Connecting Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in the two-year period, 2014 to 2016. Most hungry people, 780 million, live in developing countries. This represents 12.9 percent, or one in eight, of the population in these countries. Chronic hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined; poor nutrition causes 45 percent of deaths in children under five—3.1 million children each year—and iron deficiencies cause 315,000 women to die from hemorrhaging during childbirth every year.
Coffee seedling nursery, UMCOR Haiti. PHOTO: MIKE DUBOSE/UMNS
Global Ministries’ Food Security program is a cooperative ministry between the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Global Health unit. The program identifies organizations to serve as partners to implement food security projects that support UMCOR’s and Global Ministries’ community development work. Sustainable agriculture and food security programs partner with organizations that empower families
and communities to create self-help and sustainable solutions to address their food insecurity. Preference is given to integrated programs that include solutions and education around increasing food security, nutrition, and market access in the most disadvantaged communities.
Its key priorities are:
• Supporting the introduction of new farming techniques to sustain, diversify, and increase crop yield—using agricultural technology that is suitable to the knowledge, skills, capacities, interest, and economics of the people and communities.
• Providing the resources and technical support rural families need to grow or buy enough food to maintain healthy and productive lives, including improved food storage
to reduce post-harvest losses, irrigation support, and education on nutrition, food diversity, and food hygiene.
• Building the capacity of people who farm, raise livestock, and fish to reverse the trend of poor land and water resource management.
• Introducing community-based screening for malnutrition and linkage to health care.
• Supporting mother/female-farmer support groups.
• Supporting farmer savings and loans programs.
In 2016, Global Health and UMCOR supported the work of the Rural Integrated Development Services (RIDS) of Switzerland through its RIDS-Nepal office to improve overall health and thus the quality of life for villagers in the impoverished community of Pamlathum, Nepal. Its goal was to improve the lives of women and children by raising awareness for better sanitation, creating access to clean and sufficient drinking water in the village, reducing indoor air pollution, increasing food security and therefore reducing malnutrition, and improving access to energy services for villagers in the impoverished community of Pamlathum, Nepal. Its goal was to improve the lives of women and children by raising awareness for better sanitation, creating access to clean and sufficient drinking water in the village, reducing indoor air pollution, increasing food security and therefore reducing malnutrition, and improving access to energy services and education. RIDS accomplishes this work through a long-term, holistic community development (HCD) project conducted in Pamlathum.
Throughout the year, RIDS-Nepal worked with the members of the 31 households in Pamlathum to improve their nutrition and food security by introducing greenhouses and providing training on ways to extend their growing season in the village and preserve what they grew with solar dryers. Villagers also learned how to develop a new drinking water system, install water filters in their homes, switch from open fires to smokeless stoves, and build and use pit latrines. They effectively eliminated contamination from human waste in Pamlathum. In addition, women and girls who had no formal education now gather for literacy classes to learn how to read and write.
UMCOR supports global food security and nutrition targets by working as a funding and technical partner to national and local organizations both in the United States and internationally. Through its five country offices, UMCOR also directly implements projects and supports United Methodist congregations that wish to develop and partner with these organizations to provide effective services. The following stories from country offices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti indicate what this work in agriculture and food security means for the people it serves.
Helping Small Rural Farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo
By Guy Kilumba*
Gisèle Mbeleko lives in Kamusuku, a village located about 8½ miles from Kamina in the Upper Lomami Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are 12 people in the Mbeleko family, including Gisèle and her husband, seven children, and three grandchildren. Before joining a community farm group, Mbeleko had only a small piece of land that didn’t produce enough food to support her family’s needs. But today, as a member of a community farm group with 30 other local farmers, Mbeleko has been trained and supported by the UMCOR DRC in partnership with the Foods Resource Bank (FRB) through a project she’s participated in since 2008.
UMCOR’s integrated approach to development in the DRC ensures that rural farmers are able to produce their own food in a sustainable way. The majority of the poor in the DRC are farmers who lack agricultural support mechanisms, a situation compounded by poor seasonal rains. Most farmers are unable to produce enough for the next season and therefore run out of last year’s food before the current year’s harvest.
With the techniques of sustainable agriculture she learned through the UMCOR project, Mbeleko now knows what it takes to produce enough to sustain her family.
UMCOR DRC, in collaboration with the FRB, helps support farmers with training and agricultural supplies, like seeds and small tools, to increase their harvest and food security. PHOTO: FOODS RESOURCE BANK
UMCOR DRC, in collaboration with the FRB, helps support farmers with training and agricultural supplies, like seeds and small tools, to increase their harvest as well as their food security. The Foods Resource Bank, based in the United States, raises money to help people in developing countries grow their own food. Each year nearly 200 US growing projects, volunteers, companies, and organizations raise more than $3 million to support 50 to 60 overseas programs. To administer these programs, FRB works through a network of 16 member organizations, including UMCOR, and local partner organizations, like the Kamusuki farmers group.
In addition to supporting rural farmers, UMCOR also provides opportunities for them to access other kinds of services, such as malaria prevention and treatment. These opportunities are made possible through partnerships with the Ministry of Health in
the DRC and Population Services International, among others.
*Guy Kilumba is the Head of Mission for UMCOR in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Much Needed Relief
By Sibongile Mutonhori*
“I watched helplessly as my baby lost weight and cried for more food,” said Getmore Chimushonga, describing her ordeal before she participated in UMCOR’s Lean Season Assistance (LSA) Project. She lives in the Mutoko District, located in the Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe. “I am a mother of a six-month-old baby girl, and I have two other infants, ages one and three. My husband and I are both unemployed and a few years of poor agricultural seasons left us with very limited seasonal work options. I used to work in nearby community gardens and sell our surplus vegetables to other community members. This is how I provided for my family.” Because of the overwhelming effects of an El Nino induced drought, local leaders in Chimushonga’s village decreed that the dwindling water sources must be left for human and livestock consumption—and for community members to refrain from using water for gardening activities. As a consequence, the villagers’ livelihoods were affected and starvation set in.
Chimushonga describes what this meant for her family: “We would exchange fresh or dried vegetables for grain in the past, but our reserves were depleted. We had to reduce portion sizes, skip meals, and borrow food from relatives to feed our children. This dire situation caused serious unrest and even strained relations within my family and between neighbors.”
Natural Regions 3 to 5 within the Mutoko District received very low rainfall last year. The 2016 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZVAC) Rapid Assessment Study revealed that the El Nino-induced drought caused food insecurity for between 40,000 to 50,000 households in Mutoko. The situation required emergency assistance.
Maize (corn grain) is sparsely available in the districts. It sells at an average of $0.45 (US) per kg, which is higher than Zimbabwe’s national average of $0.40 per kg. Extreme poverty ranges between 20 to 30 percent of households within Mutoko and as a result, livelihood options are limited. Residents rely heavily on alternative crops—such as groundnuts—and barter with other commodities.
The United Nations’ World Food Program engaged UMCOR Zimbabwe to implement a livelihoods-focused Lean Season Assistance Project (LSA) in Mutoko District in 2016. Beneficiaries received training in agriculture, marketing, and business skills or community development, health, and nutrition. Others were employed in light work such as road gravelling, gulley reclamation, or hauling construction material. In return for working for a total of 16 hours each month, beneficiaries were entitled to 16.5 lbs cereals, 4.5 lbs edible seeds, 1.6 lbs vegetable oil, and an additional 13.2 lbs corn-soy blend for families with children under five years of age. The project sought to reach out to 49,350 beneficiaries.
Getmore Chimushonga, who lives in Mutoku District of Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe, at an UMCOR food distribution event. Before becoming part of UMCOR’s Lean Season Assistance project, one of her babies nearly died from malnutrition. PHOTO: UMCOR ZIMBABWE
Getmore Chimushonga was nominated by her fellow community members to be one of the beneficiaries of the LSA project, which brought much needed relief to her family. “We were in desperate need of food assistance,” she confirmed. “As part of a group of women in my village, I received trainings in Infant and Young Child Feeding and Participatory Health and Hygiene. I learned about the different food groups and how to prepare nutritious food. I also appreciated the hygiene education we received, as hygiene is a challenge with limited water sources.”
UMCOR continues its work to strengthen the agricultural sector in Haiti, aiming to improve farmers’ lives through its Agriculture Productivity Enhancement Project in Cul-du-Sac. The project provides tools as well as seeds and training in sustainable methods of increasing productivity. PHOTO: UMCOR HAITI
“What brought me the greatest joy was receiving corn-soy blend, which I added to porridge for my infants. Because of the poor diet I was receiving before joining UMCOR’s project, even my milk supply for the baby had diminished. Yet, I could only breastfeed, as there was nothing else to feed my baby. Since the project began, I am happy to report that we are now eating three meals each day and my children have gained weight. At one time, I thought of selling off my agricultural tools and other household items in order to buy grain, but through UMCOR’s project, I was able to keep my tools and use them in the next farming season,” Chimushonga said.
“The project has not only provided emergency food relief,” concluded Chimushonga, “it also assisted us in our day-to-day lives by focusing on the crucial element of our livelihoods. It has created a way for us to work for ourselves and improve our food security conditions.”
*Sibongile Mutonhori is the National Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the
UMCOR Zimbabwe country office.
Increasing Agriculture Productivity in Cul-de-Sac Plain, Haiti
UMCOR Haiti Office*
UMCOR continues its work to strengthen agricultural productivity in Haiti, aiming to improve the lives of farmers and their families through its Agriculture Productivity Enhancement Project.
Seven years after the 2010 earthquake, Haitian farmers continue to face many challenges because of either climate change or a lack of water for sufficient irrigation. To contribute to the agricultural sector and improve farmers’ chances, UMCOR implemented a project to impact the social and economic lives of the farmer beneficiaries in the Cul-de-Sac Plain.
Antoine Compère is one of the participants in the UMCOR agricultural project through the AJPTE Farmers Association in Cul-de-Sac Plain. “Before the project, I was struggling to educate my four children,” Compère explains. “After receiving training and technical knowledge from UMCOR, I was able to improve my farming practices. Significant changes have occurred in my family’s life because of this. My increased income allows me to pay tuition and keep my children in school. Today, my family is happy.”
Other beneficiary families in Culde-Sac Plain in similar conditions report the same kinds of results. As Compère attests: “Because of this project today, we can eat our fill, despite the difficulties of the rainy season. Now I can better serve in my role as a father.”
Implementation of this program is based on various problems identified by farmers themselves in their communities. UMCOR is still working on a number of other challenges, including environmental degradation. The depletion of soil fertility by erosion
following excessive cutting of trees for wood fuel and charcoal production is a direct consequence of unemployment and a lack of will on the part of political leaders to create work in rural areas.
*The UMCOR Haiti country office has been operating since 2010 enacting both short-term disaster response and long-term development strategies with partners in the country.