Planting for the Future
Fighting global hunger with solutions that last
By Carrie Madren
In desperation, a Liberian mother brought her 10-year-old son, her 11th child, to Mary Ann Newah of Hope for the Nation's Children's Recovery Center in Ganta, Liberia. The boy looked to be 6 or 7, because he was undernourished. "His mother said, ‘I do not know what to do to get him healthy,'" Newah says. "I'm dealing with lots of children that are malnourished, and most mothers do not know the source of malnutrition."
|Moringa seedlings grow at a community farm in Barnesville, Liberia.|
|UMNS/Courtesy June Kim|
While the world produces enough food to feed the 7 billion people who live here, 925 million suffer from chronic hunger. That staggering figure includes 200 million undernourished children. According to UNICEF, malnutrition and hunger-related diseases kill 60 percent of the 10.9 million children in developing countries who die each year.
In 2005, 1.4 billion people in those countries lived in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, according to Bread for the World. A scant ration of food isn't enough—the body needs sufficient protein, vitamins, minerals and calories. Without proper nutrition, hunger weakens the body and mind, making people less effective in work or school. For that reason, 178 million children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia are stunted in growth.
Newah taught the mother to use moringa—a locally grown vitamin-and-nutrient-packed plant—to nourish her son. "Moringa is like a super-food: high in vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc," says Judith Santiago, media associate at the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the denomination's humanitarian agency. Moringa's roots can help treat infection.
Typically, children arrive at the recovery center unable to stand or walk on their own because of malnutrition affecting their legs. When parents bring in badly malnourished children, Newah begins to add tea with honey and a powder made from moringa leaves to their diets.
"Within less than two weeks, you will see them moving and walking by themselves," says Newah. UMCOR trained her to grow moringa trees. Now, she teaches mothers to add the powder to foods, and trains people to grow the tree for food and materials to sell—a means to food security.
Hunger isn't just an international issue. Some 14.6 percent of U.S. households struggle to put food on the table, according to Bread for the World. While those suffering from hunger in the U.S. have a safety net of programs and services that those living in the poorest regions of the world do not, nearly one in four North American children lives in risk of hunger. Among African Americans and Latinos that risk increases to one in three.
To help fill the gap, free or reduced lunch and breakfast programs in schools provide regular nourishment. Community food centers give boxes of food to families. Urban soup kitchens provide hot meals. The federal Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) assists pregnant or nursing mothers and their children.
Planting a seed
Food aid has been the traditional stopgap for people living through famines or in war-torn regions or natural disaster zones. Such food—though expensive to ship—helps people enduring temporary hard times get back on their feet.
But what if the hunger is chronic or ongoing?
|June Kim visits children in Jeduako, Ghana, where villagers have been trained through UMCOR's Sustainable Agriculture and Development program.|
|UMNS/Courtesy June Kim|
Chronic hunger is more than a tough few weeks—it's a lack of food security, life without a dependable food source. Though serving tonight's meal is important, it's even more important to help communities provide for themselves.
Global organizations know sustainable agriculture will feed people now and in the future—raising incomes and fighting disease.
Famine or food relief has to be coupled with long-term programs that train farmers, says June Kim, UMCOR's executive for world hunger, poverty and sustainable agriculture. Training in sustainable agriculture teaches people to create their own income and opportunities.
"This is the solution [to global hunger], because without agriculture, there is no food," Kim says.
Of the more than one billion hungry people in the world, three-quarters are poor farmers, according to UMCOR. Yet, these subsistence farmers can’t provide enough food for their families. “One of the main reasons is that most farmers in developing countries concentrate on one cash crop which makes them vulnerable should the crop fail,” says Kim. If the crop fails or the market prices fall, they won’t have enough income to buy food and inputs for next year’s harvest, which can result in malnutrition and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
"Chronic poverty disrupts the potential for people to do planning," says Marv Baldwin, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Foods Resource Bank. When people are in survival mode, they can't better their situation.
Jesus calls his followers to share their blessings of material wealth and knowledge.
Growing into sustainability
Before Victor Kpe of Ghana learned beekeeping, he was extremely shy, and struggled to put food on his family’s table and pay his children’s school fees, says Santiago. In 2002, Kpe’s 18 beehives yielded an un-heard of 100 gallons of honey, bringing in much needed income (one gallon sells for $15 to $20 in Ghana). UMCOR then trained the more-confident Kpe to train people in Liberia in beekeeping.
Beekeeping skills have transformed dozens of African communities. Honey can be a source of nutritious food, used for salves or sold in the market. Beeswax is used in batik textiles. Propolis, a hive resin, can be used in construction of furniture to sell in the local markets. As of 2008, UMCOR had helped bring 1,240 beehives to Liberia, adding $40,000 to the economy.
Teaching agriculture is a sustainable solution to hunger. In the last eight years, UMCOR has introduced new methods of farming and production to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mozambique, Gambia and Senegal. The training helps some 3,300 individuals each year; half are women.
|Mozart Adevu (right), a General Board of Global Ministries' missionary, is presented with honey by beekeepers at the Ganta mission station in Liberia.|
|UMNS File Photo/Courtesy June Kim|
“Farmers learn how to grow food on their own, then share information with the community,” says Santiago. Farmers learn integrated crop and pest management strategies, beekeeping, agroforestry, how to raise small livestock, microcredit operation and how to grow soybeans and moringa.
The knowledge will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Should war or natural disaster disrupt their livelihoods, individuals can use their knowledge to restart their lives.
In UMCOR's program, experienced master farmers train other subsistence farmers at field schools. Farmers-in-training learn practices such as how to create a natural pesticide using neem leaves, pepper and soap.
"They [trained farmers] feel empowered—they can finally take care of their own, put their children in school or have the opportunity to build a home," says Santiago.
Food security is the first step to a family’s ability to rise out of poverty.
"Most of the incomes have more than quadrupled in the past 10 years," says Mozart Adevu, a missionary and Africa regional coordinator for UMCOR's sustainable agriculture and development program. "We have worked with many communities where people that couldn't afford more than one meal a day [10 years ago] are now food secure, getting three square meals a day," says Adevu, who's also chair of the Moringa Association of Ghana.
2012 will mark the 10th anniversary of UMCOR’s sustainable agriculture and development training program, and Kim has already witnessed transformation in individuals and communities. "Because of our interventions, people have generated extra income and are able to build a new house or extend their land," says Kim. Women, especially, can now earn their own money — increasing their confidence.
Establishing food security is vital around the world. Like many regions, the Republic of Armenia still suffers from 2008 food and fuel price hikes and global economic downturn. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, many people were forced into subsistence farming; most lacked sufficient knowledge of farm management, and crop and animal husbandry. Like poor farmers around the world, Armenian subsistence farmers lack access to and can't afford pesticides, tools and seeds for their few hectares of land, says Anahit Gasparyan of UMCOR–Armenia, which has helped Armenian farmers develop 24 farming associations/cooperatives to pool resources and knowledge to increase incomes.
Partnering increases effect
Teaming with other humanitarian entities makes each group more effective. Through The Advance—The United Methodist Church's designated-giving channel—UMCOR directly funds the sustainable-agriculture program and contributes to policy work and promotion of fair trade. The Advance also funds projects and ministries such as CROP Walk, Stop Hunger Now and Bread for the World.
Another UMCOR partner is the Foods Resource Bank, which has worked to alleviate hunger for 12 years.
Foods Resource Bank works like this: Farmers, congregations and communities in the U.S. create growing projects. They commit the revenue from selling a portion of their crops, livestock, garden vegetables, wind energy, honey, quilts for auction, baked goods or other commodities locally. When crop portions or goods are sold, the money goes to one of 62 overseas programs, run by partner agencies, such as UMCOR, that help a community become self-sustaining.
Funds purchase seed, tools, small herd animals, farming materials and agriculture extension help. In 2010, 200 growing projects raised more than $2.3 million. UMCOR was among Foods Resource Bank's founding members. Hundreds of United Methodists have contributed.
Foods Resource Bank head Marv Baldwin recently visited a community in eastern Zambia that had become self-sufficient by growing maize. The community then started a beekeeping project. "That's a very good sign of sustainability, that they're carrying on the process ... after the [training] partner left," says Baldwin, who saw farmers growing and adding peanuts, vegetables and cassava to meals for more protein and nutrients.
"Before, a lot of people were waiting," Baldwin says, for food relief and help. "Now, what we saw were people trying things: conservation farming, saving and loan groups. They're figuring out how to solve problems on their own."
|Caitlyn Johnson of Morgan County, Ky., cuddles the goat she received through Heifer International. She helps her coal-mining family do more and more farming for income as coal supplies dwindle.|
|Heifer International/Darcy Kiefel|
Likewise, Heifer International, also supported in part through The Advance, has for 65 years taught sustainable principles to families, then provided them with one of 28 livestock species and training in environmentally sound agricultural practices. Each animal provides a benefit such as milk, eggs, wool or manure for fertilizer. Families receive both improved nutrition and income from selling extra eggs or wool. This income pays for better housing, education and other needs to lift themselves out of poverty.
Families then share the firstborn female offspring of their animal—and their training—with another family or individual, so the program grows exponentially throughout a village. Animals have been given to hundreds of thousands of people in more than 50 countries, including the United States, according to Heifer, helping more than 12 million families.
"The vast majority of hungry people don't need food aid; they need to grow their own food or start their own business," says Baldwin. "We're helping people pull back from the edge where they're close to falling off."
Carrie Madren is a freelance writer based in Olney, Md.
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