Change in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and FDPIR (Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations) Participation From Before to During Covid-19. (Source: "Reimagining Hunger Responses in Times of Crisis: Insights from Case Examples and a Survey of Native Communities’ Food Access During COVID-19" )

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 Native-led food research organizations.

The report, Reimagining Hunger Responses in Times of Crisis: Insights from Case Examples and a Survey of Native Communities’ Food Access During COVID-19, was 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.

The paper found that 48% of respondents indicated that sometimes or often during the pandemic the food their household bought didn’t last long enough, and they didn't have money to get more. Additionally, 37% 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, while 34% of individuals indicated that they ate less than they felt they should because there wasn't enough money for food.

The findings come 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.

“This survey illuminated existing issues of food insecurity, insufficient food access, and how those were exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Toni Stanger-McLaughlin (Colville), CEO of Native American Agriculture Fund, in an email interview with Deesmealz. “Indian Country is the rural of rural and with limitations due to poor infrastructure, we saw disruptions in the food supply chain relating to transportation, processing and packaging.”

Stanger-McLaughlin said food assistance was at times delayed to rural tribal communities because tribal governments are not listed as eligible administrators for some commodity programs.

“Also, because tribal producers are not always eligible to sell into these food commodity programs, food is not regional and is transported from across the country. By the time it does arrive, at times it is spoiled, and it is required to accept that food before they are able to file a report of that spoiled food. As a result food does not get into the hands of the tribal members that need it,” she said.

Stanger-McLaughlin noted that one of the key reasons for the report was lack of data and access to data in Indian Country. “This report is about the power of building partnerships, working together to create solutions that address food insecurity,” she said.

The report also highlighted case studies of resiliency, noted Geri Henchy with the Food Research & Action Center in a phone interview.

“And then you also see this resilience. And you see these stories of the resilience and you see the results,” she said.

Henchy noted how the Osage Nation remained resilient in the face of the pandemic during the months reported on. Much of the Osage Nation is a food desert, the report noted. The Tribal Nation built a 25,000-square-foot meat processing plant in Hominy, Oklahoma.

“Utilizing existing Osage owned cattle and bison, the plant will bring enough protein to market to feed the people in the midst of this pandemic and in the future,” the report stated. “Osages faced a lack of meat protein in local stores and higher prices for what little was available. Even departments of the Osage Nation such as Early Learning and Elder Nutrition departments faced shortages from their off-reservation suppliers.”

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, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, in a press statement. “This can be done by prioritizing Native-driven data collection and Native-controlled data around food systems and food security.”

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