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On World Food Day, meet FAO’s Food Heroes who strive to feed their communities

October 16 is World Food Day, a day that also marks the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

October 16, 2020 / 08:39 AM IST

Before throwing that last piece of bread in the bin, or leaving a ladleful of rice uneaten, think of 793 million. Those 793 million who do not have enough to eat and are suffering from chronic hunger. That’s 2.5 times the population of the entire United States of America. Food is getting scarcer and the burden of malnutrition in all its forms continues to be a challenge. The world will certainly not meet the Zero Hunger by the 2030 deadline.

October 16 is International World Food Day, a day that also marks the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

This year FAO turns 75. On this day, let’s look at FAO’s Food Heroes, men and women who are doing their best to provide food to their communities and beyond.

Here’s a pick of 9 female FAO Food Heroes.

Putul Rani (Bangladesh): In the remote fishing village of Kalapara (south Bangladesh), Putul Rani is trying to save the hilsa (national fish of Bangladesh) from overfishing. General secretary of the 30-member Hilsa Conservation Group (HCG), Putul is coaxing people not to catch the juvenile and mother fish because one mother fish can lay 2.2 to 2.3 million eggs, if they don’t get caught. If the mother fish survives, there’d be enough hilsa for the next generation.


Iman Turkman (The West Bank): A teacher and farmer living in Al Agrabanya near Nablus City in the north of the West Bank, in 2010, Iman joined hands with her compatriots to generate sustainable source of income. They began with Tatreez, traditional Palestinian embroidery, and later diversified to growing thyme, parsley and a few vegetables. Today, Iman leads approximately 50 women - mothers, daughters, wives and teachers - to create a sustainable food ecosystem.

Naima Penniman (USA): Naima Penniman is the Program Director at Soul Fire Farm that began as a family farm in South East Albany, New York, in 2010. According to FAO’s official website, the Afro-Indigenous-centred training farm aims to help Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) to have greater say in, and control over, their food systems. Their capacity-building includes farmer training, reparations and land-return initiatives, food justice workshops for urban youth, among others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, with their Solidarity Share Program, the farm has been making food deliveries to vulnerable families and building raised garden beds for urban households.

Raquel Diego Diaz (Mexico): Born into the Mixe or Ayuujk ethnic group, Raquel Diego Díaz, an anthropologist and farmer, is working towards not only promoting native varieties of corn but also keeping alive the milpa system, a traditional, Mexican agricultural method.  Along with others her tribe, she produces a line of tostadas (toasted corn) under the brand name MoojkKaaky.

Hiromi Tabata (Japan): A nutrition educator in Tamba-Sasayama city (Hyogo Prefecture, Japan) Hiroma Tabata’s main role is to manage provision of nutritious and safe school lunches for 10 middle and primary schools and six kindergartens in the city. That’s more than 2,000 meals per day. The award-winning cook uses her expertise to educate local children about food, food ingredients and local, traditional cooking styles.

Lori Nikkel (Canada): As CEO of Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue organisation, Lori Nikkel “ensures that over 15 million pounds of surplus, nutritious foods--dairy, protein and produce--are diverted from landfills to non-profit organizations each year,” according to FAO. During the Covid pandemic, Lori launched  Food Rescue Canadian Alliance, a national task force, to rescue surplus food. Between March and June 2020, the program helped rescue more than 9.8 million pounds of surplus food.

Aylin Yildiz (Turkey): Based in the Bursa province of Turkey, Aylin Yildiz is President of the Women’s Agricultural Development Cooperative. Responsible for the branding of local crops and seeds, Aylin emphasises on the need to have quality seeds, good agricultural practices, the knowledge to combat pests and diseases, and proper handling of products beyond the harvest.

Maria Fermanelli (Rome): Founder of Cose dell’Altro Pane, a bakery that specialises in producing gluten-free bread, Maria Fermanelli mostly employs female workers of different nationalities to make 1,500 packages a day that is supplied to pharmacies and specialty shops throughout the country. She takes pride in the company’s artisanal roots as well as social responsibility and integration initiatives.

Arzu Women’s Group (Azerbaijan): Formed in Sumagalli village under the Agro Action of Azerbaijani Women Project and funding from the FAO-Azerbaijan Partnership Programme, members of Arzu Women’s Group bake sweets and raise chicken to improve their income while gaining new knowledge in farming, innovative technologies and business planning.

Plant-ing Facts

Of the 250,00 plant species known to mankind, more than 30,000 plant species are edible. Of the 30,000 edible varieties, 7,000 have been used for food. Only 120 varieties are cultivated today, 9 of which provide more than 75 percent of human food. Out of the 9, 3 (wheat, rice and maize) provide 50 percent of food needs. (Source: FAO)

Good to know:

On October 16, FAO’s first-ever video mapping show will be held at the Colosseum in Rome and on the façade of the FAO headquarters’ building. Watch the show on October 16 at 11 pm IST (19.30 Rome time) at

Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer. 
Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer.
first published: Oct 16, 2020 08:39 am
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