The Cost of Hunger

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Written by Caroline Elworthy

“What is more tangible and will generate a greater return investment than the well-nourished mind of a five year old child’ asks speaker Dan Silverstein, a journalist and  market advisor based in New York City.

A cringing 8005 million people represent abject poverty in our world today. A child dies of hunger every five seconds and more than one billion people live of less than $1 a day. 

It is more than clear that our global community needs to make a drastic change and make a huge shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle that can support future generations.

This past weekend, the University of Guelph attracted thought-leaders from around the world to the 10th Annual Summit of “Universities Fighting World Hunger”. Leaders from all corners of North America flocked to Guelph to attend the three day conference on fighting world hunger working to find sustainable solutions for the next generation.

 This year, the theme of the Summit was entitled “Pushing Towards the Next Decade”, and encompassed issues such as fundraising, academic initiative and responsibility, social action planning, and hunger awareness.  

“There is no room for ignorance anymore- we need to make business people understand that there is more than just investment and return rates associated with a problem of this magnitude”, Silverstien reiterates within a lively discussion panel on how the role of education functions with the world hunger issue.

Universities Fighting World Hunger has cultivated a ten year partnership with the World Food Programme, and together the two organizations strive to create dialogue with government representatives, students, members of academia and locals initiatives to pursue a world in which the food crisis can be solved and our natural environment is protected.  

The Summit has been held at various renowned Universities across North America, attracting participation from hundreds of students, faculty members and community members. The UFWH Summit also attracts a number of private and public sector representatives, including NGO and government officials as well as local hunger-advocacy initiative groups.

In addition to keynote speaker presentations, the Summit offered smaller discussions and networking opportunities for individuals. Networking lunches and dinners were also provided throughout the three day conferences at Creelman Hall and The Brass Taps.

“We can all be movement makers across our world- across our history- we simply need to challenge what belief systems are our movements are trying to change” says Anita Abrham, the Excuetive Director of Meal Exchange.

“We need to start questioning the notion that ‘I was born in North America and therefore I deserve this privileged lifestyle- instead we need to recognize that we are both part of the problem and the solution”, Abraham concludes.

Sally Armstrong, an award winning author, journalist and Human Rights Activist spoke of the overlooked power the education system holds.“We need to become aware of the power of the classroom, and the powers that Universities hold. When you have a problem in the world and you put in a University setting, it changes” Armstrong concluded.

One of the most beautiful opportunities of education is the practice of self-inquiry, says Corin Blanchard of FeedGood. We need to question that our own personal belief systems are preventing us from doing, and then overcome these barriers.

 Gavin Armstrong, a University of Guelph alumni and current PhD candidate was presented as a keynote speaker on Saturday afternoon. Armstrong, who formerly completed a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Guelph, is now completing his PhD in the field of Biomedical Sciences and working with the mentorship of Alistair Summerlee on the Lucky Iron Fish Project.

Armstrong acts as the President and CEO of the Lucky Iron Fish Project, while Summerlee’s sits as the Chair of the Board.

Iron deficiency affects more the 3.5 billion people worldwide, rising to have become the most significant deficiency in the world with the largest impact on global productivity and our economy.

This all-too-common deficiency has grown 10 per cent since 2000, Armstrong states. We have found over the past years that iron supplement hand-outs are simply not working because they are not sustainable, culturally sensitive, nor consistently available and have horrendous side effects Armstrong concludes.

“Hunger reduces the individual ability to perform by 20 per cent.” Armstrong states to a captivated audience of about 70 established faculty members, business owners, students and volunteers  alike late on Saturday afternoon.

Currently there are over 6 million cases of iron deficiency in Cambodia.

The Lucky Fish Project is dedicated to reducing iron deficiency around the world, and especially in Cambodia where this it has grown to a problem of such magnitude. Essentailly, the Lucky Iron Fish Project has developed a solution to iron deficiency by developing a culturally acceptable, easy to use product with none of the undeseriable side affects of regular iron supplements.

This solution takes the forms of a small iron fish about the size of one’s hand. This iron fish then needs to be placed into boiling water for a minimum of 10 minuets, and can be placed within the cooking pot of a boiling stew- a common Cambodian mean. This Lucky Fish can last for five years, and provides 75 per cent of the required iron nutrients for an individual.

In effort to be as sustainable as possible, The Lucky Iron Fish Project uses locally produced material, using recycled and biodegradable materials, and hires local Cambodians to sell the Lucky Iron Fish in various communities throughout the country. Currently, the company employs about 50 local Cambodians and work with local organization in the actual production of the product.

The results of these efforts have made The Lucky Iron Fish Project a B-Corp certified company. The process of becoming a B-Corp certified company requires heavy auditing every year, during which the company in question must score a minimum of 80 per cent of benefit to local communities to be considered a B-Corp. The Lucky Iron Fish scored 140 per cent on this rating of benefiting the community .

In a recent study conducted by The Lucky Iron Fish Project, it was found that to purchase iron pills for all Cambodian children for five years of treatment would cost  up to 500 million dollars. To purchase an Iron Fish for all Cambodian children would only cost 2.4 million. The Iron Fish can last up to seven years, serves an entire family and does not have any of the nauseating side effects that normal iron supplements have. 

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