Saving Africa

Helping the world's poor learn to feed themselves is a win-win for American farmers.

Mazon, Ill. grain farmer Doug Harford has seen both hope and despair in his work as Chairman of the Board at Foods Resource Bank, a Christian-based organization whose mission is to mobilize and increase the resources needed to support smallholder, agricultural food security programs in some of the world's poorest villages.

"We're doing this because it's the right thing to do, because they are part of our family too," says Harford, who has been involved with FRB for several years now. "In the U.S. it's very easy to view yourself as separate from the world."

FRB 'growing projects' typically start with local churches. Farmers volunteer to provide free land, machinery and crop inputs, while church volunteers provide time, organization and other resources to get the crop through to harvest. All proceeds from the harvest are then used to pay for ag development projects in some of the world's poorest places.

Farm Futures: Why does food aid often do more harm than good?

Harford: Giving away food aid destroys whatever agriculture a country has, so it's not always a great idea or well thought out. It costs a lot more to send it from here and we're destroying whatever agriculture we're competing against. But there's also bad things about sourcing the food aid in a country that doesn't have liquid food assets. All of a sudden the U.S. government starts buying food to feed people, and prices skyrocket. We can really go in and mess things up with the amount of money we raise.

Where does agriculture development fit?

 Unfortunately it's at the bottom rung. Ag development is helping people develop their own food supply. That's a wonderful goal for American farmers. There are no hungry peaceful people, so the best thing for American farmers is for world peace to break out. People eat better in times of peace.

So why don't we just provide money for ag development?

 The government money, the big money, mostly all goes to food aid because it is measurable and immediate and most bureaucracies have a strong need for both of those things.

On the other hand it's hard to report ag development. So much of this money is spent on giving away food, which actually has a negative effect on agriculture. The problem is, a bureaucrat can't do ag development, because it's not immediate and not measurable and therefore too big a risk to take.

How does FRB fit into all this?

 Probably our strongest thing is that we're a constituency group for ag development. It is an incredible act of faith for someone to go out and plant a seed, even in this country. In a developing country with a bad political situation, and you don't even know if you're going to be on that farm when the crop develops — then it's really an act of faith to plant that seed. We're there to mitigate that risk for people who plant that seed and grow that crop.

FRB's goal is to stand with people in agriculture to help them take that first step, or the step that brings them into production in the small-holder development in developing countries.

It's important to the American farmer that we stand with African farmers, that we develop their agriculture, because that's the new frontier. There's a lot of unused, good ground in the right climate. If we don't help African farmers develop it, the Chinese, or Indian mega corporations are going to come in buy it and develop it. So that's the self serving side. I think it's in our best interests to help the African farmers.

Why has it been so difficult for Africa?

 There's no reason why Africa cannot feed itself. Most of it is political; there's plenty of ground there. FRB is there to help them start producing. I believe the big picture is about world peace. You can't be peaceful when someone is standing between you and the food needed to keep your family alive. The more peaceful the world is, the better people eat and the more use there is for our products here.

This is almost a win-win for our farmers and it's a wonderful chance for us to do something that is effective when it comes to world peace. But that's got to be done through development, not through food giveaways.

 

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