The power of faith groups in preventing hunger through food development, Sister Eubank emphasizes at G20 Interfaith Forum

Despite international efforts and improvements in global development, “world hunger has been on the rise since 2014,” said Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and president of Latter-day Saint Charities, during the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, on Tuesday, Sept. 14. 

This problem has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “If current trends continue, the number of hungry people could reach 840 million by 2030,” she said. 

And the impact on women and children is drastic, she added, citing statistics that one in three children under age 5 are hungry, 45% of all child deaths are related to undernutrition, and in two-thirds of countries, women are more likely to be hungry than men.

Problems like world hunger cannot be addressed without cooperation, Sister Eubank said. “I think the days of us trying to tackle something on our own are past. We have to be able to coordinate with each other, which is why the forum like this is so important.”

As one of five speakers during a G20 Interfaith Forum session titled “Religious Commitments to Sustainable Development Goals: Focusing on Children Hunger, Water and Sanitation,” Sister Eubank emphasized the need to focus on food development rather than food aid. 

When emergencies and crises happen, attention and money are spent on food aid, she explained. “My plea today is to back up and try to intervene, before it hits the news, on this food development earlier on.”

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, right, speaks about world hunger during the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.
Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, right, speaks about world hunger during the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sister Eubank highlighted three things that Latter-day Saint Charities and its faith group network have tried to change and revamp since the start of the pandemic. 

First, make sure food supply is efficient and redundant. Latter-day Saint Charities invested $2 million in World Food Programme’s “hub and spoke” distribution system to strengthen it during the pandemic. The organization has distributed 45,000 tons of goods — including vaccine supplies and food — through that system in the last few months.

“The benefit of local faith communities is they often have different distribution systems, and so if they cooperate with each other, you get that redundancy along with the efficiency,” Sister Eubank said. 

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Second, empower women to be agricultural leaders. In partnership with Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Catholic Relief Services, IsraAID, Rise and Rebuild and other groups, Latter-day Saint Charities has started promoting peer groups of women farmers. 

Sister Eubank gave an example of a farm-based adviser named Beatrice who was asked by the Ministry of Health in Zambia to bring information about COVID-19 to her peer group. “This isn’t just about farming and seeds and income production, but it also transmits health information.”

“Why does that work?” Sister Eubank asked. “Because they know each other. They’re their neighbors. They belong to different faiths in their community and they trust each other. And it turns out that trusting relationships are as important as the money or the food or anything else, and the most trusting relationships come through faith communities.”

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, hugs Dr. Azza Karam of Religions for Peace during a meeting at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy is in background.
Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, hugs Dr. Azza Karam of Religions for Peace during a meeting at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy is in background. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Third, create local citizen councils who can partner with the local government for additional resources. 

These councils visit families in their area, identify their needs and goals, and inform them of available nutritional resources. They screen their children for malnutrition and share locally developed health and nutrition lessons. They encourage produce in their daily diets and teach them to grow a garden or have small animal production. 

“Why does that work? Because they know each other.”

“Those have been around for ages and that is the heart of development,” Sister Eubank said of local councils. “But the reason it works is because they’re working with someone trusted, and it’s tailored to the goal of the family.”

Sister Eubank then made two recommendations to the G20 Summit that will meet in October. 

First, ask faith communities for data and progress as they work on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. “I promise they will be surprised at the scope of what’s happening with those faith-based organizations,” she said. 

Second, “please invest aid dollars early on — often best through the faith communities — before the crisis is unbearable and it hits the news.”

She concluded by paraphrasing Matthew 25:35-40: “I was an hungered, and you gave me meat, and if you can do that to the least of these my brethren, you are doing it unto God. And I say that with all my commitment.”