Forty-one acres in Campden, Ont., are being cultivated, planted and harvested for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, with sponsorships of $400 an acre helping to plant a crop for the Grow Hope Niagara project. When the harvest is sold, farmers will donate the money to the Foodgrains Bank through Mennonite Central Committee. MCC uses this money for various projects in different countries, to alleviate poverty around the world. The Canadian government, working through Global Affairs Canada, matches the final tally up to 4:1.
The idea to set up a grain banking system to use in the time of need started in 1974, when Canada had a bumper crop and the people in Bangladesh were facing famine. To date, 15 denominational partners, MCC being one of the largest among them, are working together in development projects around the globe. There are currently 39 growing projects in Canada, located from Alberta to New Brunswick. One of them is Grow Hope Niagara.
In 1989, Tom Neufeld, the MCC Ontario contact for the Foodgrains Bank, asked the members of The First Mennonite Church in Vineland, Ont., to help start a growing project. He went to Ethiopia in 2020, just before travelling stopped due to the pandemic. He shared some of his experiences on a webinar called “The Human Face of Climate Change” on March 31.
The 15-member group toured several projects that were changing the face of agricultural methods in Ethiopia, helping to increase productivity and to combat destruction from climate change. One change is to the earlier method of subsistence farming, which included plowing with oxen and planting by hand. This frequent tilling left the soil vulnerable to nutrient loss and soil erosion, Neufeld said. MCC, with its partners, is promoting conservation-agriculture training, including strip tillage, reduced or no tillage, multi-crop systems, planting high-residue crops, crop rotation and planting trees. These new adaptations have increased productivity between 30 percent and 90 percent.
Water-table retention and water quality were problems, he said. Now check dams are being built, which help restore natural vegetation and increase valuable agricultural production. The installation of community pumps have increased the water supply and improved water quality.
Gender equality and sensitivity training are strengthening the role of women as farmers and partners, according to Neufeld. They now have a say as to what crops are planted, stored and sold. Increasingly, more farms are headed by women.
Clarke and Heather Fretz were service workers in Croatia with MCC from 2005 to 2008. Clarke, who was MCC’s capacity builder overseas, said it was important to work with local partners, who had ideas of what was needed.
He said relief kits were made available for the people of Sarajevo, who were recovering from a civil war of the 1990s. Christmas shoe boxes, filled in England with items for children, were given to those who had fled from Bosnia to Croatia.
One partner bought a chicken farm where refugees could be trained with new job skills, such as building and raising poultry. MCC started a fundraiser so people could pay for chickens to be given to villagers living on war-torn farms. This was done with the help of the local church. In the same way, sheep could be donated to farms to re-establish flocks.
Larry and Margaret Dyck are farmers in Campden. Dyck is the field manager of Grow Hope Niagara, and he explained on the webinar how Grow Hope Niagara works. At first, corporate sponsors funded the acres. In 2016, the model changed to individual sponsorships.
The Dycks visited Rwanda in 2017. Larry explained how farming is so different between Canada and Rwanda, with large machinery and thousands of acres compared to one or two acres cultivated by manual labour. Canadians can’t go to another country thinking they have all the answers, he said, noting that he learned about conservation agriculture, working together in partnerships and the value of community support while he was there.
Neufeld talked about the loss of rural livelihoods, from changing weather patterns and the growing number of refugees, adding that the pandemic has made everyone aware that they are all in it together.