Interview with Jim Cornelius – Canadian Foodgrains Bank
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) works towards ending world hunger by providing food in times of crisis, helping people grow food to feed themselves, and providing nutritional support to malnourished people. Ending world hunger is a lofty goal, does CFGB has a success story that could share about their quest for that goal?
Any time a family that is facing hunger is able to access food due to a well functioning social protection system or timely relief provision that is a success story. I remember talking with a widow in Niger as we watched her two young boys fight in the yard. She noted that a few months earlier they would not have had the energy to fight due to food shortages from the severe drought that had devastated her crops. The monthly food we were providing was providing the food the family needed, and meant she did not have to go into debt or sell her land to survive. This is success. Of course, we are also working to strengthen the resilience of communities to drought. Seeing maize growing in the fields of smallholder farmers in Kenya that have adopted conservation agriculture practices when the maize in neighbouring fields is failing due to drought is a success. We have been investing significant resources in promoting conservation agriculture to improve soil health and resilience to drought, and are seeing more uptake. When all the neighbours adopt these practices then we will have been truly successful.
CFGB was instrumental in ending the tying of food aid in Canada. What prompted CFGB to lead this policy initiative and why was it successful?
The origins of Canadian Foodgrains Bank involve Canadian farmers sharing grain they had produced. Our very identity involved the shipping of Canadian grain. In many cases this made good sense. However, we could not always provide as timely assistance as we wanted. We sometimes had to swap Canadian grain for other needed or preferred food commodities. There were many cases where is was more costly to ship Canadian food rather than buying it locally or regionally. And we were concerned about disrupting local markets. Calling for any change meant deep conversations with the Canadian farming community and their farm organizations to explain why the untying of Canadian food aid made good sense, and would not be harmful to Canadian farmers. Our supporting farmers, who have a heart for rural families in other parts of the world, proved critical to persuading their farm organizations and neighbours to accept this policy change. Once key farm organizations agreed not to oppose a change, then the government was able to move forward with the policy change.
What might people be surprised to know about CFGB?
Not everyone knows that Canadian Foodgrains Bank is an association of 15 Canadian churches and church agencies. We are a church-based agency with deep roots in the Canadian farming and agriculture community. All our international programming is delivered through our member churches and their partners. While we are best known for our food assistance programming, we are also one of Canada’s largest funders of agriculture and nutrition programming.
CFGB has been a member of CCIC for many years and have always been strong advocates of CCIC. What value does CCIC bring to your work and why is it important for you to be involved?
It is vital that Canadian NGOs have an association that can serve as a joint voice for our sector with government and media, and that can work with the sector to develop common positions or messages. We also need an association that can help convene critical conversations. It is important that we don’t work in isolation, that we work as part of a bigger movement for change. We also value the information that comes from CCIC.