Native American Agriculture Fund
Food Research & Action Center
Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative
Mary Belle Zook
WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 — Almost half of Native American and Alaska Native survey respondents reported experiencing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report released by the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF), the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI) at the University of Arkansas.
“This report illuminates the challenges of food security in Indian Country and the Tribally driven solutions needed to address those challenges head-on,” said Toni Stanger-McLaughlin, J.D. (Colville), CEO of NAAF. “It is critical that we understand how hunger affects the communities that we directly serve to identify ways to successfully work together to repair America’s broken food system.”
The report, Reimagining Hunger Responses in Times of Crisis: Insights from Case Examples and a Survey of Native Communities’ Food Access During COVID-19, includes findings from NAAF’s Food Access Survey. The survey asked households in Tribal communities across the country about the resources used to obtain food between March 2020 and April 2021, with respondents reporting access from grocery delivery, food banks, and Tribal-led organizations.
Key findings from the survey
- Forty-eight percent indicated that sometimes or often during the pandemic the food their household bought just didn’t last, and they didn’t have money to get more.
- Thirty-seven percent of individuals indicated that in at least one month during the coronavirus pandemic, they or other adults in their household cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there wasn’t enough money for food.
- Thirty-four percent of individuals indicated that they ate less than they felt they should because there wasn’t enough money for food.
- Food insecurity rates are statistically significantly higher for respondents with children under age 18 in their household.
“Tribal governments and Native-led agricultural initiatives play an important role in providing their citizens with access to food, especially in times of extreme crisis,” said Stanger-McLaughlin. “Indian Country persisted in doing what they have been doing for centuries, forging a resilient and robust response to systematically created hardships.”
The report also provides recommendations for strengthening agriculture infrastructure to support Native-led agriculture and food sovereignty.
“Lawmakers must invest in supporting and empowering Tribal governments as they express their inherent sovereignty in the space of food and agriculture,” said Erin Parker, J.D., LL.M., director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. “This can be done by prioritizing Native-driven data collection and Native-controlled data around food systems and food security.”
Data are essential to track progress and secure resources to help alleviate this pervasive issue, and they help fuel an adequate response to hunger in Native communities.
Disparities in food insecurity are a result of the structural racism originating with colonization and continuing to the present. The pandemic has acted as a mediating factor in this cycle, exacerbating the negative impacts of each and worsening disparities. This dire situation would be even worse if not for federal nutrition programs.
Federal nutrition programs can help reduce food insecurity, improve dietary intake and health, support economic security, and help lift families out of poverty.
Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) help income-eligible households put food on the table. During COVID-19, both FDPIR and SNAP benefit boosts enhanced participants’ ability to purchase food for themselves and their families.
Households with children who missed out on school meals during a regular school year could access meals due to child nutrition waivers. These waivers have been critical to addressing access and operational challenges created by the pandemic.
“Strengthening equitable access to the federal nutrition programs remains vital during COVID-19 and beyond,” said FRAC President Luis Guardia. “This report not only identifies problems but offers important solutions. Current federal policy forces people to choose between participating in FDPIR and SNAP. Opening access to both programs will promote equity, food security and community well-being.”
To learn more about the findings and policy recommendations, download the full report.
About Native American Agriculture Fund
The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is a private, charitable trust serving Native farmers and ranchers through strategic grantmaking in the areas of business assistance, agricultural education, technical support, and advocacy services. The charitable trust was created by the settlement of the landmark Keepseagle v. Vilsack class-action lawsuit. NAAF is the largest philanthropic organization devoted solely to serving the Native American farming and ranching community. For more information visit https://nativeamericanagriculturefund.org/.
About Food Research & Action Center
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
About Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative
The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI) enhances the health and wellness of tribal communities by advancing healthy food systems, diversified economic development, and cultural food traditions. IFAI provides strategic legal analysis, policy research, and educational resources to empower Indian Country through food sovereignty, agriculture, and economic development. To learn more, visit https://indigenousfoodandag.com/.