Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

8 posts from October 2010

Planting Roots in Haiti

Heavy deforestation has left Haiti with less than 2 percent tree cover. Without trees, soil erodes, crops wash away and people aren't able to feed themselves. Trees for the Future, a Haitian NGO, is working to change the situation one tree at a time.

 

Creating the 'Give-a-Damn' Army

DES MOINES, IOWA — To honor this year’s winners of the World Food Prize, this column will go easy on the outrage and heavy on the inspire.

That’s not to say David Beckmann of Bread for the World and Jo Luck of Heifer International aren’t fueled by a high level of outrage. They most certainly are, for they have been shouting the loudest from the ramparts that hunger in the 21st century is totally unacceptable and that nearly 1 billion people going to bed with an empty stomach every night is the shame of our civilization.

But above all, they are about inspiration. They and their organizations inspire us to do better. And they provide the inspiration that individuals can and do make a tremendous impact in the fight against hunger. Particularly when those individuals get together and join forces. Bread, through its army of advocates who won’t let the legislators of this country forget about the world’s hungry, both at home and abroad. And Heifer, through its vast legion of contributors who help poor smallholder farmers climb another rung or two out of poverty through animal husbandry—be it silkworms or llamas or heifers or water buffalo.

The awarding of the World Food Prize to David Beckmann and Jo Luck illustrates that advocacy and activism matter. The work of the previous winners of the World Food Prize—most of them agriculture scientists, disciples of Iowa plant breeder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug, who established the prize—can’t be as effective as possible in fighting hunger without the clamor to make the general public and the politicians care enough to put their achievements into action. Dr. Borlaug knew this was true.

The winsome and eloquent Rev. Beckmann, a Lutheran pastor, calls it creating the “give-a-damn.” By mobilizing Bread’s faith-based constituency to rise up and engage elected officials, he has led successful campaigns to reduce the debt loads of the world’s poorest countries, to increase funding for child nutrition programs, and to realign U.S. foreign aid to focus on reducing hunger through agriculture development.

In accepting the award, he said, “I’m grateful to all the good citizens who pressure the politicians to remember the hungry of the world.”

For, he said over and over in Iowa this week, “The binding constraint is weak political will …. The fight against hunger begins at the grassroots.” Winning the war against hunger means winning the battle against political apathy.

The coming election in November, he noted, is a good pressure point. One standard for awarding your vote, he suggested, is asking, “Who’s going to be good news for the hungry people?”

Who’s in support of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program, who’s in favor of increasing spending for agriculture development, who puts ending hunger at the center of their political values?

But the election is only a starting point. The coming years will be crucial for prodding the politicians—of the U.S. and the world—to make good on their recent pledges to increase spending on agriculture development in the poorest countries of the world. Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, exhorted the World Food Prize audience to “build a durable domestic constituency” for ending hunger.

Jo Luck, a dynamo who leads with equal measures of determination and humor, raises the clamor like few others. “We’re here together to make a difference,” she encouraged the grassroots troops mustered in Des Moines. “We’re really going to do something this next decade.”

She winked a “Just you wait and see” wink. The “give-a-damn” army was ready to march.

Roger Thurow’s blog post appears courtesy of the Global Food for Thought blog. Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

 

Fortifying Haitian Kids against Malnutrition

Text by Molly Marsh / Audio Slideshow by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

DEBRIGA, HAITI — We’re in the Haitian village of Debriga, standing inside a small building that serves as the community’s church, school, and gathering center. The walls consist of dried palm tree leaves held together by wooden beams. The temperature and a tin roof keep the room hot and airless, and small children run across the dirt floor—some in pink or orange Crocs, others in their bare feet.

Audio Slideshow / In the village of Debriga, a new Fonkoze health program diagnoses and treats child malnutrition.

 

About 100 women and children are sitting on rows of long wooden benches listening to Nicole Cesar Muller, Fonkoze’s director of health, talk about the importance of vitamins and nutrition. Several children have a reddish tint to their hair—a sign of malnutrition—as well as swollen bellies, an indication they have worms.

This gathering is part of a new health program Fonkoze started in the last year. Bank managers noticed that many of their clients’ children were malnourished, so the organization decided to partner with medical groups—such as Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante in Creole)—to diagnose and treat it. Fonkoze center chiefs, as they’re called, are trained to test kids for malnutrition and connect mothers and children with treatment.

At this gathering, Muller will distribute six months' worth of vitamin A, multivitamins, and de-worming pills to the mothers.

She tells them why vitamins are important. “Put [them] on top of what you’re eating, because we know you’re not getting enough nutrients in your food,” she says. The multivitamins taste good, so Muller reminds them that their kids should only get one a day. And, she says, “It’s a very expensive vitamin, so we don’t want you to do business with it. It goes to your kids.”

Muller then puts on plastic gloves, picks up the vitamin A bottle, and moves through the crowd. The children look up at her from the safety of their mothers’ laps—some protest in anticipation; others are quietly scared. Most are mesmerized by this warm, efficient woman with the yellow headscarf. She cuts off the tip of each capsule and pours the powder on each child’s tongue. There’s no water to wash it down, and the looks on their faces indicate how bad it tastes.

Six months ago, a 5-year-old girl named Ismylove Volma was so severely malnourished that she had no hair and couldn’t walk. She was sent to Zanmi Lasante for treatment. Now she wears white ribbons in her hair, and though she’s still very small for her age, she’s walking.

Twenty-two-year-old Louis Wisline, who lives just behind the building, brought her daughter, Francesca, to the vitamin distribution because she wants her 2-year-old to be healthy. Wisline isn’t a member of Fonkoze, but that’s not a requirement for coming—the vitamins are for any mothers in the community who want them. Malnutrition is common in Haiti, especially in rural areas like Debriga.

Since the program began, 824 children have been diagnosed with malnutrition and received treatment.

The Power of the Purse: Haitian Women Build Their Economic Strength

MIREBALAIS, HAITI — Purses: They carry all sorts of useful sundries such as pens, business cards, lipstick, and gum. Most importantly, purses carry money.

Here in Haiti, where 54 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, microfinance organization Fonkoze is helping women build businesses that feed their families, lift them out of poverty and pad their purses with a bit of cash.

Yesterday at a Fonkoze community meeting I noticed the variety of handbags women carried around. Many were black. Some were small. All seemed to be carried with pride by their owners.

Text and Photos by Laura Elizabeth Pohl.

 

 

Show Them the Money

Roger Thurow on unmet agriculture commitments:

 

Show Them the Money

We – “we” being the rich world -- asked the poorest countries to draw up comprehensive agriculture investment plans and tell us which were the highest priority projects to boost food production.  Do that, we informed them, and we will help finance the projects from a new multi-donor trust fund called the Global Agriculture Food Security Program, or GAFSP.

Twenty-two countries, many in Africa, have done what we told them.  They drew up investment plans, vetted them with regional agricultural development authorities, and submitted top priority projects to GAFSP for funding in next month’s scheduled allocation.  Together, the projects add up to nearly $1 billion.

But there’s only about $130 million currently available in GAFSP.  That means only a handful of countries will receive substantial funding of $40 million or more.  The rest will be sent away empty handed.

“Unless new donors come forward, we’re going to have to turn away or push off strong applicants, applications from countries that have done their part,” Mariso Lago, the assistant secretary for International Markets and Development in the U.S. Department of Treasury, said earlier this week.

Is this any way to ignite a green revolution in Africa?

The developing countries who applied for funding showed us their priorities and their good intentions.

We should show them the money.

That was the idea of GAFSP.  Provide financing to help complete agriculture development projects that the countries themselves were implementing.  When it was launched in April, GAFSP was stocked with commitments of $880 million.  The initial commitments came from the U.S., $475 million; Canada, $230 million; Spain, $95 million; South Korea, $50 million; and, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $30 million.

These initial donations were supposed to attract other donors, and the GAFSP pot was supposed to fill up.  In June, the fund allocated a total of $224 million to five countries: Rwanda, Haiti, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Togo.  It was off to a fast start.

The hope was that by now, there would be $1 billion in the fund to finance all the new applications.  But no other donors have come forward.  And the commitment of the U.S. has been slow to be funded by Congress.  The U.S. came through with $67 million from its fiscal 2010 budget.  The Obama administration has requested the remaining $408 million for fiscal year 2011.  But appropriation committees in both the House and Senate have whittled back the request to $250 million in the Senate and $150 million in the House.

For all those countries – particularly the Europeans – who are watching the progress of the fund before contributing, this retreat doesn’t send an encouraging signal.  Hopefully, Congress will ignore the committee whittling and fully fund the request in the new budget.

This weekend’s World Bank meetings should be a prime hunting ground for new money.  The World Bank, which administers GAFSP, will be pressing its members to contribute so the new applications can be funded.  This push will be coming on the heels of the U.N. General Assembly last month which pledged to redouble efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  The first goal: halving hunger and poverty.  Filling the fund to finance agriculture development will help the world get there.

The 22 projects seeking funding aren’t hare-brained proposals, conjured up just to latch on to the GAFSP money.  They are projects already being funded by the developing country governments themselves; some of the projects are already underway.   They need additional funding to reach full ambition.

These countries have made ending hunger through agriculture development a top priority.  Having come this far, they shouldn’t be turned away empty-handed by a rich world that can’t fulfill its promises.

“We’re at an inflection point in which we see the strengths of the program, the strengths of the proposals, and are hoping it will be matched by additional donor strength,” said Lago.

That’s diplomatic speak for Show Them The Money.

 

Roger Thurow’s blog post appears courtesy of the Global Food for Thought blog. Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

http://globalfoodforthought.typepad.com/global-food-for-thought/2010/10/-roger-thurow-outrage-inspire-show-them-the-money.html

Trees Take Root in Haiti

Text by Molly Marsh / Photographs by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — The 45-minute ride from Port-au-Prince to the village of Arcahaie is hot and bumpy. The landscape around us is dotted with shrubs and some trees, though generations of deforestation have left the hillsides of Chaîne des Matheux, the mountain range north of Haiti’s capital city, green but mostly barren.

20101009_TreesForFuture_0097Fb_500px
Children help line up tree seedlings at a Trees for the Future nursery in Gericher, Haiti.

Timote Georges, Haiti program coordinator for Trees for the Future, a nonprofit organization that works on reforestation projects in some 20 countries, points out the devastating effects of deforestation. There are few trees to keep the soil from eroding, to provide relief from the unrelenting sun and heat, and to protect farms and homes from the ravages of heavy rains.

“When it rains, people in the lowlands see their work and livelihoods washed out,” says Georges. Trees would minimize the impact of Haiti’s seasonal rains, not to mention the hurricanes the country regularly experiences. Tree roots also add important nutrients to soil. Healthy, nutritious soil leads to better crops, which leads to more food and less hunger.

Georges and his colleagues stopped their pickups—carrying us and Bread senior policy analyst Whitney Rhoades—on a gravel road overlooking a steep embankment. Next up was a walk through the brush and a wade through a river to reach the community of Gericher. We climbed a hill to enter a small but lively oasis—a nursery packed with plants, trees, and families who are participating in a Trees for the Future program.

Tidy lines of seedlings, planted in dirt and natural compost and wrapped with black plastic, covered the ground. Children carefully watered them so that the trees’ roots would develop. When the trees mature, they’ll be replanted higher in the hills as well as the immediate area. Many of the 170 families served by the nursery already have trees surrounding their homes, farms, and livestock to protect them from landslides and heavy rains.

Involving family and community members in the projects is key, says Georges. “Before we start doing anything, we do training. We talk about existing environmental problems. We help them become aware of the consequences of deforestation, and we tell them how trees can control erosion and help stabilize soil. We talk about the importance of trees for nature—for them.”

Once community members decide on their plan, Trees for the Future provides training, tools, and technical assistance to help them establish their nurseries.

The organization manages projects in three areas of Haiti—Arcahaie, Gonaives, and Medor—which serve 20 communities. It’s a small organization with a big impact—they’ve planted close to 1 million trees in a country whose tree coverage is estimated at 2 percent.

“We lost bridges in 10 minutes,” said Georges, referring to the hurricanes Haiti experienced in 2008. “It’s because the environment around the bridges was degraded. When we talk about helping Haiti, we have to invest in the environment.”

Our group left the nursery and walked back down a dry, rocky hill toward the river. “Before we planted, it was like this,” Georges said, pointing to the barren earth underneath his feet. “It was lifeless. Now it is living.

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The Trees for the Future nursery in Gericher, Haiti, lies in a field dotted with low-lying shrubbery and rocks but few trees.


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"Doing reforestation without environmental education is a mistake," says Timote Georges, Haiti program coordinator for Trees for the Future. Georges studied agronomy in Haiti and Costa Rica and started working with the organization in 2008.

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The tree nursery in Gericher, Haiti, serves 170 families.

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Haiti is 98% deforested, which exacerbates soil erosion problems and hurts agriculture production, thus contributing to poverty and hunger in the country.

Bread for the World is traveling in Haiti this week to collect stories related to alleviating hunger and poverty.

Trees Take Root in Haiti

The 45-minute ride from Port-au-Prince to the village of Arcahaie is hot and bumpy. The landscape around us is dotted with shrubs and some trees, though generations of deforestation have left the hillsides of Chaîne des Matheux, the mountain range north of Haiti’s capital city, green but mostly barren.

Timoté Georges, Haiti program coordinator for Trees for the Future, a nonprofit organization that works on reforestation projects in some 20 countries, points out the devastating effects of deforestation. There are few trees to keep the soil from eroding, to provide relief from the unrelenting sun and heat, and to protect farms and homes from the ravages of heavy rains.

“When it rains, people in the lowlands see their work and livelihoods washed out,” says Georges. Trees would minimize the impact of Haiti’s seasonal rains, not to mention the hurricanes the country regularly experiences. Tree roots also add important nutrients to soil. Healthy, nutritious soil leads to better crops, which leads to more food and less hunger.

Georges and his colleagues stopped their pickups—carrying Laura Elizabeth Pohl, Bread’s multimedia manager, Whitney Rhoades, a Bread senior policy analyst, and me—on a gravel road overlooking a steep embankment. Next up was a walk through the brush and a wade through a river to reach the community of Gericher.  We climbed a hill to enter a small but lively oasis—a nursery packed with plants, trees, and families who are participating in a Trees for the Future program.

Tidy lines of seedlings, planted in dirt and natural compost and wrapped with black plastic, covered the ground. Children carefully watered them so that the trees’ roots would develop. When the trees mature, they’ll be replanted higher in the hills as well as the immediate area. Many of the 170 families served by the nursery already have trees surrounding their homes, farms, and livestock to protect them from landslides and heavy rains.

Involving family and community members in the projects is key, says Georges. “Before we start doing anything, we do training. We talk about existing environmental problems. We help them become aware of the consequences of deforestation, and we tell them how trees can control erosion and help stabilize soil. We talk about the importance of trees for nature—for them.”

Once community members decide on their plan, Trees for the Future provides training, tools, and technical assistance to help them establish their nurseries.

The organization manages projects in three areas of Haiti—Arcahaie, Gonaives, and Medor—which serve 20 communities. It’s a small organization with a big impact—they’ve planted close to 1 million trees in a country whose tree coverage is estimated at 2 percent.

“We lost bridges in 10 minutes,” said Georges, referring to the earthquake Haiti experienced January 12. “It’s because the environment around the bridges was degraded. When we talk about helping Haiti, we have to invest in the environment.”

Our group left the nursery and walked back down a dry, rocky hill toward the river. “Before we planted, it was like this,” Georges said, pointing to the barren earth underneath his feet. “It was lifeless. Now it is living.”

What You Can Do for Hungry People during This Election Season

Congress has left the building.

Members have returned to home states to begin campaigning for November elections or to re-connect to voters. What does this mean for Bread for the World activists? Opportunity!

Town Hall meetings, Congress on your Corner, meet-and-greets, and debates will all be taking place during October, and it is our Gospel call to make sure that the most vulnerable and needy are represented. I challenge you to make it your mission to ask a question about hunger and poverty and make this election season about real people—not about elephants and donkeys.

Here are some suggestions:

-- Congress has yet to take up tax legislation. I’ve noticed that most of the talk in the media has been about the Bush tax cuts. Little has been said about two important programs: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), both of which help low-income families meet essential needs, including food and quality child care.

In 2009, the EITC lifted an estimated 6.6 million people out of poverty, including 3.3 million children. (Look here for your own state’s numbers). Will you champion low-income workers when you return to Congress and fight for these tax credits to be made permanent in their current funding? (Read more about the EITC and CTC here).

-- The House of Representatives recently adjourned without taking up the very important Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. The need for strong and accessible child nutrition programs has never been greater. Nearly 15.5 million children are living in poverty—an increase of more than 2.1 million children since the beginning of the recession.

Yet the Senate-passed version of the bill draws from SNAP (food stamp) funds to pay for school lunches. It doesn’t make sense to pay for lunch with funds that pay for dinner. We can and should do better. Ask your member of Congress: Will you champion the needs of America’s children and pass the House version of the Child Nutrition Bill—and make sure funding comes from somewhere other than the SNAP budget? (Read more about the child nutrition bill here).

To find out where your member of Congress will be appearing, do an Internet search for his or her campaign page. You can often find their calendars on their websites, or you can also call their campaign offices to find out their schedules. Another tip is to call your Bread organizer for help.

After you get your answer, tweet it, blog it, or put it on a status update and let us know @bread4theworld or on Facebook at Bread for the World.

Agricultural Aid to Africa is Living Aid

Woman's hands Listen to these African voices:

“As our governments take action, we need the international community to do its part as well. A green revolution in Africa depends on locally driven solutions plus reliable donor support. Neither ingredient is sufficient on its own—both are indispensable.”

These are the words of two African agriculture ministers—Agnes Kalibata of Rwanda and Joseph Sam Sesay of Sierra Leone—written in The Guardian this week. Their countries are at the forefront of African-led efforts to engineer an agriculture transformation on the continent. Since 2007, Rwanda has increased its investment in agriculture by 30 percent and Sierra Leone has boosted spending on agriculture to nearly 10 percent of its budget from just 1.6 percent. Accordingly, food production has dramatically increased and malnutrition is in retreat.

And yet they know they can’t finance all their agriculture needs themselves. They need the support of the international community.

Their plea for “reliable donor support” is a repudiation to all those who believe that Africa would be better off without foreign aid. Aid to agriculture isn’t dead aid, it is living aid. As international aid for the development of African agriculture has severely diminished over the past three decades, the continent’s agriculture hasn’t thrived, as the less-aid-is-better argument would conclude. Instead, African agriculture productivity has severely slumped along with the aid.

Continue reading "Agricultural Aid to Africa is Living Aid" »

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