BLOGGERKatherine Marshall is a Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where she leads the Center's program on Religion and Global Development. After a long career in...
Faith in Action tracks the activities of people of faith across the globe and across religious traditions, with a focus on development issues. Posts are originally published by the Huffington Post. Older blog posts appeared on the Washington Post's Georgetown/On Faith site.
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AT THE CENTER
RELATED RESOURCES: CLIMATE CHANGE
Food Crisis Solutions? Look to Canadians
May 8, 2008
The global food crisis came like a tsunami, with amazing speed and stealth. Development institutions everywhere are scrambling to face the urgent problems and questions that come in its wake.
There's the immediate problem: How to find funds to buy enough food to meet steep increases in demand to feed hungry people here and now.
Then come longer term solutions. Feeding people obviously dominates todayâ€™s discussions, but the crisis runs so deep and broad that it demands serious rethinking of approaches and assumptions about how food is produced and marketed and about how to address factors like changing consumption demands and climate change.
Faith-inspired organizations are in the thick of this melee. They spotted it coming months ago, as most people were just beginning to notice creeping grocery bills. As my post on March 20 observed, in soup kitchens, food stamp centers, and food for work programs, across the world, the lines got longer, drawing people who had not needed help before. Now these organizations are passionately advocating for urgent action, to fund programs and lift bottlenecks that stop food reaching those in need. They are, at the same time, shifting gears to the development implications: how to increase production and fix obviously distorted global food markets.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Jim Cornelius, executive director of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The history of his program, which is in the thick of the policy debate up north, tells part of this faith food story.
Mennonites were among the first in Canada to provide food aid. In the 1920s, North American Russian farmers sent food aid to people in Eastern European who were hungry as the result of the Russian Revolution. They were practical farmers, so when they heard that members of their church were starving in Ukraine, they loaded surplus grain into containers and shipped it off. This was in the 1970s, and with successive crises the programs grew and became an integral part of Canadaâ€™s government food aid programs. In 1976, amid growing world food needs and a bountiful harvest, the Mennonite Central Committee launched a pilot project that eventually drew in other church agencies, and became the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. In 2007, it provided almost a million tons of food in more than 80 countries around the world. Today, 15 church agencies, representing over 9,000 congregations, are Canadian Foodgrains Bank members.
Three things struck me about discussions with these pragmatic Canadians.
First, they are proud that Canadaâ€™s food aid program is progressive, and completely untied. That means that the food aid, including the Foodgrains Bank, buys food on the market where they can get it fastest and cheapest. They can buy anywhere except in countries that do not have untied aid (that means the United States above all). There seems to be little argument about this up north.
Second, their church connections give them practical grounding and a wealth of information. They have keen antennae about where the crisis will strike next and the means to use them.
Third, the here and now is grafted to their policy thinking: soup kitchens now, better drip irrigation tomorrow; food stamps now, farmer cooperatives tomorrow; containers loaded on ships today, better drought proofing for crops down the road.
In the space of a few hours last week, Cornelius shifted gears from the global food crisis to the horrific situation in Burma. The passion and compassion that faith institutions bring has never been more urgently needed.