By Dave Mabell
Alta Newspaper Group – Lethbridge
Across the nation, Canadian families were able to share festive meals with family and friends over the holidays.
Thanks to southern Alberta growers, families in overseas lands are able to enjoy nourishing foods as well. Responding to food scarcity and disasters, local producers have joined hundreds of farmers across Western Canada to back the unique Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
As well as providing emergency food supplies in the wake of war or disaster, explains Andre Visscher, the non-profit organization also sends volunteers to help farmers in affected areas get back on the land.
“There’s a lot of good stories going on,” said Visscher, the Foodgrains Bank regional representative in southern Alberta.
A partnership of 15 Canadian church and church-based organizations — representing congregations linked to nearly 30 denominations — the Foodgrains Bank was created in 1983 with a clear mission: to end global hunger.
Though adverse weather decimated some crops in the Taber and Picture Butte areas this summer, Visscher says most southern Alberta producers had a good year.
And they were ready once again to share their good fortune with people struggling to survive in many parts of the world.
“In southern Alberta they raised close to $1 million,” Visscher said.
Through a longstanding agreement with the federal government, that’s matched on a 4:1 basis, resulting in $5 million for humanitarian projects targeted by Foodgrains Bank leaders in Winnipeg.
Over 2019, the grassroots Canadian organization reports it helped more than 800,000 people in 36 nations, responding to the needs of local agencies there. It also supports farmers in those lands, supplying funds so local relief agencies can buy and share their crops.
Volunteers from Canada also follow up by helping provide clean water and nutrition education.
And Visscher says they work with overseas farmers to help improve their yields through sustainable farming practices.
In Kenya and Ethiopia, he says, Canadians have shared their expertise with about 60,000 farmers and their yields have increased 300 to 700 per cent. Here at home, the faith-based organization advocates for government policies to allow Canadian families and communities to benefit from better nutrition. It’s also calling for Canada’s overseas development program to make food security a central role, and to support women and small landholders in their efforts to grow essential crops.
At the same time, Foodgrain Bank officials say family farmers in Africa and Asia are facing more droughts, more flooding and more storms as their climate changes and there’s an urgent need to help them adapt.
Visscher says while it’s local farmers and Hutterite colonies who grow and harvest the grain, and donate the selling price to the Foodgrain Bank, they’re well supported by residents of southern Alberta communities.
At Vauxhall, he reports, the local Foodgrains group held a pig roast and attracted 500 people. Near Coaldale, Farm Credit Canada sponsored a Foodgrain harvest lunch for hundreds.
And up in Rosemary, he adds, a public event earned $50,000 on top of the value of the donated crops.
“There’s a lot of volunteers for our projects,” he said. “The community really gets involved.”