Beyond charitable food aid

How can funders and communities work together to create thriving local food systems?

1st June 2023

Beyond charitable food aid: How can funders and communities work together to create thriving local food systems? explores how funders and communities can move beyond delivering food aid to build resilient local food systems.

The report is the result of a project led by FFCC, Local Trust and International Futures Forum, which examined how funders and community groups can work together to address immediate food needs, while at the same time shifting towards sustainable and healthy community-based food systems in the longer term.

While there are tensions between providing charitable food aid and what’s needed to deliver long-term, resilient food security, the report finds there can be a “best of both worlds” solution.

This would involve a change in approach for some funders, such as facilitating more positive and participative local food initiatives and using food to bring people into spaces for other types of assistance, such as benefits help.

To help transition towards a different future, the report suggests funders can:

  • Visualise a future where people participate in local food initiatives because they want to, not only because they need to, where food aid is an enabler, not the end of the road, and funded work uses food to bring communities together and people into spaces for assistance (e.g. benefits help). Over time, this approach strengthens localised food systems.
  • Identify the values they wish to see in a future beyond charitable food aid, use those to drive their funding, and seek to express them in all actions at all levels, including in emergency relief. Funders should not accept the damage and harm that the existing system tolerates/encourages.
  • Prioritise funding to build on existing initiatives and through an organic, asset-based approach rather than imposing a model from outside. That includes infrastructure – building on what already exists in the community. This isn’t limited to physical infrastructure, but also social/emotional, cultural, logistical, political, or financial infrastructure.
  • Offer funding to enable community groups to find the time and space for learning and broader development. When faced with the overwhelming work needed to alleviate people’s hunger, it can be difficult to find the time to step back and look at the bigger picture. It can also feel overwhelming to add another ‘to-do’ item. This is something funders can help with.
  • Offer experimental funding for existing initiatives to try out and learn from new approaches - the ‘adjacent possible’- without pressure to ‘succeed’ on the first go. This might include initiatives to experiment with sourcing healthier and more sustainable food for their projects (fresh foods, agroecologically grown, etc), or providing funding for organisations to advocate for national or local policy changes to ensure people have sufficient incomes/benefits.
  • Provide funding for the social glue that helps move food initiatives towards a future where people come by choice, rather than need – e.g. to create warm and inviting spaces that use music, storytelling, or other aspects to bring people together. Focus on people as the agents of change and invest funding to adequately resource people.
  • Set aside some funding to enable communities and initiatives to come together, to learn from and support each other, and to create cooperatives or collaborative groups of projects working together to meet a variety of food needs in their communities (e.g. local horticultural projects linked with community kitchens, or emergency food aid providers linked with sustainable social supermarkets and a benefits advice service).