Feeding the World: a Holistic, Sustainable Approach to an Age-old Problem 

Give a man a fish, the old saying goes, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will have food for the rest of his life. Of course, such a statement ignores the multitude of things that impact food access, and most glaringly of all, ignores the fact that the man himself knows what is best for him. So how can we sustainably — and holistically — help communities feed themselves in the long term? World Neighbors has been grappling with this question of food insecurity for decades since it first originated in 1951. Their answer is to work hand-in-hand with rural communities as they raise their own funds, improve their own economic options, ensure community and reproductive health, support sustainable agriculture and sustainable resource use, and increase gender equity.

Currently, World Neighbors works with rural marginalized communities in 14 countries in ecologically fragile areas across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, consistently respecting the needs, assets, and wisdom of community members, and facilitating their leadership in making sustainable advances. There’s no quick fix here. Instead, World Neighbors works with the poorest, most marginalized communities for an average of 8-10 years to address the issues specifically plaguing each community.

Olga Chivalan Mendoza, from the community Santo Tomás in San Lucas Tolimán (Atitlan, Guatemala) is standing with her daughter in front of their improved kitchen garden which now grows a variety of vegetables, providing both food and additional income earned through selling vegetables in the market. 

World Neighbors attempts to meet individual communities’ specific needs by providing local trainers, consultants and volunteers who demonstrate sustainable food production. Farmers attend Farmer Field Schools to learn from experienced neighboring farms. Though specifics vary between communities, World Neighbors has a few constants that have been designed to help farmers, including improving the quality of the soil by utilizing organic fertilizers; utilizing organic pest control without harsh, expensive, and environmentally damaging products; establishing irrigation systems to conserve water in the rainy seasons; reducing the amount of soil disturbance by limiting deep plowing of the fields; planting seeds that are more drought and disease-resistant, which will grow better as the climate continues to change; and establishing tree farms within the communities to stabilize possible erosion and improve soil quality.

World Neighbors’ goal is for farmers and home gardeners to produce enough food for their families and communities so they don’t have to spend their limited resources on buying food cultivated elsewhere. Additionally, they help people grow additional produce that can be sold as a source of income. While much emphasis in the past decades has been on helping poor people secure microloans from banks, World Neighbors rejects this conventional thinking. Instead, they help communities form savings and credit groups of up to 35 people who save small amounts. When they amass enough capital, they loan to each other at very low interest rates, thereby ensuring the money stays in the community.

Holistic, people-centered, collaborative, and long-term: these are the factors that set World Neighbors apart.

Learn more about the World Neighbors.

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