Currently, Nelson Mandela is in critical but stable condition according to a close friend who had stated to the South African government that the anti-apartheid leader was conscious and responsive. On July 18, he will reach the age of 95 despite having spent 27 years in prison.  His work and dedication led to recognition of his achievements in a UN General Assembly resolution in 2009:


“Recognizing also Nelson Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity, as a humanitarian, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the upliftment of poor and underdeveloped communities”


I have always considered Mandela a remarkable person and I still vividly remember seeing him walk upon the stage during the closing ceremony of the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona in 2002. At the moment of his entrance, the crowd had already heard a great speech by President Bill Clinton, but Mandela topped it by finding the right balance between determination, humility, wit, and grace. His charisma was radiant, but decisive while he told us that AIDS is claiming more victims “than all wars and natural disasters. AIDS is a war against humanity … this is a war that requires the mobilization of entire populations.” He called for access to HIV drugs “for all those that need it, wherever they may be in the world, regardless of whether they can afford it.” Fortunately, we have made immense progress in the battle against AIDS since then, although we should continue to aim at furthering our successes.

Last year, when asked what would be the best gift for Mandela’s birthday, Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said the nation should “emulate his magnanimity and grace. … Mr. Mandela taught us to love ourselves, to love one another and to love our country.”                        

Considering the work he has done for his community, his country and the world, it indeed seems to be appropriate to have a Mandela Day which is a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time; just as Mr. Mandela did for more than 67 years. The Nelson Mandela Foundation asks all of us if we can start by devoting 67 minutes of our time to community service on Mandela Day, on July 18 each year, and then make every day your Mandela Day by doing good for others.

Of course, the number 67 is symbolic for how people can become part of a continuous, global movement for good. However, I am sure it is no coincidence that my organization, CWS has also been providing service to the world for 67 years already.

To become part of the Mandela Day movement, all that is required is an action that helps better the lives of people. To ensure that these actions will have lasting effects, people should strive for a sense of empowerment with the goal of inspiring pride among communities. In turn, they can take charge of their own destinies to work and alter their circumstances for the better. The cumulative actions of people, even if these begin with small steps, can gain a transformative momentum in this manner. Sounds familiar right?


When people hear that the name of our third child is Matisse Mandela they say, “Wow, he will have a lot to live up to.” But that’s not how I see it. For Matisse Mandela Bloem it will be just as easy as for anybody else: just start with devoting 67 minutes of time helping others, as a method to mark the Nelson Mandela International Day. After that it is just the simple task of sustaining the growth of that action. And yes, I hope wholeheartedly that many people around the world, including my organization’s staff, volunteers and friends will join this initiative as I believe it can be a great extra push to make this world a better place. When I asked Matisse what he would do, he said that he is going to clean the park nearby our house on July 18. What will you do?


“Reaching the final of the African Soccer Cup has given my country an enormous boost and now we are ready for Brazil 2014 and win it!”, those were the words of a representative of Burkina Faso to the UN when I met him a few months ago after a Special Joint Meeting of the Economic and Social Council and the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) of the General Assembly on Food Security and Nutrition: Scaling up the Global Response in New York. Even though I am a bit skeptical about the feasibility of Burkina Faso winning the World Cup, I can appreciate setting ambitious goals especially knowing that if they would be reached it would change the equation.

In June 2011 Burkina Faso became one of the 40 countries that joined the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and is making steady progress in scaling up policies and programming required to scale up nutrition. According to the website they still face many challenges: “Of the children under five years in this country 34.6% are stunted, 15.5% are wasted, while 7.7% are overweight; and 16.2% of infants are born with low birth weight.” It needs ambitious goals to move forward.

The launch of the SUN Movement in 2010 - a major step toward scaling-up direct nutrition interventions and advancing nutrition-sensitive development- resulted, in part, from the publication of a series of articles by The Lancet in 2008. The articles “called for greater priority for national nutrition programmes, stronger integration with health programmes, enhanced intersectoral approaches, and more focus and coordination in the global nutrition system of international agencies, donors, academia, civil society, and the private sector.” Its recommendations remain important today. They also acknowledged the relevance of the emphasis my hunger-fighting organization, CWS, gives to malnutrition. The monitoring data from our U.S. government-supported food aid and food for work projects in Indonesia in the late 1990s taught us that it is not about the quantity of food, but rather about the quality of food.

Yesterday The Lancet, five years after the original series, announced that “the post-2015 sustainable development agenda must put addressing all forms of malnutrition at the top of its goals as high-burden countries, together with donors, multilaterals, and the private sector, have a responsibility to increase allocations to nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programmes.” They state that more money (an estimated 9.6 billion dollars) must be spent on nutrition and spent smarter than at present. That’s a tall order! Innovation is needed across all sectors to leverage private-sector and public-sector resources and generate additional funding.

In this new series, The Lancet also evaluates “the problems of maternal and child undernutrition and also examine the growing problems of overweight and obesity for women and children and their consequences in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs).”

The attention devoted to obesity – nearly 1 billion obese people in the world - should not be a surprise. Many countries have the double burden of malnutrition as both poor and rich populations are affected by overweight in adults and increasingly children. Again The Lancet: “Although the prevalence of overweight in high-income countries is more than double that in LMICs, most affected children (76% of the total number) live in LMICs.” It is obvious to me that we need new thinking about our food systems. [Check the Food Tank website for some provocative ideas.]

The New Lancet Series clearly spells out the enormous potential of nutrition-specific interventions (like promotion of optimum breastfeeding, diversification and micronutrient supplementation or fortification for children and treatment of severe acute malnutrition). The journal emphasizes that “continued investment in nutrition-specific interventions and delivery strategies to reach poor segments of the population at greatest risk can make a substantial difference.” They identified ten proven nutrition-specific interventions and claim that “if these were scaled-up from existing population coverage to 90%, an estimated 900 000 lives could be saved in 34 high nutrition-burden countries (where 90% of the world’s stunted children live) and the prevalence of stunting could be reduced by 20% and that of severe wasting by 60%. This would reduce the number of children with stunted growth and development by 33 million. On top of existing trends, this improvement would comfortably reach the WHA targets for 2025.”

Thankfully, nutrition is now more prominent on the agendas of the UN, the G8 and G20, and supporting civil society. On June 8th in London, ahead of the 2013 G-8 summit, UK Prime Minister David Cameron along with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the government of Brazil will host the Nutrition for growth: Beating hunger through business and science. The goal is to ensure that more women and children throughout the world get the basic nutrition they need to thrive and build more prosperous societies. Commitments to put nutrition at the center of efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger will be announced at this event.

The presented data in the Lancet Series furthers the evidence base that good nutrition is a fundamental driver of a wide range of development goals. Adding to the momentum for action, last week’s UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons report reemphasized the role of nutrition in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Giving the children in Burkina Faso the proper start in their development will improve every aspect of their lives. It may even contribute to their first World Cup victory.

Market street in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


Original blog post (February 14, 2012), can be found here:



I was disappointed that the president seemed to have forgotten what he said at the 2012 G-8 Summit: “We can unleash the change that reduces hunger and malnutrition… . I pledge to you today that this will remain a priority as long as I am the United States president.”

We commended him for this commitment in a letter to President Obama in the beginning of this year, CWS CEO and President John L. McCullough urged Obama to seek increased foreign assistance for hungry and impoverished people and to lead the way to “fair and generous” immigration reform.

Fortunately, President Obama said in his State of the Union address that the U.S. economy will be stronger when talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants are harnessed. And it is encouraging hearing the president say that he is ready to sign a bill in the coming months.

However, as my CWS colleague Erol Kekic stated today, it is disappointing to hear and read the continual focus on border and interior enforcement provisions including a mandatory employment verification system as these provisions have proven detrimental to communities. Erol said: “We do not need more enforcement. We need real solutions that can only be found in a pathway to full citizenship for our community members who are undocumented, and in visa reforms that make our immigration system more effective and timely for both family reunification and employment-based immigrants.”

CWS is also working to see that certain provisions will be included in legislation to improve the lives of refugees resettled in the United States. This is all a long overdue process that will finally give at least 12 million living in the U.S. who are without documentation right now citizenship status.

Interestingly, around 1.2 million (almost 10 percent) of these undocumented workers are employed on farms. Twilight Greenaway reminds us that if we add to that number the many people who work in feedlots, slaughterhouses, warehouses, factories and restaurants, we get some idea about the reality of the power of the food industry in our lives and will come to realize that our cheap and plentiful food supply is really only possible because it is produced by undocumented workers.

This is further explained in a report called The Hands That Feed Us, which notes that seven out of ten worst paying jobs in the US are food-related. And because undocumented workers don’t have right of citizens, they are prone to all kinds of vulnerabilities.

One of my CWS colleagues said to me yesterday: “Yes, you are right, my partner who is one of those undocumented workers was really sick yesterday, but decided to go to his work anyway being afraid of losing his job.”

Poor wages and working conditions in the food industry are not only applicable to undocumented workers, but to many workers in the food industry in the United States. Food workers also face higher levels of food insecurity, or the inability to afford to eat, than the rest of the U.S. workforce. They also use food stamps at double rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce.

Now, as immigration reform could change the face of food work, it might be also the right time to really make our food system more sustainable and equitable, so that we really can start doing something sustainable about those 1 billion hungry (as well as the 1 billion obese as I wrote in another blog.)

Now, what can we do about this? In the U.S. you can call your senators and tell them to protect anti-hunger programs. The Hands That Feed Us report list a couple of additional suggestions such as: “You can support responsible food system employers who are providing liveable wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities for all workers, and who provide sustainable food as well as to help educate other consumers and food justice advocates about the need to include sustainable working conditions for food workers within the definition of sustainable food.”

You can, of course, also support organizations like CWS who are working for a world free of hunger.


The original blogpost (February 14, 2013) can be found here:


People who know me have heard me say at more than one occasion that ending hunger and malnutrition is possible in our lifetime. I know that there are still skeptics but we really do know what is required to make this a reality. For one we need to ensure that we give a child the proper start by ensuring that a child in the first 1,000 days (from conception until the child is 2 years old) gets the proper nutritious food.  And we need to recognize that root causes of hunger and malnutrition are multi-factored and rooted in poverty and inequality.

While we work directly on those root causes, we know what the strategies on preventing chronic malnutrition are. In the short term it means that we need to ensure adequate nutrient intake by adding complementary food and food supplements to young children’s diets. Of course, we also need to advocate for strengthening social protection systems and including a focus on women’s roles.

And maybe we need to go even as far as totally reframing and rethinking the global food systems, as Ellen Gustafson believes.

Ellen Gustafson is CEO and co-founder of the FoodTank and 30Project. In her TedTalks she further explains her thinking. I was fortunate to hear Gustafson speak recently. Gustafson said (and I agree with her) that it is not only about feeding the world, but more importantly about feeding the world well. This problem is not only leading to almost 1 billion hungry people, but also to 1 billion obese people. These two phenomena are both seen in and outside of the United States. Globally, the WHO projects that by 2015, about 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese. 

Gustafson thinks that the problem can only be solved by changing our broken food system. She mentions a number of problems that we are facing today — for example, that three-quarters of products on supermarket shelves contain soy, corn or wheat which are the result of agricultural subsidies. These subsidies are part of the U.S. Farm Bill. This support of the federal government started during the Great Depression and was of great importance in giving temporary assistance to U.S. farmers by paying them extra when crop prices were low. At present though, the benefits flow mainly to large producers of corn and soy who really don’t need extra support. Gustafson rightly points out that the export of U.S. corn is a key reason why since 1980, the production of corn in Africa has fallen 14 percent.

Gustafson would like to see easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables for every person on the planet – instead of corn-laden chicken nugget or corn syrup-sweetened drinks. Some experts say that this could be achieved in the U.S. if subsidies and insurance programs would be more widely extended to fruit and vegetable producers as well. 

Indeed as Ellen Gustafson says: we have the power to improve our health, our communities and the world… from our kitchen table. She is expected to elaborate more of her vision in her first book, expected in the spring of 2014.

My own personal drive to buy and eat more sustainable products came after seeing the film Food Inc. One way of doing this is by direct farm-to-consumer purchasing, something that is also available in the CWS NY office building or in many cities and towns in the U.S. If you Google “community supported agriculture” or “community shared agriculture” you will find out where you can purchase vegetables and fruit on a weekly basis while supporting one or more local farms. I hope that more people will follow Gustafson’s advice.

imageBriana Concepcion, 7, sits in front of grain silos that are part of CWS-supported work in Aguas Calientes, Carazo, Nicaragua. Photo: Sean Hawkey/CWS


I just returned from travels to Burkina Faso and Kenya. Below given article/interview from colleague Chris Herlinger with me is taken from the CWS website: http://www.churchworldservice.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=15405


CWS responds to hunger in Africa as hunger summit begins in London

The end of the 2012 Olympics in London on Sunday marks the end of one event but the beginning of another. British Prime Minister David Cameron will host a day-long “hunger summit” with humanitarian groups, representatives of African nations, other world leaders and even Olympic athletes, the Guardian newspaper reports.

One focus of the event, to be held at the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, will be on crises in Africa’s Sahel region and the Horn of Africa. Those living in the two regions face overlapping crises of hunger and malnutrition, rising food prices, increasing population density and climate change. Some estimates say that 200 million in the two regions are “food insecure,” the Guardian reports.

For more than a year, Church World Service has been responding to needs in the Horn of Africa; in addition, it now is responding to an increasingly worrisome humanitarian emergency in the Sahel, a vast African region south of the Sahara desert.

One root of the problem there is recent drought, which is affecting the production of crops, resulting in food shortages. Exacerbating the problem is political unrest, particularly in Mali, where more than 167,000 people have been displaced internally. Another 205,000 from Mali now are refugees who have fled to nearby countries, including Burkina Faso.

CWS and its partner Christian Aid are focusing much of their work on food assistance to help more than 83,000 people in Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal, as well as Mali. Among the work being done is the distribution of nutrition packs containing locally purchased food items, to malnourished children and their mothers.

CWS-supported work is also supporting long-term interventions that include providing farmers with seeds, tools and animal fodder, supporting community cash-for-work projects to control erosion, subsidizing rice sales by local farmers and promoting sustainable livestock management.

Maurice A. Bloem, CWS’s deputy director and head of programs, just returned from a humanitarian trip to Burkina Faso with other CWS staff members. Here are excerpts of an interview with Bloem by CWS staffer Chris Herlinger.

Herlinger: What are the essentials we need to know about this situation?

Bloem: The situation is not good, and the problems of the war and drought combined are making for a very difficult dynamic. The food security situation is particularly critical because there are so many elements at play: the ecosystem is already fragile in the region. Then you add the problems of hunger, growing populations, rising food prices and climate change. It’s a deadly combination.

The rains started too late this year to really make a big difference in this year’s crop-growing season, and it has not been good overall. And unlike the Horn of Africa, which weathered a severe drought last year, and is still struggling this year, there are not sufficient structures, or “coping mechanisms” in place in the Sahel to respond to needs internally. Of course, people within the affected countries are working very hard to solve this, but it is very, very tough situation.

Herlinger: So, a cornerstone for any humanitarian response is to strengthen “local capacity,” right?

Bloem: Yes. One of the things we are working with Christian Aid on is the expansion of community gardens – which are called “market gardens” there – which can provide food for those growing it but also bring in “more to market,” so that there can be an expansion of both food and also needed livelihoods, particularly for women.

That program tells a bigger story, because communities that have developed these programs – and our partners have worked with them for more than three year now – are doing much better in achieving food security than those where we just started providing emergency food aid. Where there are long-standing programs, there clearly is more hope. People talk more optimistically about the future. They also are more confident and ambitious for their families, with hopes that they will send their children to school. They see a better future for themselves.

Herlinger: Describe what you saw. Paint a picture for us.

Bloem: As I mentioned before, the ecosystem is very fragile in that part of the world (and it getting worse due to climate change), and people have to work hard – very hard – on the soil to make it work. It’s an area where, if you don’t work the land, you work in the gold mines. It’s a very, very tough place in many ways, and this was even before the drought. So, it has made an even tougher situation for the country’s poorest people, who are already living on the edge.

Then, although malnutrition is getting some attention now, it actually is often forgotten because the signs are not visible until the situation is very acute. Yet, while we tried to talk with the community about how we could try to improve the quality of the diet, we came across not just issues of knowledge, but also of availability of food. For example, people in the region say that if you give a child an egg, the child will become a thief. By that they mean if a child becomes used to eating an egg, they will like it very much and will want to eat more of them – but eggs are an income source and the people there believe they should bring in money instead of being fed to the children.

That has to be reversed, so that people can all enjoy a good, sustainable diet – which is why our focus is on ways to develop access to a more stable food supply – locally based, if at all possible. The bottom line is the need for better food security and nutrition security, both of which are particularly crucial for mothers and children.

Another issue is water. There isn’t enough of it there, and yet the region also faces challenges with floods on occasion. CWS’s East Africa program has experience with water catchment, which is why we plan to work with partners in the Sahel to develop ways so that rain water can be used and conserved as a resource. And of course, the issues of water and food are linked; they have worked at in a holistic way, the way so many issues need to be approached today.

Herlinger: What can come out of the “hunger summit”?

Bloem: With the upcoming hunger summit happening this Sunday, I have heard certain organizations say that our approaches towards malnutrition need to change from treatment to prevention, but that’s only partially true. We need to do three things: First, ensure that children have the proper start in life – the theme of the First 1,000 Days campaign – and this would include therapeutic feeding treatments.

Second, strengthening Africa’s smallholder farmers and agricultural productivity, like we do via our community gardens. And we need to remember that the gardens can’t just be a rural phenomena; there are growing urban problems as well as a rising urban population who are also struggling to feed their families. In the countryside, people can at least grow some of their own crops and vegetables. But in towns and cities, the majority of people need money to access food. As the price of staples rises, many are finding they simply are unable to earn enough to money to meet their needs. So we need to focus on gardens in urban areas, as well. The third thing is that we seriously need to look at our global food systems including issues like trade policies, speculation, food waste and sustainable consumption.

That’s a tall order. But in the spirit of international cooperation – the spirit of the Olympics – these problems can ultimately be solved.


Robert Block, MD, FAAP, President, American Academy of Pediatrics was not only on a panel during the 1,000 Days to Change the Future: Making Malnutrition History Summit in Chicago, May 21, 2012, but also responsible for the closing remarks during which he gave a summary of the Summit as well as some last important points. Here are some excerpts from his closing remarks.


Mayor Rahm Emanuel op Chicago spoke the opening remarks at the 1,000 Days to Change the Future: Making Malnutrition History Summit in Chicago on May 21, 2012. This the last part of his speech in which he explains that malnutrition is also of importance in the US.


Dr. Mehmood Khan, Executive Vice President, PepsiCo Chief Scientific Office, Global Research and Development talks about the strength of the food industry in helping to scale up products like plumpy nut and how to create the win-win. He was one of the panelist during the 1,000 Days to Change the Future: Making Malnutrition History Summit held in Chicago on May 21, 2012.


Ambassador Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic spoke at the 1,000 Days to Change the Future: Making Malnutrition History Summit that was held on May 21, 2012, to give a summary of the outcomes of the NATO summit that took place in the same city and share that the people in Afghanistan would not be left alone after 2014. Here are some excerpts from her speech.

Indeed, decades of unrest and war in Afghanistan have completely destroyed the health systems in Nangarhar, and Laghman provinces and in the rest of the country as well. In the rural areas of Nangarhar and Laghman provinces, access to quality maternal and child health care (MCH), reproductive health (RH) services, adequate medicine and the means to prevent diseases like malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS is limited. My organization established Health programs in Nangarhar/Laghman to provide local health centers that provide these much needed services and pays special attention to mothers and under five children.


On May 21, 2012, I attended the 1,000 Days Summit: Make Child Malnutrition History in Chicago. Secretary Clinton was not able to be present, but we were able to “meet” with her via this Video Address.