August 2014

Report Says the Navajo Nation Is a Food Desert

 Food sovereignty: the ability of a nation to provide food within its borders to feed its people


The Diné Food Sovereignty Report, an extensive study on the Navajo Nation’s food supply, was released in May 2014 by Diné Policy Institute (DPI), a Navajo think tank. The report reveals that, of the 230 Navajo people surveyed in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, 40 percent said people in their community don’t get enough food on a daily basis, even though more than half the population receives some kind of government food subsidy.

Sixty percent say there are foods they need or want but can’t find on the reservation, or that it is too expensive there. Over half of those surveyed said they spend almost all of their money on groceries and other basic necessities off the reservation, in cities such as Gallup, New Mexico, where there are supermarkets and big-box stores. Most of those people travel between 155 and 218 miles round-trip to shop.

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said that they have health problems, such as diabetes and obesity, due to having few options for obtaining fresh, healthy food. Although the Indian Health Services says that one in three Navajo have either type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic, the DPI study estimates that the number is actually closer to half of all children and adults.

The report says that one of the reasons for the lack of healthy options is that there is little access to arable land. And historically, Navajo were not farmers. Although they eventually learned from the Pueblos to grow their own corn, beans, squash and melons—plants that became important to Navajo culture—that way of life was lost, in part because of conflicts with the U.S. Army in the late 1800s, when they were incarcerated and made completely dependent on government food rations.

According to the study’s authors, the inability of the Navajo Nation to feed its people poses a threat to the Nation’s sovereignty and sustainability. The authors suggest the need to develop homegrown solutions to food scarcity.

First Nations Development Institute, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, provided funding for the report. To read it, visit:



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