Friday, November 14, 2008

Hunger for Change

For the last two weeks of October I had the incredible privilege of traveling across the country with two of our international partners - Sam Mutisya from Kenya and Dr. Judson Pothuraju from India. We - along with several others who varied from venue to venue - were presenting a workshop we called: Hunger for Change: Responding to the Global Food Crisis. What an amazing journey it was for me!

I heard Sam and Dr. Judson present their material on how the global food crisis is affecting people in their communities a total of eight times - and each time the picture got a little clearer. But it wasn't just the presentations that stretched me - it was also the opportunity to get to know these two gracious men as we traveled across this land of plenty to try to help people understand that there really is a link between our relative affluence and the abject poverty so many people experience every day BECAUSE of global forces which favor us and not them. Sometimes it's hard for us to really believe that there IS a global food crisis since our grocery stores continue to carry an amazing array of food - fresh, frozen, processed, modified, transported - it's all there waiting for us when we zip into the grocery store to stock our own shelves.

After extending Kenyan greetings, Sam began his presentation by noting that "world hunger and a food crisis are a contradiction in our time." There's an irony that we musn't miss that while the diet industry in North America is booming because we have and we eat TOO MUCH, about one billion people (that's about one in six!) are chronically hungry and many of them are seriously malnourished and literally on the brink of starvation.

It's pretty easy, actually, to see that there's something terribly wrong with this picture, but the more difficult issue is understanding the causes of the food crisis and - tougher still - working through possible solutions. There seem to be two competing and maybe even contradictory camps on this. On the one hand there's Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, who heads up a pilot project which has seen the creation of 12 "Millennium Villages" in an effort to provide a model for the eradication of poverty and hunger. Sounds like a good idea, but the catch is that they are based on some assumptions about development that may ultimately be counter- productive. Like, for example, as I understand it, agricultural production will be heavily reliant on commercially manufactured seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. See for more details.

Michael Pollan is a spokesperson for a different approach. He advocates a development model that harnesses natural inputs. He's written an open letter (published in the New York Times - see to the next president of the United States (who we now know will be President-elect Barack Obama) concerning the global food crisis and the way forward. Quite a different way forward than the Millennium Villages model for agricutlural production, mind you.

So - what I've been pondering is this question: is it possible for us (humanity at its best, that is) to produce enough food to feed the growing world population, without relying on genetically modified food and chemical fertilizers and pesticides? I don't have the answer to that question, but I'm guessing that in the immediate short term it may be necessary to combine philosophies and approaches in order to get food - and that is, food of any kind at this point - into the bellies of hungry and starving people around the world. That's the first priority. But in the long term decisions must be made about what kind of food we want and need. We need to consider the costs of artificial inputs and of a whole series of assumptions that we make about food production and distribution. Perhaps the "answer" will lie in a dynamic balance between two models....

In my next posting I'm going to talk about a Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) grow project in Coronation, Alberta, where farmers donate their time, equipment and labour to harvest grain which is donated through CFGB, along with matching grants (up to 4:1) from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and is invested through The Sharing Way of Canadian Baptist Ministries with our partners in countries like Kenya and India - to improve food security. It's a great story and an inspiring example of mustard seed faith!

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