Support for Foodgrains Bank strong in Manitoba

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Members of the Pembina growing project in Manitou dedicated this season to Ivan Bird, who was an active member of the project until his passing earlier this year. (Photo: Gordon Janzen)

This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Manitoba Farmer’s Voice by Keystone Agricultural Producers. Read it here.  

By Pat Keena

Ben Martens believes in helping people around the world who are hungry.

“We have a responsibility to look out for the needy and oppressed,” he said. “And it reflects my personal faith.”

Martens is a KAP member and a director of the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers. He is also a longtime participant of and one of hundreds of farmers across Manitoba that supports the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Started by Canadian farmers 35 years ago and nurtured over the years by 15 member churches, church affiliated agencies, and the support of the Canadian government, the Foodgrains Bank provides emergency food in times of crisis, long-term agricultural support to people experiencing hunger, and nutritional education and support, particularly for children and pregnant and nursing women.

This amounts to about $40 million a year in assistance for people around the world as the organization has grown to be one of Canada’s largest humanitarian assistance agencies.

This year, the Foodgrains Bank has been declared an Impact Charity by Charity Intelligence Canada, an independent research agency.

“It is good community involvement,” said Martens of his connection with the Boissevain, Morden, Whitewater growing project near Fairfax, Manitoba.

The BMW project rents a halfsection of land from “a very supportive owner,” according to Martens, and has a rotation of canola, wheat, and soybeans that members of the project seed, apply inputs, harvest, and deliver to the account of the Foodgrains Bank.

“Harvest of the canola crop on that land was a little delayed this year,” said Martens. “It was amazing how that canola came back from some hail that came through the area, but it really seemed to benefit from that moisture. We got close to 55 bushels an acre.”

He adds that during harvest, the spirit of giving and the feeling of community was enhanced by a chicken dinner for the participants.

In its early years of operation, the Foodgrains Bank took delivery of bulk grains and oilseeds directly from farmers and shipped them around the world to where they were needed.

In 2018, 5,300 acres were seeded in Manitoba growing projects for the Foodgrains Bank. In 2017, Manitoba growing projects contributed $2 million of the $7.3 million raised nationwide.

These days, crops are delivered to the account of the Foodgrains Bank and are sold the Canadian market. The proceeds are used to purchase food right in the areas where it is needed, significantly reducing the organization’s costs and allowing it to support local food producers.

In 2018, 5,300 acres were seeded in Manitoba growing projects for the Foodgrains Bank. In 2017, Manitoba growing projects contributed $2 million of the $7.3 million raised nationwide.

Since its inception in 1983, the Foodgrains Bank has worked in 98 developing countries. The type of help it delivers depends upon the need, the infrastructure and systems in place to deliver the help, and the types of food items that would be most useful to the population.

Funds are spent on maize, oil, salt, and lentils in sub-Saharan Africa, and bread, tea, and pasta in Syria.

The Foodgrains Bank also provides food vouchers to people in need, many of whom have fled civil strife in their home country and are now living as refugees in neighboring countries that have restrictions on employment.

The Foodgrains Bank also provides funds to support agricultural projects that help people in developing countries farm their land in sustainable ways, putting them more firmly on a path of self sufficiency.

Gordon Janzen, regional representative with the Foodgrains Bank, saw the benefits of this kind of charitable effort firsthand when he went on a tour earlier this year of projects in Ethiopia. He says he was inspired to see simple irrigation systems introduced to land so severely affected by drought that farmers were struggling to produce even one rainfed crop, but can now grow two or even three high-value vegetable crops a year.

Amanda Thorsteinsson, communications co-ordinator with the Foodgrains Bank, provides another example of projects that are aimed at helping people provide food for themselves and their families. In Kenya, a farmer field school enables successful native farmers to reach out to their neighbors to educate and spread the use of sustainable farming practices.

According to Thorsteinsson, it is the agricultural heart of the Foodgrains Bank that makes it an effective and somewhat unique fundraiser for some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.

The Government of Canada’s commitment to match funds raised by the Foodgrains Bank is critical to its effectiveness. Federal funds are provided on a four-to-one basis to a maximum of $25 million annually.

The connection with Canadian churches and church agencies provides the backbone to the operations of the Foodgrains Bank, not only defining charitable direction but also giving the organization the practical aspects of working in far-away countries. Many of these churches have systems in place and people on the ground that can provide logistics to help the various projects, from distributing food aid to delivering education tools.

Education here at home is also important. Increasingly, Canadian farmers are helping the Foodgrains Bank reach out to a wider audience by hosting growing operations like the Grow Hope project spearheaded by Grant Dyck of Niverville.

This project grows crops to raise funds for the Mennonite Central Committee account in the Foodgrains Bank. It also focuses on generating interest and financial support from the non-farming community.

Urbanites can sponsor acres in the project, giving the farming operation much-needed funds to buy inputs and pay for the cost of harvesting.

Visitors and school children are toured around the crop to learn. As Janzen explains, these Grow Hope projects “provide urban people with a way to connect with farming.”

Martens points out that more can be done to help the Foodgrains Bank achieve its goal of a world without hunger.

“We still have acres needing a sponsor,” Martens says of their BMW project. “We’d love to get more donations so that more of the costs can be covered, leaving more funds going to the Foodgrains Bank.”