Global food crisis and lessons from Ramadan

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Jazib Mehmood, Jamia Ahmadiyya Ghana

An aim of fasting during Ramadan is to remind Muslims of the suffering of people who don’t know when their next meal will come. It is indeed one of the many ways Islam reminds us to have sympathy for those who are in need.

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud, may Allah be pleased with him, speaks of this essence:

“A little consideration would show that fasting teaches men lessons which secure their national welfare. The first lesson is that a rich man, who has never suffered hunger or privation and cannot realise the sufferings of his poorer brethren who have very often to go without food, begins through fasting to realise what hunger is and what the poor have to suffer. This produces in his mind active sympathy with the poor which finds vent in measures calculated to ameliorate the lot of the poor, the natural result of which is an increase in the national welfare. It is obvious that the welfare of the nation is bound up with the welfare of the individual.” (Ahmadiyyat or the True Islam P.81-82)

Since the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people haven’t paid attention to much else. However, another crisis has been quietly growing that could affect us all. Although for most panic buyers, food shortage was just a nightmare, it’s slowly turning into a reality. One of the world’s most important industries is wilting; the food industry.

Many migrant workers involved in agriculture and food production are now immobile because of border crackdowns. This has left produce unharvested and left to rot in fields. Seasonal labourers are missing on the farms of Spain, Germany, Italy, and France (New York Times, 27 March 2020). The UK, desperate for farm labour, has looked to tap its reservoir of the unemployed to harvest the food that’s wasting away since workers cannot get to it. India has limited rice exports due to labour shortages. It takes people to harvest, process and package the fruits and vegetables we easily pick off our shelves. This food also rots easily which poses an even greater threat to their supply. (Foreign Policy Magazine, 14 April 2020)

We’re already feeling the impact. Wheat prices have gone up by 8 per cent and rice prices by 25 per cent. Nigeria – Africa’s biggest economy and the number one producer of rice in Africa – has seen rice prices jump by more than 30 per cent just in the last four days of March (Bloomberg, 6 April 2020). Time Magazine reports that meat shortages could last for months. Countries that usually import more might suffer most because of price increases and weak currencies. This means that dozens of developing countries just won’t be able to afford basic food items like rice and grains for their citizens. Some countries are reducing exports to keep a stockpile of food in case food becomes scarce.

On 22 April, the New York Times reported:

“Already, 135 million people had been facing acute food shortages, but now with the pandemic, 130 million more could go hungry in 2020, said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Altogether, an estimated 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year’s end.”

World Food Programme Executive Director, David Beasley also warned the UN Security Council of an impending hunger pandemic. He said:

“So today, with Covid-19, I want to stress that we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the spectre of famine a very real and dangerous possibility. This sounds truly shocking but let me give you the numbers: 821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, chronically hungry, and as the new Global Report on Food Crisis published today shows, there are a further 135 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse. That means 135 million people on earth are marching towards the brink of starvation. But now the World Food Programme analysis shows that, due to the Coronavirus, an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020. That’s a total of 265 million people.” (World Food Programme, 21 April 2020)

While some of these statistics might be exaggerated, there is certainly something we can do to make a difference. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to make sure food is not wasted. Twice as much food as previously estimated – or a third of all food available for human consumption – is wasted, with people in wealthier countries wasting more, according to a recent study published in the journal PLOS One.

If food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the US, said the UN Environment on its website. In the US alone, an estimated £133 billion of edible food (worth over $161 billion) goes to waste every year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. A lot of food is wasted every day, which could feed millions of mouths, keeping in mind that around nine million people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every year, more than the lives taken by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined (UN).

Wasting that much food means a lot of water is wasted too — the equivalent of three times the size of Lake Geneva, as some reports put it. And yet, almost one billion people on our planet don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water and proper sanitisation (WHO). That’s one in every eight of us.

4,100 children die every day from diseases caused by contaminated water (UNICEF); approximately one child every 21 seconds. 80% of all global diseases are water-borne and result from drinking contaminated water. These diseases kill more than 2.2 million people every year (WHO).

In this blessed month of Ramadan, more than ever, we need to remember all those people who cannot get access to healthy food and clean water as we share in their hunger. We should support organisations like Humanity First and many others who are doing all they can to provide food and care packages to people in need. We need to be thankful for all we have and all that Allah has blessed us with. We need not be ungrateful for what we have and look to things we don’t have.

The Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said that when you see someone who has more than you, look to someone who has less so that you may be grateful and you may not belittle the favours of Allah (Sahih al-Bukhari).

Let us not take for granted all that we’ve been blessed with. It is Allah’s to give and it is His to take away. The Holy Quran encourages us not to waste what Allah. He says:

وَ ہُوَ الَّذِیۡۤ اَنۡشَاَ جَنّٰتٍ مَّعۡرُوۡشٰتٍ وَّ غَیۡرَ مَعۡرُوۡشٰتٍ وَّ النَّخۡلَ وَ الزَّرۡعَ مُخۡتَلِفًا اُکُلُہٗ وَ الزَّیۡتُوۡنَ وَ الرُّمَّانَ مُتَشَابِہًا وَّ غَیۡرَ مُتَشَابِہٍ ؕ کُلُوۡا مِنۡ ثَمَرِہٖۤ اِذَاۤ اَثۡمَرَ وَ اٰتُوۡا حَقَّہٗ یَوۡمَ حَصَادِہٖ ۫ۖ وَ لَا تُسۡرِفُوۡا ؕ اِنَّہٗ لَا یُحِبُّ الۡمُسۡرِفِیۡنَ

“And He it is Who brings into being gardens, trellised and untrellised, and the date-palm and cornfields whose fruits are of diverse kinds, and the olive and the pomegranate, alike and unlike. Eat of the fruit of each when it bears fruit, but pay His due on the day of harvest and exceed not the bounds. Surely, Allah loves not those who exceed the bounds. (Surah al-An’am, Ch.6: V.142)

As we are remembering Allah, we should also make it a point to be thankful for all that He has provided for us and not to be ungrateful to Him. Allah says:

فَاذۡکُرُوۡنِی اَذۡکُرۡکُمۡ وَ اشۡکُرُوۡا لِیۡ وَ لَا تَکۡفُرُوۡنِ

“Therefore remember Me, and I will remember you; and be thankful to Me and do not be ungrateful to Me.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2 V.153)

It is worthy to note that after this verse, Allah also speaks about trying man through various means and gives glad tidings to those who are patient.

True gratitude must be shown at all times and in all situations despite the ordeals man goes through. Because no matter where you are in life, no matter what you’re going through, there’s always something to be grateful for. For surely, to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.

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