MARIA TERESA GARCIA PLATA

Mexico 2021 | AGRICULTURE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Maria Teresa Garcia Plata, Director General of Mexican Foodbanking Network (BAMX), about increased demand for food banks, working with the public and private sectors, and plans for 2021.

Considering the economic impact of the pandemic and unemployment leading to increased demand for food banks, how have you changed the structure of BAMX?

BAMX is a network of 55 food banks operating for almost 30 years, and since March 2020, we have seen an increase in the number of people coming to food banks. In 2020, we were assisting 1.4 million people, and today that figure is more than 2.1 million. We have developed a special model to rescue food from along the value chain, prepare different food packages, and deliver these to people in need. Because we are a national network, we have the big challenge of not only finding more companies to donate food to as a priority, but also make monetary donations so that BAMX can afford to buy basic food items such as grains, beans, rice, lentils, and the like. We seek more funding to buy staple food items, such as grain.

What strategies do you use to rescue food from the value chain?

We rescue food from the fields. We have an alliance with more than 600 farmers and producers. We also work with retail chains, hotels and restaurants, and industry, including both SMEs and large companies at the national and international level. BAMX always starts by signing an agreement, so we have a formal relationship in place where a partner commits to giving us donations on a regular basis. Every single day, the 1,200-plus people working in BAMX and our 24,000-plus volunteers working in our network, go out to the fields, businesses, and stores to collect food that is not sellable. This food is fine to consume but sometimes unsuitable for sale, such as faulty packaging or fresh produce that is not of uniform ripeness or color. There is a significant level of food waste for such reasons that make no sense. Since the pandemic we have started working with companies in the energy sector, such as IEnova, Engie, and Shell. We have been innovating to create these new relationships where we work with companies on special projects to benefit particular communities. We work with almost 7,000 communities so BAMX is an extremely experienced NGO for these companies to work with.

Can you elaborate on the nature of BAMX's collaboration with these energy companies?

These are projects where we deliver food to specific communities, for example towns near solar plants or other energy projects or communities requiring flood relief assistance. We have a special national protocol to guide our food banks and help them respond to these emergencies. We have learned a great deal about different sectors with which we could form relationships besides the food industry. We also want to keep working with sectors like energy after the pandemic. We have other alliances with many companies that donate significant amounts of money to BAMX. Our biggest operational challenge is logics and transportation investment. We would love to have transportation companies collaborate with us through special rates, discounts, or donations.

Can you elaborate on BAMX's work with business chambers in Mexico?

We have been working with the chambers for the last two years. In August 2019, the most important chambers agreed to start the First Business Council Against Food Loss and Waste. The next step is for the chambers to promote a new initiative in 2021 that we are developing in collaboration with the UK over a 15-year period where they worked with various companies. The companies that sign up to our initiative pledge to reduce food loss or waste by 50% and make changes so they start seeing the multiple benefits of adopting less wasteful practices. The beauty of the concept is that even companies that are competitors in the market can work together toward this common goal—they will sit down together and share good practices to reduce food loss and waste. We will have the assistance of WRAP from the UK and various experts. This is also an interesting initiative because it is not merely confined to the private sector; we will work with the public sector as well, specifically The President's Office. We also want the Ministry of the Environment to be a part of this project so we can collaborate and not only make changes at the company level, but also at the national level through public policy changes. BAMX wants reducing food loss and waste to be part of Mexico's legislation. This is not an easy initiative to carry out, but we have an advantage because the methodology and results have been proven in the UK.

What are your main goals at BAMX for 2021?

We need to maintain the volume of food being rescued. We also need to grow our number of alliances, and that will be one of our main strategies for 2021. BAMX needs to be better known. We need to raise our profile so that not just the private sector, but also people in the community know about us and trust us as an NGO that has been working for this cause for three decades now. The need is growing, and we need their support and community volunteers. Mexico has a serious problem not only with hunger and food insecurity, but also in terms of food loss and waste. There is not much information available about this issue. We should be talking about this and doing things to be part of the solution because there is enough food in Mexico to feed everyone. We are trying to get more people involved and are working on the solution. The food bank was originally started by a businessman in Guadalajara who had trucks of tomatoes he could not sell; at the same time, he saw a retirement home struggling to find food. He started food banks in Mexico in 1987, and the association BAMX was established in 1995. We are now 25 years old and have 55 food banks. BAMX has 35 employees at its national office, 1,200 staff elsewhere in Mexico, and 24,000 volunteers in the country.