Expanding Food Banking Throughout India
Report from the Field: India
By: Christopher Rebstock
The positive energy surrounding food banking in India has picked up in intensity and speed … and it’s making an impact on India’s goal to “make India hunger-free by 2020.” We’ve been part of this movement since we began work in the country in 2008 and I certainly felt the winds of change on my recent visit.
Since we helped launch The Delhi Food Bank (DFB) – India’s first food bank – in June 2012, food banking has been on an ambitious course with development in multiple communities and aggressive plans for the expansion over the next decade.
There are many successes to report. DFB is growing and is creating awareness of the value of food banking through frequent events and media attention. There are newly opened food banks in Gurgaon and Noida/Ghaziabad. Local leaders are in the preliminary stages of planning for food banks in Mumbai, Jaipur, and the State of Orissa.
In addition, GFN and our friends at Griffith Laboratories in India are moving forward with a new project to start a food bank in Bangalore. This city may well be the first city outside of the Delhi metro area to establish a food bank. Its operational design and programming are likely to provide a new model. This is exciting because India is a very culturally diverse country, and the evolution of food banking will require multiple models from which to build.
I was thrilled to be back in India to see how our work is making a difference and to support future growth. Here is a snapshot of my 10-day visit to India:
Visiting Operational Food Banks
I visited the food banks in Delhi and Gurgaon that are up and running, and bringing food to thousands of hungry people in their respective communities. I had the opportunity to spend time with the leadership of these food banks and to learn about their growth, challenges and plans for expansion.
A series of severe storms with incredible amounts of rain over several days passed through the Delhi area. But, I met with principals of the food bank and learned that it is off to a very good start and will continue to grow. The leadership behind this new food bank is strong, and their commitment to its success is evident.
Supporting the India FoodBanking Network (IFBN)
IFBN, the national organization of food banks in India, has a variety of issues and opportunities to address as the number of food banks increases. It is important to define the role of IFBN and create new protocols while the network is still relatively small and new.
I spent time with Vandana Singh, IFBN’s CEO, to help with this evolution. We discussed various approaches to formalizing the relationship between the food banks and the national network and addressed protocols and timelines related to IFBN certification of existing food banks. GFN will continue to be involved with this work.
Planning New Food Banks
I participated in the official launch of the Planning Forum for the food bank in Bangalore. As part of that, I met with the Core Team to deliver guidance and perspective on the feasibility assessment and business plan development process. I am inspired by this strong, committed leadership group that includes: Shyam Mohan, President and Managing Director for India and Middle East, Griffith Laboratories Inc.; Vandana Singh; and Sanjay Thirumalai, Managing Director, GT Shared Services Center, Grant Thornton LLP, and other prominent local business and NGO leaders.
GFN will continue to work with the Bangalore Food Bank Planning Forum to help them draft the business plan. We expect to go back to Bangalore several times this year to move the process forward.
Mumbai, Orissa, Jaipur:
I also had the opportunity to discuss with IFBN the early stage efforts to develop food banks in Mumbai, Orissa, and Jaipur. These initiatives are just beginning to take shape, but things are expected to move ahead.
Food Banking in India: Challenges and Opportunities
Hunger is a very critical issue in India – the country is home to one quarter of the world’s hungry people. More than half of India’s children face nutritional deficiency to one degree or another.
But there is cause for hope. The government has made a variety of statements and commitments to deploy significant resources to address hunger. In addition, the Indian economy is growing, and so is a general will to address poverty and malnutrition.
Funding and sustained momentum are the most significant challenges facing the system. For food banking, food sourcing continues to be a difficult proposition in India. GFN’s Feasibility Assessment (completed in 2008) said it would be, and the planning process for the establishment of the Delhi Food Bank said it would be. The food industry is not structured like it is in many other countries. There are not large grocery stores disbursed around the neighborhoods and the food processing industry is quite small. The reality is that Indian food banks will receive smaller size donations than food banks in many other countries. This is one of the reasons that, early in the planning stage for Delhi Food Bank, local leaders suggested that there would be thousands of food banks in India rather than hundreds.
As food banks develop in new locations across the country, very specific focus needs to be placed on the food sourcing capacity and strategies. This will be an issue for food banks in India for some time, and creative thinking is a necessity.
The magnitude of need and the diversity of culture, religion, political views, civil society and infrastructure in India present substantial challenges. They also present significant opportunity. There is a general sense of the will to address the needs of the economically deprived. Common historical concepts like the “fist full of rice” demonstrate that will. IFBN and the individual food banks must build from that sense of awareness among the citizens of India and provide guidance about the value and efficacy of food banking as a tool to mitigate the problems of hunger and malnutrition.
The Delhi FoodBank is the first food bank in India. Learn more at delhifoodbanking.org
The India FoodBanking Network is the national organization of food banks. IFBN’s goal is to have one food bank in each district of India by 2020. Learn more at indiafoodbanking.org