Image depicting SXSW: The $7 Billion <br>F-Word
Photo: WFP/Alexis Masciarelli

SXSW: The $7 Billion
F-Word

 

This discussion at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2022 shared first-hand accounts of hunger, highlighted the innovative solutions being deployed by the United Nations World Food Programme, and challenged everyone to join the movement to reach a Zero Hunger world.

We produce enough food on this planet to feed everyone. And yet, nearly 811 million people worldwide are hungry today, and 45 million people are on the edge of famine across 43 countries. This panel offered an inside look at how the U.N. World Food Programme fights famine and the cutting-edge innovations that its technology incubator — Innovation Accelerator — sources, supports and scales to solve hunger. Since launching in 2015, the Accelerator has supported more than 100 projects across 69 countries, with 16 innovations scaling up to improve life for nearly 9 million people. Mobile technology, artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain and more are transforming how we combat hunger.

Moderated by international journalist and host Femi Oke, the panel featured Skye Fitzgerald, documentary filmmaker and director of a trilogy of films on the global refugee crisis; Bernhard Kowatsch, Head of Innovation Accelerator at U.N. World Food Programme; and Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Humanitarian and United Nations Special Advisor at U.N. World Food Programme. The 3-part conversation discussed the scope of global hunger, particularly those at risk of famine; what technology and innovative solutions are being deployed to combat hunger; and how we can all do our part to ensure no families go to bed hungry.

In discussing the problem of global hunger, Oke asked the audience if anyone had ever experienced hunger before. Only panelist Elizabeth Nyamayaro and one audience member raised their hands, both of whom graciously shared their experience and why it motivates them today.

Nyamayaro shared her story, which ultimately inspired her dream to work for the United Nations:

“When I turned eight years old, a severe drought devastated my small village and literally left us with nothing to eat or drink. And one day I collapsed to the ground and in my young mind, I thought I was going to die. And in this moment of dire starvation and desperation, the United Nations found me and they gave me a bowl of porridge and saved my life.”

Fitzgerald described a haunting moment in Yemen where a malnourished infant died just hours after birth. “A child in Yemen dies every 75 seconds from hunger.” These stories represent two of major drivers of hunger–climate change and war.

This led the panel to begin discussing solutions, including actions we as individuals can take.

“It’s very easy to ‘other’ hunger,” said Elizabeth. “It’s also important to recognize our individual roles that we are playing in contributing to global hunger.” She challenged the audience to reduce their personal impact on climate change, which creates dangerous conditions for people around the globe, people whose own contributions to climate change are significantly less than our own. Fitzgerald encouraged individuals to pressure politicians to stop supporting wars overseas, a driver of hunger that is within our power to stop.

Kowatsch then dug into the numerous technological innovations being used by the U.N. World Food Programme in the field, such as blockchain technology tied to iris scans to provide cash cards for refugees in camps. Such an innovation helps refugees get access to cash they need without worrying about losing or having their cash card stolen, and ensures funds are being used efficiently. Blockchain also helps keeps the personal data of refugees secure. With any innovation, we always asks, “How can we provide the best service? How can we give people dignity and choice with the aid we’re providing?”

If there is one takeaway from this panel, it’s that global hunger affects all of us one way or another and it is our collective responsibility to solve it. At the end of the panel, Fitzgerald held up a piece of paper. On it, the number 48 – the number of Yemeni children who had died of hunger since the start of the panel. “Pay attention and believe that individual action can have an impact. Your toolbox matters too.”

“Do we have what it takes? Yes, we do. We are the largest humanitarian organization in the world,” said Nyamayaro. “The thing that we don’t have, is all of us. It’s going to take all of us. We are at a crossroads, and we have to make a decision. We can also choose to act now and be part of solving global hunger, or we’re going to have to pay later for the consequences of what happens when we fail to act.”

 

Watch the SXSW Panel Discussion

Moderator & Panelists

Femi Oke

Moderator, Host/Journalist

Femi Oke is an award winning international journalist, broadcaster, professional moderator and co-founder of the diverse moderators bureau “Moderate The Panel.”  Femi’s reporting has been recognised by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Communications Agency and InterAction.

Skye Fitzgerald

Filmmaker

Filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald has built a career around documenting human rights and social justice issues around the world. He has shot for “Dateline NBC,” CNN, the History Channel, the Travel Channel and ABC.

Elizabeth Nyamayaro

Humanitarian and United Nations Special Advisor

Elizabeth Nyamayaro is an award-winning humanitarian and Special Advisor for United Nations World Food Programme. Elizabeth has worked at the forefront of global development improving the lives of underserved populations through her leadership roles at the World Bank, World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and UN Women. She wrote a memoir about her life and experiences, I Am A Girl From Africa.

Bernhard Kowatsch

United Nations World Food Programme, Head of Innovation Accelerator

Bernhard Kowatsch is a regular speaker at tech conferences and global events on tech for good, blockchain, artificial intelligence, social entrepreneurship and technologies disrupting global hunger. Prior to starting the Accelerator, Bernhard co-founded the award-winning ShareTheMeal app that crowdsources funding for WFP.

How We Fight Famine

Famine is the most disastrous form of prolonged, widespread hunger. We've prevented famine before, and with your help we can prevent it again.