Canadian Foodgrains Bank: One of MCC’s Gifts to the World

Of all the gifts that MCC Canada has given to people around the world—and there are many—one of the greatest might be the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

In 2013 the Foodgrains Bank is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Special events are happening next week, March 4-6, in Ottawa to commemorate the birthday of this innovative response to hunger.

It goes back to the early 1970s, a time of great food need in parts of Asia and Africa. Canadian businessman Art DeFehr had just returned home to Winnipeg from an MCC assignment in Bangladesh, which had experienced famine in 1974.

Ramatou Malon Hassan, a widow and mother of twelve in Niger, receives millet from CFGB to help her sustain her family through a crisis.

Ramatou Malon Hassan, a widow and mother of twelve in Niger, receives millet from CFGB to help her sustain her family through a crisis. CFGB photo.

DeFehr noted that western countries had been very generous in sending food to help, but due to high prices the amount of food they sent had been less in previous years.

That stimulated his thinking; he realized that “hunger relief had less to do with hunger and more to do with whether grain was in surplus or in short supply,” he said.

Together with three others—John Wieler of MCC Canada, Len Siemens of the University of Manitoba School of Agriculture, and David Durksen, who worked at a grain company—they came up with the idea for a grain bank. Based on the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, it would store up food when times were good so it could be shared when times were lean.

The four pitched the idea to MCC Canada; in 1975, the MCC Food Bank was born.

Although the immediate need was for food relief, right from the beginning the Food Bank had a vision to encourage long-term solutions to food crises, for the need for food security, and for ways to address government policies affecting poor people in the developing world—visions that have been realized.

The founders also had a vision for including other church groups. In 1983, that vision was also realized when four other denominations joined MCC in the new Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Today the Foodgrains Bank has grown to be a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies representing 32 denominations working together to end global hunger.

A CFGB growing project at Niverville, MB harvests its 2012 crop.

A CFGB growing project at Niverville, MB harvests its 2012 crop. CFGB photo.

The genius behind the Foodgrains Bank was the belief that people are more likely to give out of what they do, and who they are. For Canadian farmers, that means using their skills in farming to share what they produce—food.

Although many urban Canadians now also support the Foodgrains Bank, farmers continue to be among its core supporters; in 2011-12 they donated over 19,000 tonnes of grain worth $5.5 million.

The story of the Foodgrains Bank is the story of how people across Canada grasped the Bible’s call to share with those who don’t have enough. Since 1983, it has provided over $682 million of assistance to people 78 countries, including 1.1 million tonnes of food and seeds.

At the same time, it’s also a story of how MCC caught a vision for a new way to share with those who don’t have enough to eat—and shared that vision with others.

John Longhurst is Director of Resources & Public Engagement for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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