic performance.4 Longer-term effects include vitamin deficiencies, weakness, growth delays, susceptibility to disease, and death.5 Child hunger programs play an indispensable role in providing nutritious food to children who need would otherwise go hungry.
Paradoxically, while millions suffer from hunger, more than enough food is currently produced in the world to feed everyone. Despite enormous gains in agricultural productivity, efficiencies, and improvements throughout food systems over the past decades, one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted, about 1.6 billion tonnes.6
Modeling conducted by Boston Consulting Group using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects that the volume of food loss and waste will rise 1.9 percent annually from 2015 to 2030.7 Food waste projections do not currently include estimates of food system and supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, the volume of food loss and waste is expected to have dramatically increased just as millions more people become food insecure and hungry.8
Hunger is a complex, though completely solvable problem. Nations and societies must address the challenges of food insecurity and hunger in their own contexts. The stakes of hunger, malnourishment, and food insecurity are high, and the long-term cost to society in diminished health, productivity, and economies is profound. The challenges and potential risks are even greater now during the global COVID-19 emergency, and the way in which they are addressed will determine the speed and success of the eventual recovery.
Food banks are a vital part of the solution. As community-based organizations created to address local food insecurity needs, food banks offer a proven and tested solution. Rooted in the socioeconomic and cultural context of the communities in which they are formed, food banks are an essential lifeline to millions, helping address the four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability over time.
Globally, Africa and Asia account for the greatest share of food-insecure people worldwide, yet in 2019–20 also had the fewest number of food banks to address the need. In Africa the food bank model is still developing, with the notable exception of South Africa, where food banks (FoodForward SA) are well developed, have national reach, and are an essential part of the social safety net. The expansion of the food banking model in other parts of the continent offers significant promise for reaching those in need. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 18.9 percent of the population is severely food insecure, the highest prevalence rate of any subregion in the world.9
Food and grocery distribution among GFN food banks in Africa grew by 6 percent in 2019. The growth in food recovery and redistribution to food-insecure people was due to increased programmatic expansion in South Africa and the addition of food banks in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, and Nigeria.
Asia was home to the largest number of undernourished persons in 2019, with more than 1.03 billion food-insecure persons, or 55 percent of the global total.10 While the need is significant, rapid growth and advancement of food banks in the Asia-Pacific region has led to substantial increases in addressing community needs. Asia-Pacific now accounts for more than half (56 percent) of all people served in the GFN system, compared to 25 percent in 2018.
This growth has been largely driven by the addition of food banks in India—which serve collectively an estimated 3.5 million people—Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam as well as continued growth in Australia and South Korea. The effect of expanded food bank operations in the Asia-Pacific region has led to a 297 percent increase in people served in 2019 over 2018, and now represents the largest proportion of people impacted by food banks in the GFN system.
The Global FoodBanking Network was established in 2006 to advance and empower food banking throughout the world. Food banks are recognized as important community-based hunger relief and surplus food recovery institutions, adopted and adapted to the socio-economic and cultural contexts of communities in more than 70 countries. More than 1,500 food banks in the GFN, FEBA, and Feeding America networks served a combined 66.5 million impoverished and food-insecure persons in the communities they serve and redistributed more than 3.75 million metric tons of surplus food in 2019.11
Among GFN member food banks, food distribution in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs)12 increased 450 percent from 2018 to 2019.13 The establishment and rapid advancement of the food banking in LMICs—adapted to local conditions and needs—offer effective models for food assistance, spurring, in turn, public-sector social protection programs.14
In 2019 the majority of food bank activity occurred in advanced economy countries,15 where poverty, income inequality, and food insecurity are prevalent. Surplus food recovery models and food bank infrastructure are well developed in these countries. The reach and effectiveness of the food bank model is long established and researched extensively in Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The complementary role of food banks to government social protection programs, schools, and other civil society institutions working to address food insecurity among vulnerable and underserved populations has proven essential for community support, cohesion and resilience.
Food banks mobilize vast local networks of voluntary, grassroots organizations and initiatives—150,000 local organizations worldwide, including nearly 60,000 beneficiary agencies through the GFN food banks—helping to develop and strengthen civil society in service of community needs. In the GFN system, global resources—combined with local efforts, stakeholders from all sectors, and resources—are brought together by food banks to achieve a multiplier effect in their communities. With food banks operating in communities across more than 70 countries worldwide, more hungry people are fed, less food is wasted, and financial resources are spent on addressing the root causes of hunger and food insecurity.
The State of Global Food Banking 2020 shows the pivotal role food banks have had in their communities toward a more equitable, more sustainable world.