Food crisis threatens a generation
With the Darfur, Sudan, crisis spilling over into eastern Chad, Khadidje Gamar is among 180,000 Chadians displaced by violence. She gained refuge at Habile camp for internally displaced persons, which is managed by Lutheran World Federation and ACT International, and supported in part by Church World Service. Accompanied by her child Matar Hamed, Khadidje Gamar participates in a community garden project to grow food for her family.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT
Story: Chris Herlinger/CWS
On the road outside a camp for internally displaced people near KouKou in eastern Chad, Sadie Ebet laments the rising cost of food. Ebet and the women’s group she leads are running a vegetable garden that provides fresh produce to camp residents.
“It’s a difficult time for all of us,” says Ebet, noting that in recent months two kilos of rice (about four pounds) recently doubled to almost $1.60. The rising cost of food, she explains, is a keen hardship for poor, displaced Chadians who must struggle to supplement the modest food assistance they are receiving with both the garden vegetables made possible through a CWS-supported program and products like rice, bought in the market.
A small example, to be sure, but a telling one as the world copes with a growing international food crisis. The hard facts of the crisis exacerbate an already appalling and inexcusable reality: A child dies of hunger every five seconds, according to the World Food Program, and one in four children in developing countries is underweight, says UNICEF.
In the face of what is being called the worst food emergency in 30 years and which has prompted riots in a number of countries, from Haiti to Egypt Church World Service is calling for meaningful changes in the production and distribution of food.
The crisis “shows now more than ever how the world’s hungry are forgotten in the global marketplace,” says CWS Executive Director and CEO John L. McCullough. “In our work across the globe, we’re finding even those who were once able to buy food are now in danger of malnutrition or even starvation.”
This is not hyperbole: World Bank President Robert Zoellick has warned that rising food prices could push an additional 100 million people in low-income countries into poverty.
Another concrete example of the pressures faced by the poor can be found in Cambodia, where CWS has long experience. The poor “are left increasingly exposed to rising food and fuel prices. Rice sold for $546 per ton in March, up 68 percent from a year earlier,” said CWS Cambodia staffer Hong Reaksmey. “The price increases affected not only Cambodia but also Thailand, Laos and others,” he noted.
“The current situation has exacerbated an already perilous situation for tens of millions,” says Church World Service Associate Director Maurice Bloem. “The issue of malnutrition was already dire before the current crisis and now this is further aggravating it. We’re talking about a lost generation.”
With a 60-year history in fighting hunger and poverty across the globe, Church World Service is more committed than ever to working with local partners worldwide to arrest the crisis and empower people and communities to gain or regain food security.
McCullough says local agencies within each struggling community can play the greatest role in reshaping poverty in the world of the global marketplace. That’s another way of saying that the answer to much of the world’s food security problem isn’t to produce more food. United Nations-backed research indicates enough food continues to exist to feed the world’s hungry; the problem is that much of the world’s poor like those in Chad, for example can’t afford food in their local market.
As such, CWS has focused much of its anti-poverty work on as basic a level as possible, by the household. In Cambodia, CWS and its partners are training families to produce food in places where they previously had not been producing it. Instruction in agricultural and production techniques means more food can be grown, rather than purchased.
At a conference Church World Service co-sponsored with the Global Policy Forum earlier this year, one conclusion stood out: Governments, the United Nations and private lenders together must commit more money to rural farming programs that provide families some measure of security in the face of rising food prices caused in part by the increasing use of crops for bio-fuels, not food.
Church World Service and its partners are stepping up to the challenge. To help curb the current crisis in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the lack of food crop inputs presents a chronic problem to food security, CWS is securing more plants, seeds (wheat, mustard, and other plants for kitchen gardening), and compost for distribution across the region.
“What we need to do is to work with small farmers, put an increased emphasis on direct assistance to malnourished children and work to improve people’s livelihoods and give them more purchasing power,” says Bloem.
Women from a CWS-assisted cooperative near Gonaives in northwest Haiti harvest eggplants for family consumption and to sell at market. With irrigation from the co-op's new water pump, they are able to grow and harvest even during the dry months.
Photo: Don Tatlock/CWS
And, that is what Church World Service is doing in partnership in various parts of the world, including northwest Haiti.
Families in Haiti’s Artibonite and Northwest regions are gaining food security, through a CWS-supported sustainable agriculture program that is providing people, particularly women, with the opportunity to grow enough food for their families and increase income for other basic needs through access to credit and training. Nine small agricultural loan funds and five women’s microenterprise loan funds are now viable, providing micro-funding that help members invest in their own futures.
“The program was launched in 2005 following Tropical Storm Jeanne as a transition from disaster recovery to sustainable community development,” explains Martin Coria, regional coordinator for Church World Service in Latin America and the Caribbean. “We’ve seen really impressive results in terms of people building robust food production, so they can feed themselves. But more importantly,” says Coria, “beyond basic food survival, the program has flourished in an area of severe poverty… They continue to increase their farming skills through training and the provision of agricultural inputs tools, livestock, poultry and seeds.”
As a result, here family income is up and adult and childhood malnutrition is down. Families participating in the northwest co-op farming program are producing larger, healthier and more diversified crops including rice by using crop rotation, fertilizer, and cultivation methods that tackle environmental problems and prevent soil erosion.
CWS Haitian partner the Christian Center for Integrated Development (Sant Kretyen Pou Developman Entegre-SKDE) coordinates the food and livelihood security program locally.
SKDE director Pastor Herode Guillaumettre says, “The farming cooperatives in Artibonite and Northwest Haiti are like a light in the communities, showing people the way to food security that will last.” The established co-ops, says Guillaumettre, are extending their project by reaching out to other farming groups. “We send people from our projects to other areas of Haiti to train other farmers so they can establish their own cooperatives, food sources, and livelihoods.”
Guillaumettre says a new road being built into the region literally is creating a market-driven economy in the remote area. “Trucks from other areas will now be able to go in and buy food from the farm cooperatives,” he says.
Coria notes that CWS will be providing further business management training for participants, seen as critical for the ongoing success of the loan funds and the life of the cooperatives themselves. “In the case of Haiti and Haitian farmers,” says Coria, “results-based management will translate into, ‘We can eat now and next year, have healthier children, create family income, and build an economically stronger community through cooperatives,’” says Coria.
The Osprey Foundation, Foods Resource Bank, USAID, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Reformed Church World Service (RCA-RCWS), the United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) have provided partial support for this program, with Church World Service as lead agency.
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