WFP on energy and agriculture and its impact on improved food security

V4CP’s focus on media engagement is paying off in Ghana

On the occasion of World Food Day 2020, we speak to UN World Food Programme, recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 for its efforts to combat hunger.

Maarten Kleijn, Energy for Food Security Advisor at the World Food Programme explains how important it is to also look at food access through the lens of energy access.

Maarten, you work for the World Food Programme but are focused on energy. Can you tell me a little more about your role there?

At WFP, I am based at the headquarters in Rome and I work in the Energy for Food Security team, which is part of the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction unit. I moved to WFP after an amazing time at SNV, in which I worked on several very exciting energy access projects in different countries in Africa.

In the areas where WFP is active (emergencies and fragile areas), we promote household cooking solutions that burn biomass more efficiently than open fires; or modern cookstoves powered by bottled gas, biogas, ethanol or electricity, to lower or eliminate both polluting emissions as well as the harmful demand for wood fuel.

Through our School Feeding Programme, we reach 17.3 million students. It is also our aim to provide clean energy to these schools, for cooking, lighting & communications and for providing energy services to the surrounding community.

Finally, we provide energy for productive use of energy for food systems.

We see WFP's role in energy access specifically on the demand side. Leveraging our network of around 100 million people who receive support from WFP, we can also introduce energy solutions at scale through a market-based approach. For example, by providing electronic vouchers for energy services to our beneficiaries through our systems. We can then partner with organisations that focus more on the energy supply side, like SNV.

What sources of energy does the World Food Programme support?

We support a range of energy sources in our Energy for Food Security approach, depending on the context. In Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, we setup an LPG programme together with other UN Agencies, to reach almost one million Rohingya refugees. In Burundi, we piloted off-grid solar electric cooking for households. In many countries, like for example Sudan, we are promoting improved biomass cooking solutions that are more efficient and produce less harmful smoke than open fires. In Kenya, we currently have a project with SNV that is focussing on an innovative biogas solution for institutional use. For anything related to electrification we mostly use solar-PV.

At what points along the food chain is energy of most importance?

Because a lot of what we do is enabling people to access food, the energy required to cook that food is crucially important for WFP. However, food production, processing and preservation do require energy as well and our focus on food systems, working with smallholder farmers, is enhanced by including an energy access lens in our programmes.

For example, mechanised labour improves the quantity and quality of food produced and processed. Solar water pumps enable irrigation, while solar mills substitute diesel generators that depend on expensive fuel and have high maintenance costs. In addition, preserving food by chilling, smoking, drying, pasteurising, dehydrating, vacuum sealing (all processes that require energy) substantially cuts the amount of food that is spoiled and wasted.

How can access to energy help to improve food security?

In the humanitarian settings where we work, access to clean cooking fuels is a major challenge. We often see that beneficiaries trade their food rations for cooking fuel on the local market. Similarly, beneficiaries undercook food or decide not to prepare certain dishes, because they do not have access to enough cooking fuel with negative impacts on nutrition. School children and their families are often required to contribute cooking fuel for school meals, which can sometimes even affect attendance. Introducing a reliable and affordable cooking solution for refugees and in institutions would improve food security.

At the same time, energy for agriculture can lead to less food waste, a richer diet that includes fresh foods, the possibility to fortify food and increase production. All leading to improved food security.

Can you tell me a little more about the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme?

The Home-Grown School Feeding initiative is striving to improve the nutrition of schoolchildren and boost local economies. The approach links school feeding programmes with local smallholder farmers to provide millions of schoolchildren in 46 countries with food that is safe, diverse, nutritious, and above all local.

What impact has the current pandemic had on food security in the regions where you work?

COVID-19 has caused global disruptions to the transport systems and links that health and humanitarian responders would normally rely upon to reach affected areas in a crisis. WFP is using its logistics capacity and expertise to step in and provide these services where commercial capacity currently doesn’t exist, ensuring critical health and humanitarian cargo and personnel can move to where they’re needed most. To minimize the impact of the epidemic on the 138 million people it intends to serve this year, WFP is adapting its planning to ensure they will continue receiving the assistance they need.

In addition, the effects of biomass cooking, a practice that causes the premature death of about 3.8 M people yearly worldwide on the respiratory system are exacerbated by COVID-19, increasing the vulnerability of our beneficiaries. Local food processing also acquires importance given transport limitations.

As we mark World Food Day 2020 today, what message does the World Food Programme have to share?

WFP today joins its sister agencies in calling for global action to improve the systems that produce and distribute the food we eat so that they can better withstand shocks including the COVID-19 pandemic that can spark alarming surges in the level of hunger in the world.

Today we also launch our Cost of a Plate of Food 2020 report. The report shows access to food is grossly unequal as coronavirus adds to challenges.

We currently have a campaign around stopping food waste as well: our #StopTheWaste campaign.