‘Actually we shouldn’t exist’ – Trends magazines on PC

Last year, more than 200,000 people per month approached the Belgian food banks. That’s 25,000 more than in 2021 – including average two-income households – and the largest increase ever. This worries managing director Jef Mottar, all the more because less food is coming in from producers. “Unfortunately, this development is irreversible.”

One million Belgians live in poverty, and another two million compatriots struggle every month to make ends meet. This means that the water gradually reaches more than a quarter of Belgians up to or even above their lips. They are all potential customers for the food banks. “It’s a misconception that poverty is a problem in Brussels or Wallonia. Or a big city problem. Or a problem for immigrants, refugees and migrants,” says Jef Mottar, CEO of the Belgian Federation of Food Banks. “The risk of poverty is greatest in Brussels and Wallonia, but poverty is also increasing in Flanders, also in the countryside. Only the threshold for seeking help in a small village is much higher. There is more shame and social control there, while living more anonymously in the city, so it’s easier to go to OCMW and sit down for free food.”

One million Belgians live in poverty, and another two million compatriots struggle every month to make ends meet. This means that the water gradually reaches more than a quarter of Belgians up to or even above their lips. They are all potential customers for the food banks. “It’s a misconception that poverty is a problem in Brussels or Wallonia. Or a big city problem. Or a problem with immigrants, refugees and migrants,” says Jef Mottar, CEO of the Belgian Federation Bank. “The risk of poverty is greatest in Brussels and Wallonia, but poverty is also increasing in Flanders, also in the countryside. Only the threshold for seeking help in a small village is much higher. There is more shame and social control there, while living more anonymously in the city, so it’s easier to go to OCMW and sit down for free food.” “The rise of the working poor has been going on for some time, but in the past year there has also been skyrocketing inflation and the energy crisis. Our latest survey shows that 40 percent of the lower middle class long for the next paycheck every month I holding his breath for 2023, when the last permanent energy contracts expire and the final bills arrive. If even the healthy middle class is already struggling, how can a single mother cope if she has to earn €800 from a net salary of €1,800? in rent and 600 euros in energy?” “This year we saw another phenomenon emerge: average two-income earners no longer making ends meet. Of course, there is a minority of people who do not manage their budget sensibly, but it is still a structural problem. In the first half of 2022, the number of beneficiaries by 15 percent, in the second half of the year that figure will probably be even higher.” And then the food banks run at full speed. On a gray December morning, we ring the bell at a sober office building in Sint-Agatha-Berchem, on the edge of the Brussels ring. Jef Mottar (71) has been working hard here for six years since his retirement – after a career with Inza and Milcobel – and he is already busy at headquarters today. On a voluntary basis, moreover, because the food banks have three employees on the payroll. Mottar sums up: “A coordinator at the headquarters here, a depot manager in Charleroi and a driver in Brussels. For the rest, we count on a network of almost 400 volunteers.” In addition, the Belgian association of food banks also employs 35 employees. “It is a good thing that social contracts are possible. It means that the provincial food banks can develop more activities and be open more often. The employees gain confidence with us and acquire skills that are useful to find their way back. on it general labor market. The fight against food insecurity and food waste – the two pillars of food banks since their establishment in the USA in 1967 – remains our mission, but we also make a modest contribution to society through social employment.” “When I started volunteering, the food banks were looking for someone for food safety and quality. But when I was approached to become CEO nine months later, my work experience came in handy in addition to my food expertise,” says Mottar. At a simple request, he gives us the exact square meters of office space, storage or freezer rooms and freezers on one A4 sheet, neatly divided by province. The same applies to the number of vans, refrigerated trucks and even forklifts with or without a scale function. The storage capacity is stored down to the last pallet and subdivided according to whether it is refrigerated, deep-freezed or normal storage. It is almost impossible for a non-profit organization to work more transparently, leaner and more cost-effectively. Aside from minimum wage costs, Mottar can tell us far beyond the decimal point how much money is coming in and out. This gives impressive numbers. For example, the operating costs per kilogram of food distributed in 2021 exactly 0.288 euros. If you know that the estimated trade value per kilo averaged 3,383 euros, you can safely talk about a strong example of lean management. The costs are almost negligible if you compare them with the more than 22,000 tons of food with a total trade value of 75 million euros. “The math is simple: everything we receive goes to our recipients – although I prefer to call them ‘customers’. It’s important to keep our costs to a minimum.” With more than 1,000 cubic meters of cold storage, more than 1,500 cubic meters of freezers and 15,000 square meters of office and storage space, energy costs also skyrocket for the food banks. “For this year, we predict an increase of more than 400,000 euros. Operating costs will increase from 3.6 to 4 million euros. For electricity alone, we assume a tripling. We are trying to prepare ourselves against the rising costs, for example by investing in solar panels, but every extra euro is at the expense of our customers. And the freezer and cold cells, which can store up to 100 pallets per unit, consume energy 24 hours a day. There is no escaping that.” The energy crisis is not the only dark cloud over the food banks. The corona crisis has radically changed the strategy of many food producers. “While before it was a disaster not to have your products on the shelves, today it is especially important not to produce too much and be left with a profit. Energy costs, commodity prices and wage indexation have everything to do with it. of course. I managed a dairy company for years, I fully understand that logic. But for us it means significantly less food coming in via the producers. And unfortunately for us that development is irreversible. For several years now we have had a modest procurement program to fill the gaps, that had to be filled, but it is impossible to maintain structurally.” In addition to the reduced supply, there is another phenomenon that food banks increasingly have to compete with. These are the companies that buy up and commercialize profits, such as Too Good To Go. Since its founding in 2015, the Danish tech company’s app has grown rapidly all over the world. This includes small players, but also giants such as Carrefour, Delhaize, Unilever and Starbucks. In Belgium alone, around 7,000 retailers and manufacturers are members of the digital platform. “So it’s certainly no longer a marginal issue. And just as the food manufacturers’ new strategy is logical and legitimate, so are retailers and manufacturers using Too Good To Go,” says Mottar. “But that doesn’t make things any easier for us. Those who supply the food banks with free donations can get the VAT back. But if you can still sell your goods to Too Good To Go, even if it’s at a huge loss, you can’t just get the 6 percent VAT back, but also take the losses into the corporation tax. Then the choice is quickly made.” This inevitably gives the story of the food banks a political dimension. “Lobbying is the only way we no longer have to deal with inequality of resources. We are in favor of tax incentives to stimulate donations. VAT credits used to be a useful tool to guarantee the supply of food banks, but the relationship is complete. , donations are being discriminated from a tax point of view, which will be painfully felt in the coming years,” says Mottar. Because there is a third thundercloud gathering. From 2024 onwards, the Belgian governments predict an amount that will be 35 percent lower than previous years as part of the new European food procurement budgets, while basic food purchases have now become around a quarter more expensive and demand for aid has increased by almost 30 percent compared to before the corona pandemic. The backlash threatens to to become huge. Of the 22,000 tons of food that we distribute, no less than 7,500 tons are bought with European money. That is why we are sounding the alarm so hard date What we do not receive, we will not be able to distribute. While the need has never been greater.”

Leave a Comment