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Sunday, December 04, 2005


(Feedback always welcome)

This column begins with a statement and a question. The statement: our health is dependent to an important degree on what we eat and what we eat is dependent greatly on our level of affluence. Life expectancy decreases and health declines as income decreases. This is not my opinion, but is supported by evidence from the World Health Organization, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Interior Health’s Population Health Plan…and common sense.

Now the question: what do these three things have in common - the 19th annual CBC Food Bank Day (December 2nd), Human Rights Day (December 10th) and a Sheik in the village of Rut Rut in Darfur, Sudan? The link between the first two is deeper than being December dates and the Sheik connects through a story. Read on and connect the dots.

Food Bank Day just took place – thousands of dollars and thousands of kilos of food were generated to bolster the good work done by the 97 food banks in BC. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, thus the date for Human Rights Day. (Find it here http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html or contact me for a copy.)

The connection between Food Bank Day and Human Rights Day is apparent in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration. “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself/herself and his/her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his/her control.” This is Canada’s international obligation and as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, why do we need a Food Bank Day at all?

In 1983, I was on a committee in Toronto that launched the second food bank in Canada (Edmonton’s was first). Most of us resigned after six months, because government policy had not changed to ensure everyone had enough to eat and we weren’t going to support institutionalizing food banks. Twenty two years later, there are more than 650 food banks in Canada, in a single month this year more than 800,000 Canadians used one, and use has increased 118% since 1989 - the year the federal government promised to eliminate child poverty. Too many mothers in Canada look into their children’s hungry eyes and tell them there isn’t anything to eat.

According to the Canadian Association of Food Banks, the neighbours among us who are not eating are welfare recipients, the working poor, persons with disabilities, seniors, children (40% of food bank users) and lone mothers.

If you’d like to help Canada meet its international obligations, consider these actions. Educate yourself about poverty issues, lobby for affordable housing, purchase local food when available, support community gardens and kitchens and assist your food bank to offer healthy foods. Finally, in what seems to be our national sport, prepare for elections by learning about the candidates and voting for those who support actions to eliminate poverty, who believe in health for all.

Oh yes, the connection to the Sheik in Rut Rut is food... I spent three days with him, just as Darfur was emerging from two years of drought. Most of the elderly and very young had died in Rut Rut. Red Cross food relief was sustaining them and I was there to assess their needs for tools and seeds, to prepare for rains that were coming. He taught me two things during my visit. The first was about dignity - as local leader, he was completely focused on whatever it took to get them back on their feet, to produce their own food. The second was about generosity. When I arrived in Rut Rut, I begged them not to kill a chicken to feed me (it was the custom and I knew they were going to do it). The Sheik grumbled about this my entire visit.

As I was driving out of the village, in a cloud of dust and sand, he sprinted alongside my jeep, grinned through the window, flung open the back door and threw a live hen in. I laughed, named her Henrietta and ate her a week later.

A good article and if I can be tad trite , food for thought !!

What I would like you to consider adding is the effect of reduced income for the African nations as a consequence of the massive farm subsidies paid by the Europeans and the US farmers by their respective governments. This annual subsidy I think from memory exceeds the total 3rd world debt. The effect of these subsidies is to substantially reduce the price these developing countries otherwise would have received for their produce on world markets and hence reduced income.
Trapped in poverty by immoral global behaviour.

Variety of diet is also a vital factor in sustainability and nutritional enhancement for a more healthy outcome. The failure of the maize harvest in Malawi in 2002 and more recently as a consequence of prolonged draught has left the country devastated still reliant on this staple diet.

What's needed is nutritional changes and enhanced sustainable farming methods. Allocate the money spent on subsidies, and redirect those funds to the poor so their able to set up sustainable developments to help themselves.

Time to stop bullying in the global village.
Thanks Lindsay - good points on international development.

my 15 year old daughter just completed an essay and speech on food product dumping (I learned a lot helping her). Amazing how destructive EU and US food subsidies are to farmers in more poor countries.

Anyone who wants her Grade 10 essay, just let me know...
Gary: Merely take a look at Monsanto in Iraq: They have a stranglehold on the Iraqi seeds and orchards now, and Paul Bremer made sure that it is now law in Iraq to use only those seeds/ plants approved by food behemoths like Monsanto.
link: http://www.xsdnet.com/seedsavers/cgi-bin/news.cgi?id=116&sid=news&type=page

Attack on Iraq:
When Paul Bremner, administrator for the Provisional Coalition Authority in Iraq left his post in June 04 he had presided over the passing of 100 new regulations, including order 81 amending Iraq's patent laws of 1970. Under the new regulation Iraqi farmers are prevented from saving seed from any 'new' variety. Farmers are encouraged to plant 'protected' seed imported and 'owned' by the major seed corporations in preference to their traditional ones. It is hard to see what possible benefit this could be to the Iraqis and their struggling economy. From now on they are likely to become more dependant for their agricultural seed on the transnationals, gifting these companies with a soft target for their GM seed.
Iraqi farmers have, for centuries, saved their own seeds and must by now have some selections that are perfectly adapted to their conditions, unlike the imports they will now be encouraged to buy. The 2002 records show that 97% of farmers in Iraq sowed seeds they had saved from a previous harvest. This practise is now likely to fall into disuse. To make matters worse the genetic resources of Iraq were mostly stored at Abu Ghraib. This facility has been just one of the casualties of war. If Iraqi farmers no longer grow their own traditional varieties they will be lost.

The arguments are that the new regulation ensures that only 'good quality' seed is available to Iraqis and that accession to WTO is eased for them. Were the farmers consulted? Is this a benefit? What will actually result is that transnationals such as Syngenta, Monsanto and others, will have uncontested access to the local market for their products and, potentially, control of the whole food production chain in the country. This is likely to be accompanied by a fight between them for supremacy with all kinds of inducements, and unlikely to counter the feeling that the US government is in Iraq purely for its own advantage. It is hard not to assume that the US government were smoothing the way for their GM products with this assault on incipient Iraqi democracy. Let's hope that the new Iraqi government will rescind this enslaving regulation. May 2005 Source www.grain.org
That kind of sacrificial generosity is so humbling. I love that story.
Tina...great example, lousy behaviour in Iraq.Here's an excerpt from my daughter's essay on food dumping:

Picture this; you’re a corn (maize) farmer in Guatemala. Your farm is small, but you are making enough money to support your family. Your five children attend the village school, you live in a simple home and your family eats every day. For some reason the demand for your corn begins to fall. You are forced to lower your selling price. Demand continues to fall and your price does also.

Soon what you earn for your crop is not enough to support your family. You can no longer afford to send your children to school and the older children are forced to find work. Your family is hungry and there is often no food on the table. You don’t know what to do and soon you will have to sell your house and land to survive…

The situation I just described is a reality for 800 000 farmers and workers in Guatemala, who rely on their corn production for a living. This is happening because of massive amounts of corn being dumped by the United States into the Guatemalan market. It’s frustrating knowing that the US farmers are able to do this because of the money they receive from their government. The US government says that money they give is to support small scale farmers of America. The truth is most of the money goes to large agricultural companies
It seems to me that local poverty many times is accompanied by local extreme wealth and corruption Gary.

When I was invited to India a few months ago, I saw children laying in the gutter. 10 hours later they were still in the same apathic position.

When I asked our ambassador why they don't go out on the street and do just some small jobs he told me that because of the many generations that lacked the proper nutricians, they are all out of energy and unable to work in any way whatsoever.

Several hours later, the local rich and famous joined us in the most expensive restaurant of Bollywood, many thousands of dollars were waisted and I felt sad.

What I mean is that - off course we have to do our utmost best to help and aid but - if local wealth doesn't support that aid and holds a dictatorial or totalitaire regime (or oil families, drug cartels, etc) how can we help to the effect that we need to?
Thanks Dimitri...

There is no doubt that poverty and hunger is not helped by local corruption or the obscene wealth differential (between countries and individuals). Those who work for improvement usually call for fair trade; local development (with the people); a focus on human rights laws; empowering women (who often are the ones capable of making change) and accountability for all government leaders. All these things are achievable, but not without a fight (in my humble opinion). We need the activists, the hard workers on the ground...and to vote in governments who will act.

By the way, I know English is not your first language, so am not making fun of you, but you made a great pun in your post (wasted and waisted):

"the local rich and famous joined us in the most expensive restaurant of Bollywood, many thousands of dollars were waisted"
no problem, I am used to doing that myself :-)

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