A Chilliwack man who recently returned from a trip to Africa wants to get the message out about just how horrendous the global food crisis is.
But he’s also calling it a “solvable” problem.
Andy Harrington, executive director with Canadian Foodgrains Bank, was in Ethiopia for about a week and returned home to Chilliwack on July 14.
“It’s bad. It’s really, really bad,” Harrington stressed.
The current global hunger crisis is of such international concern that in June, world leaders at the Group of 7 Summit in Germany pledged to spend $4.5 billion this year to help ensure food security around the globe. It was estimated that by the end of June, 50 million people would face emergency famine conditions, according to the World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization focused on hunger and food security, and branch of the United Nations. This is an increase of 10 million people since May 2022.
“It’s been estimated if we invest $36 billion American dollars in an intelligent way, we can solve world hunger,” Harrington said. “There’s more than enough food in the world. We don’t have to have the hunger, we choose to allow people to go hungry because of unjust and unequal systems.”
Canadian Foodgrains Bank has been helping since 1983. The organization is a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies which work together to end hunger. They work with several donors and stakeholders in Canada and have about 225 growing projects nationwide where farmers and communities grow crops which they sell to benefit the work of Canadian Foodgrains Bank, raising millions of dollars every year.
Locally, the annual Make a Difference Auction in Abbotsford brings in about $350,000 each year.
Harrington was in Ethiopia to help with emergency food distribution and for a first-hand account of the organization’s work.
“The reason why I went is there’s a major hunger crisis in the world at the moment, particularly in the Horn of Africa,” he said, adding the area is in its fifth consecutive failed rainy season. “Which is unprecedented… (it’s) the worse we’ve seen in 40 years.”
Those 225 growing projects in Canada help feed the 100-plus projects Canadian Foodgrains Bank has worldwide focusing on food security.
The global projects are both short-term and long-term.
Short-term projects include humanitarian work where they tackle emergency food distribution and hand out cash vouchers in response to disasters like droughts, tropical storms (Cyclone Ana in January 2022), the Port of Beruit explosion in 2020, and the COVID crisis in India.
Long-term projects include working with farmers around the world where they offer agriculture and livelihood support, help to make the farms become more productive, and help the farmers with marketing.
Canadian Foodgrains Bank works closely with the Government of Canada. Their humanitarian work is matched 4:1 by the government, up to $25 million. The organization has just under one million beneficiaries around the world in about 34 countries.
In Ethiopia alone they work with 30,000 small-scale farmers. Drought has brought stunted growth for years and Canadian Foodgrains Bank is helping those farmers build climate-resilient food systems.
Harrington recalls one woman he reconnected with when he was in Ethiopia who’s been on a program with Canadian Foodgrains Bank for about a year.
“She kept saying ‘I did not know how to do this. When I started doing this people thought I was mad – this is not how we do things. I wasn’t picking weeds, I was covering it with mulch.’”
People wondered why she wasn’t weeding or tilling. But, having been taught by Canadian Foodgrains Bank how to grow climate-resilient crops, she told her neighbours “it will work.”
And it did.
She had “abundant” growth everywhere, Harrington said. “(It was) a massive explosion in growth. Hundreds of per cents increase. And now everyone is coming to her saying ‘how do we do this?’”
Now she’s teaching other farmers.
Also while he was there, Harrington and his team handed out emergency grain, beans and oil for 9,000 people.
The United Nations released its annual ‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ report on July 6, which showed there’s up to 828 million people in severe to acute hunger in the world, he said.
“It’s a solvable problem. But we choose not to, we choose to allow people to die,” he said. “The reason why I think that happens is because they’re out there. They’re other people, they’re not us. It’s not our neighbours, it’s not here.”
It’s happening for three reasons: consequences of climate change; increased conflict around the world; and economic disruptions like COVID and the war in Ukraine mean a lot of grain is not leaving that country, and what is being shipped out has gone up as much as 40 to 50 per cent in some countries.
These are “massive” consequences for those who are hungry around the world, Harrington said.
“We’re looking to increase our footprint immensely at the same time as having our capacity decrease by all this inflation.”
Canadian Foodgrains Bank is now looking for more funding from the Canadian government. The organization is also looking at long-term “nature based” projects to reforest areas and do watershed management to help people grow crops in the new climates they are experiencing.
What can folks here in Chilliwack and beyond do?
“Get engaged, learn, advocate, give.”
People can make donations. Depending on the work they’re doing, the government will match donations to Canadian Foodgrains Bank either 1:1, 3:1 or 4:1.
The organization will have some upcoming meetings around September in the Fraser Valley to explain to people what the needs are around the world. In the meantime, folks can go to foodgrainsbank.ca to find out more.
“If what I just saw in Ethiopia was happening here in Chilliwack, we would be all over that,” Harrington said. “There is no ‘other.’ There’s just ‘us.’ We’re all in this together, we’re all human beings.”