Egyptian food bank founder partners with UAE’s 100 Million Meals campaign

Food Banking Regional Network chief executive Moez El Shohdi aims to reduce waste and address root causes of hunger

Mr El Shohdi co-founded the Egyptian Food Bank in 2006 with the aim of eradicating food poverty in Egypt. Courtesy of Moez El Shohdi
Mr El Shohdi co-founded the Egyptian Food Bank in 2006 with the aim of eradicating food poverty in Egypt. Courtesy of Moez El Shohdi

An Egyptian philanthropist who turned his hospitality expertise to ending hunger in the region has partnered with the UAE’s 100 Million Meals campaign to provide food to low-income families during Ramadan.

Moez El Shohdi co-founded the Egyptian Food Bank in 2006 with the aim of addressing the root causes of hunger in the country of 100 million people. He expanded his humanitarian efforts in 2013 when he created the Dubai-based Food Banking Regional Network to solve the underlying causes of hunger in dozens of countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Through the network, he has now joined the UAE’s effort to help provide food to 100 million people across 20 countries.

Organised by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, the 100 Million Meals campaign has already begun distributing food in several countries, including Egypt, and raised Dh78 million in funding in the space of a week.

Mr El Shohdi’s ultimate goal is to end hunger in Egypt and the Arab region by 2030 – a target that moved from 2025 due to the effects of the 2011 Arab uprisings and the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told The National that this target is still in reach.

“Ending hunger is doable, but it needs awareness and a culture change,” he said.

Mr El Shohdi said the wastefulness of the hospitality industry inspired him to embark on his mission to end food poverty in Egypt.

As the president of the Middle East and Africa division of Style Hotels International since 1993, Mr Al Shohdi regularly saw large quantities of food being thrown away after buffet meals.

“People pile pyramids of food on their plates. They consume half or a quarter, and the rest is thrown away,” he said.

Approximately 15 per cent of Egyptians lack access to enough nutritious food to stay healthy, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

When Mr El Shohdi and his 14 co-founders established the Egyptian Food Bank (EFB) in 2006, they sought a different approach to traditional food banks.

Alongside efforts to tackle unemployment and poverty, the founders focused on reducing waste and distributing excess food from hotels and restaurants.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates food loss and waste amounts to 30 per cent of all food globally.

In the Middle East, 34 per cent of food waste occurs during consumption, when uneaten leftovers are thrown in the rubbish.

“Food banks have been worldwide since the 1960s, but they used to work on distributing excess production or nearly expired products to people in need,” said Mr El Shohdi, who now spends 80 per cent of his time on food bank work and 20 per cent on his hotel and real estate companies.

When Mr El Shohdi was invited to an FAO Arab World Food Security Conference in 2011, “everyone was talking about increasing production”.

At the time, his food bank was saving 17 million meals from being thrown away every month.

Research showed that 42 per cent of five main food groups needed for nutrition was being wasted and 12 per cent of the population was hungry.

“If we save one-third of the waste, we can end hunger,” Mr El Shohdi said.

To help reduce food waste, Mr El Shohdi developed an instruction manual on how to safely handle cooked food and save untouched leftovers in foil containers for distribution to the needy.

He also persuaded hotel chains to reduce the diameter of standard buffet dinner plates from 32 centimetres to 27.

“The outcome was the weight of the food that was thrown away decreased by 30 per cent,” he said.

The food bank created an app, called Wasteless Egypt, that allows its partner organisations to collect donated food and distribute it to individuals and families who are unable to work.

In 2006, 10,000 food boxes were distributed on a monthly basis in Egypt. A decade later, that number had increased to 250,000.

The Egyptian food bank has distributed millions of free meals to the needy since it was founded. Courtesy of the Egyptian Food Bank
The Egyptian food bank has distributed millions of free meals to the needy since it was founded. Courtesy of the Egyptian Food Bank

The Egyptian Food Bank also helps those in need to develop skills and find job opportunities, and more than 7 million former recipients no longer rely on the food bank for meals.

The co-founders invested $1.4m of their personal wealth and sought contributions from companies in the region to fund the food bank's first year of operations.

Its model focuses on six pillars: feeding; development and capacity-building; strengthening partner NGOs’ work; building awareness of food waste; volunteering; and sustainable investment.

The food bank's awareness-building and community engagement efforts include highlighting its efforts in school textbooks.

“I convinced the Education Ministry to include a lesson in a reading book for grade three to teach kids about food-waste reduction and serving the community,” Mr El Shohdi said.

“Children at this age don’t forget the information.”

The food bank depends on its 64,000 volunteers throughout Egypt, as well as donations and sustainable investment.

“We used to hear the word charity for so many years, which did not solve any problems because there wasn’t the sustainability of the programs or fundraising,” he said.

He encourages donors to give on a monthly basis, rather than in bulk amounts.

“The people we serve need food – and food is daily,” he said. “We need to change the culture so that payments are sustainable.”

Around the world, nearly 690 million people – about 9 per cent of the global population – are hungry, according to the FAO.

The regional network was founded at the suggestion of the UN to export the model to other Arab countries and beyond.

Mr El Shohdi said 39 countries are part of the network so far, while an additional 61 have adapted the network's model.

The Food Banking Regional Network now serves 15 million families per month – and last year, during the initial stages of the pandemic, it provided meals for 3.2 million additional families as part of its disaster relief efforts.

Updated: April 19, 2021 05:46 PM

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