Climate change and hands of resistance

By Rebekah Nimtz, an MCC Service Worker in the cross-roads, bread-basket city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. This post is part of a series by MCC Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) on climate change and food security

Several years ago in Bolivia during the rainy season I noticed that a drip bucket in my house was nearly overflowing when I returned from an annual absence of a few weeks. The next year I was surprised to come back to find it only half full. The rainy season had begun a month late. This past year it began well over two months late. On the south side of Cochabamba, in migrant zones where many kids I work with live without running water, even the cacti appeared to be drying up. Bolivia continues to experience the effects of its worst drought in almost four decades and the highest recorded temperatures in the past ten years.

The drought on the ground

The drought on the ground. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia.

El Niño and climate change are credited with playing the major roles in  weather fluctuations, in a country whose ecosystems the UN considers some of the most vulnerable worldwide to the effects of global warming. Late rains have made only a dent in lost reserves, which hovered around 8% capacity, with a reservoir in the governing capital of La Paz at only 1% at the end of last year. This lack of water caused President Evo Morales to declare a national emergency in November. Friends in the city of Cochabamba weren’t as startled by the state of the emergency as those in La Paz, as rationing of water in Cochabamba is the norm. This past year Cochabamba only received, on average, water via the municipal water company, SEMAPA, a few hours once a week.

In the region of Mizque, 160 km outside of Cochabamba, adaptability to the effects of drought depends on whether one lives closer to the village, with more access to an irrigation system and agricultural machinery, or half-an-hour further out in the mountains, where one’s livelihood is more dependent on cultivating corn and raising cows, goats and vicuñas.

Jaime Pardo works for OBADES, the social arm of the Baptist church in Bolivia. MCC partners with OBADES in its work with locals in Mizque on food security projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouses, and crop diversity. Jaime shared that in early 2016 the rainy season not only started late, but was cut short when the rains stopped in March, leaving already planted corn unable to reach maturity. By the end of the year there was no more pasture left for livestock. Animals had to move around for hours in search of first water and then food, complicated by the drying up of once full rivers. It was a bit easier for the goats, who would eat anything within sight, even plastic. Jaime commented that the image seared in his mind of this past year is of skin-and-bone cows wobbling down the mountainside as though drunk, trembling and barely able to stand. As for their owners, without water to sow their crops, the only option has been to leave for the city.

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity. Photo by Jaime Pardo.

A vast number of farmers have also left Bolivia’s already dry southeast Chaco due to the unprecedented rate of cattle deaths, the region’s primary income. Lake Poopo in the western part of the country completely dried up at the beginning of 2016, not only due to drought,  but also water deviation for mining. The Uru people, who lived off the lake for centuries, have long since gone, along with their way of life. The swell in already exploding urban populations exacerbates poverty and puts greater demands on failing infrastructure and local municipalities to implement solutions.

In rural and urban areas alike, communities have plead with the government for assistance, with the repeated loss of crops resulting in economic ruin for families. Some irrigation and groundwater projects have come about as a result. Nevertheless, even the breadbasket of Cochabamba unprecedentedly began importing food from neighboring countries. Outdated infrastructure exacerbates the problem with up to 50% losses of water in some places within pipes and distribution networks. Privatization is an option, but faces opposition for often failing to reach city outskirts and municipalities. The Misicuni dam and hydroelectric project of Cochabamba, underway since 1957, is a set-back filled effort of 10 private local and international companies that is only now gradually approaching completion. It was originally planned to give water to 400,000 people in a city with now closer to a million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, deforestation of the northern Amazon, in Bolivia and beyond, inhibits the flow of humid air and rain to the Andes. Hydroelectric projects damage the river arteries of the jungle and affects the natural water preservation cycle. Damaged water cycles leave torrents of rain that show up late, to destroy crops at the time of harvest and cause catastrophes with flash-flooding, as opposed to the gradual, soft rains of days gone by. The need to address emergency situations means that working on root causes turns into a catch-up game for a government that is already behind on developing prevention and relief plans for a problem long foreseen.

Bolivia has accessed, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s green fund for a “My Irrigation” program to assist in rural areas. The construction of grain storage plants are underway. Experts emphasize the need for long term water shortage plans such as dikes for water storage, preservation and education initiatives, and continued efforts to renovate outdated water distribution systems so they can be ready to carry, for example, the water now beginning to finally gush from the Misicuni dam project.

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia Ramos.

The small, hopeful steps of local communities across the country, especially alongside governing bodies, are prevailing against the obstacles, even if those steps begin as little more than drops in a dry bucket. The community of Villa Vinto, not far from Mizque, in partnership with OBADES, is enlisting a Peruvian model in the creation of artificial lakes and dykes to capture and store rainwater. With municipal government offers of new farming tools as prizes for the best efforts, the project is hoped to spread to communities throughout the entire region. Mizque continues to produce drought-resistant maca, which in addition to being a delicious superfood, reaps greater economic benefits than typical potato crops. The persistent well-digging of colony Mennonites in Durango on the border with Argentina has allowed them to grow crops in previously declared agricultural dead-zones. If a drop of water can carve out a canyon, the small efforts of hands working together might be able to eventually fill that canyon with more water for the future.


Climate change: who pays?

This week’s  blog is written by Bruce Guenther, Disaster Response Director for MCC.

This week, governments, international institutions, and local civil society actors are participating in the 19th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw Poland.

The meetings come on the cusp of Super Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines last week — the worst recorded storm in the country’s history. Is climate change the cause of the extreme weather events we have seen in recent years? MCC’s partners continue to tell us that the changing climate is having a concrete impact on their communities. Those who have contributed the least to causing climate change bear the brunt of the harm.

In general, the research tells us that climate change will cause increased drought, flooding and extreme weather events. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the science of climate change indicates that it is “very likely” there will be more frequent and extreme precipitation events, particularly in tropical areas. It is also “very likely” that there will be more frequent heat waves and an increase in mean temperature. A further detailed report on climate change impacts and adaptation is due from the IPCC in March 2014.

HaiyanTo summarize: wet is wetter, dry is drier, and there will continue to be greater weather uncertainty and extreme events. We can already see many of those impacts. Protracted drought in the Horn of Africa (reaching a crisis in 2011), the Sahel region and in parts of southern Africa are consistent with climate change projections. Increased flooding events are also being observed in part of South Asia, most recently again in Pakistan. The recent Super Typhoon in the Philippines and Super Storm Sandy, which struck the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast, make one wonder if “super storms” are the new normal.

In Canada, we can also testify to an increase in extreme climatic events. In Manitoba, spring flooding risk has increased in frequency over the last decade, and the recent devastating flooding in southern Alberta is unprecedented.  The number of flooding events globally has been increasing over the last 20 years along with the cost of the damage.

But those who bear the greatest costs of increased climate risks are those that have contributed the least to climate change through carbon emissions. It is a global injustice.

MCC, as part of the Canadian Coalition for Climate Change and Development (C4D) is asking the Canadian government to commit additional funds to developing countries to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

A recent C4D report shows that the government’s commitment to “Fast Start Climate Finance” (the 2009 Copenhagen Accord) was primarily given to developing countries as loans and toward mitigating climate change, not helping countries adapt. While mitigation is an important objective, developing countries need immediate support now to adapt to minimize the impact they are already seeing from more extreme weather events. This includes greater disaster preparedness, increased support to small-scale farmers, and ensuring public infrastructure and shelter will protect communities from the next “super storm.”

Husbandandwife_EthiopiaMCC is helping communities adapt to a changing climate. A recent case study, from the Amhara region of Ethiopia, shows that climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of climate-related hazards. MCC with the, Migibare Senay Children and Family Support Organization, has worked to increase soil and water conservation, restore biodiversity and increase food security in this watershed. As a result, local farmers are less vulnerable to climate-related shocks and stresses and have improved their food security.

MCC, in cooperation with Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is urging churches and individuals to write to their Member of Parliament asking the Canadian government to do more, including: 1) allocating new and additional funding to help developing countries address climate change, and 2) ensuring that more of these funds are spent on adaptation activities in order meet the immediate needs of vulnerable countries and communities.

The most vulnerable are paying the price for a changing climate. We need to pay our fair share.

Hope, conservation agriculture, and World Food Day

This week’s guest blogger is Dan Wiens, coordinator of Food Security and Livelihoods for Mennonite Central Committee.  Dan is himself a farmer.

I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa early this morning–October 16, World Food Day–to begin a three-week agricultural tour of southern Africa. The air this morning is crisp and the sky a brilliant blue. I left autumn weather in Canada and arrived here in the southern hemisphere to the freshness of spring.

CA 3The purpose of the tour is to visit farmers, researchers, and others involved with conservation agriculture (CA). Conservation agriculture is a farming model that protects and builds soil health using the three principles of minimum soil tillage, maintaining ground cover (mulch), and using crop rotations to build soil fertility. The information I’m gathering here in Africa will help MCC, in collaboration with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, design a pan-African conservation agriculture program.

African farmers are in trouble. Soil health has been on the decline for decades and productivity is steadily going down. This situation contributes to keeping over 239 million Africans chronically hungry. Finding a low input and sustainable agricultural solution is critical. CA is a proven farming model, especially in the semi-arid regions that characterize much of Africa. Farmers practicing CA have seen as much as three-fold increases in crop yields in just a few years. This has lifted many farmers and their families out of poverty and hunger.

CA 1

Monica Kutingala, a conservation agriculture farmer with husband Simon Kutingala, waters the sweet yams with rainwater collected in their new water storage trench called a hafir. This new source of water made it possible for the family to plant their first garden on their farm in Ekenywa village, Arusha district, Tanzania. The couple switched from traditional agriculture in 2006 and have seen many benefits, including increased crop yields.

Another exciting part of this story is that CA requires only inputs that are readily found in the farming communities. Organic ground cover or mulch (often grass) is one example.  There is no need for expensive outside inputs such as chemical fertilizers. The only significant outside input that is required is knowledge.

The general idea we have for the upcoming CA program is to vastly increase the number of African farmers practicing CA. Promotion of CA will be done by the many African community-based organizations that have strong relationships with farming communities. These organizations are in partnership with MCC and other CFGB member agencies and they are uniquely positioned to promote CA.

On this beautiful World Food Day morning, my hope is that over the next three weeks I will find the information required to develop an effective CA program. On this World Food Day, I can’t think of a more appropriate or exciting task for an MCC agriculture worker.

Head and heart, body and soul: the Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders institute

This week’s guest writer is Stephen Siemens, coordinator of the Restorative Justice program of MCC Canada.  Stephen lives in Hepburn, Saskatchewan.

This past June I was privileged to take part in the fifth annual Global Anabaptist Peacemakers (or GAP) Institute at Fresno Pacific University (FPU), Fresno, CA. GAP is dynamic partnership between MCC West Coast and FPU offering students cutting-edge immersion into many of the key areas in which MCC is working (locally and globally) through six classes: Care for Creation, Migration and Resettlement, Food Security, Restorative Justice, Advocacy, and Peacebulding on the (Arizona/ Mexico) Border.

As MCC West Cost explains: Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders are young leaders from across the country [the U.S.] who gather for a week to learn together what it means, as an Anabaptist, to respond with the love of Christ in an increasingly interconnected world.

I was invited to GAP to co-teach the Restorative Justice course and helped to lead the GAP “House of Prayer” — more on both of those, shortly.


All the GAP participants

The GAP institute has an excellent format that challenges heart and mind, left and right brain. Our days would began with worship and devotions, and, using the book of Acts as the template, we reflected on what truly is the Gospel, and how we are seeing it unfold in and through us, and in the world around us. Many of us participating in GAP, both students and faculty, marveled at how precious and refreshing good Bible teaching is!

Then all students broke out into the six classes listed above for a good balance of classroom learning (PowerPoints, group discussion, role plays) and “outside” experiential learning (field trips, interviews, mini-learning tours, etc).

The Restorative Justice course, for example, tackled the following subjects in the classroom: the contours of Biblical Justice juxtaposed to secular western understandings of justice (state law); the needs of victims and offenders; learned peacemaking strategies to capture the opportunity for reconciliation; and developing skills in conflict management and mediation through role playing.


Stephen Siemens (back row, left) and participants in the Conflict Resolution and Peacemaking module.

Our field trips consisted of listening to those who began the Reedley Victims Initiative, touring the local juvenile detention center, touring FPU’s Victim Offender Reconciliation Program or VORP, and a tour of Fresno Superior Court.

But the day was not over when the “bell rang.” Courses would wrap up for the day just before supper, but the community of the faithful would continue to gather, learn, and encounter Christ.

Most of the evenings also included worship, or as we called it, the GAP “House of Prayer.” This was a rich time indeed, as students reflected on both the many injustices to which the church is called to respond —but also as we gathered in the presence of Christ, and through song, Scripture, and prayer, encountered the One who provides hope, power, wisdom and compassion to transform individuals, families, structures and whole societies.

It was wonderful. It was needed, personally and corporately. We experienced the Gospel confirmed in us. Head and heart, body and soul, fully interconnected. No conflict of interest between academic explorations and simply worshiping Jesus. What an incredible way for many students to be introduced to the multifaceted nature of God’s kingdom and God’s personality!

Though I am obviously biased, I was humbled by the quality of students at this event, and I marveled at how they see opportunity and hope, not obstacles and despair. I saw God doing a mighty work in confirming the passion in many students to participate with Christ in reconciling people to people and people to God. I was also thankful for how God uses MCC to introduce many to God’s holistic body and soul outreach, in which all of us can participate.

Connected despite our differences

This week’s guest writers are students at the University of Winnipeg.

by Rebekah Grism and Serena Smith

We recently had the opportunity to go on a young adult food study tour with Canadian Foodgrains Bank, along with six other participants. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is a partnership of 15 churches and church based agencies, including Mennonite Central Committee.  The churches work collaboratively as a Christian response to hunger, by obeying God’s command to act with compassion and justice towards people who are hungry (Micah 6:8). This is applied by improving food security, improving nutrition, and providing food assistance when needed.

Rebekah Grisim & Serena Smith

Rebekah (left) and Serena (right) joined six other Canadian young adults on the CFGB tour.

We are both students at the University of Winnipeg and we are interested in social justice and international development.  We are both strongly connected to the Mennonite church and are very thankful for having been given this opportunity by Mennonite Central Committee.

During the study tour, we travelled to Nicaragua with the objective to nurture a sense of community and people connections that Canadian Foodgrains Bank believes to be at the very heart of a Christian response to hunger.  We achieved this by learning about a number of projects being implemented in rural Nicaragua, through conversation with project participants, and experiencing how they live on a daily basis.  We were able to live with the families participating in projects that focused on improving food security in order to fully understand their daily struggles and how they have been affected by the projects they are involved with.

We had the privilege of staying with a family involved in an MCC project which focused on learning and experimenting with conservation agriculture techniques in order to increase food production with little environmental impact.  We resided with a couple, Luis and Melba, and their two young boys, Luis Jr and Angel.  Luis and Melba were able to double their food production using the conservation techniques they learned from MCC.  They were thankful for the lower cost of inputs involved in conservation agriculture which meant the money they saved on buying chemical pesticides, could go to purchasing other necessities for their family.



Luis and Melba and their family have very few possessions; however, the experience that we  gained from living with them is something we will take away and remember for a very long time.  Although we had awkward moments due to the language barrier, they were so gracious and welcoming to us.  Something that was very meaningful to us was how, despite our many differences from Luis and his family, we were connected by our Christian faith.  Our favourite memory was reading our Bibles with them by flashlight, as they had no electricity in their home. We were able to read the same passage, each in our own language, and feel connected as a family in Christ.  Melba’s favourite verse is, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).  This was a reminder to us that no matter what type of circumstances we find ourselves in, God will never abandon us but will remind us of the truth of his unconditional love.

Luis and Angel

Luis Jr (left) and Angel

As we said our goodbyes to Luis and his family we felt as though they had given us so much and we were left wondering what we could do in return.  We asked them what type of message they would like us to bring home to Canada about their family.  They wanted us to share their gratitude to MCC and Canadian Foodgrains Bank for improving their food production.  They also expressed their strong belief in prayer and asked that we pray for their family as they raise their two young boys.

There is great power in prayer, therefore do not forget to pray for those in our world experiencing hunger, as we are all connected as one family under our God.

A poem and a plea for future victims of cluster munitions

By Ron Janzen, Executive Director of MCC Manitoba

In February 2013, I joined a learning tour to Laos and Cambodia sponsored by MCC’s  Global Family program. In the rural village of Xiengthan, Laos (a heavily bombed area during the 1964-73 US bombing of Laos) our learning tour group visited an MCC sponsored sustainable agriculture fruit growing project. We visited the home of a subsistence farmer supporting a family of 8 children on a few hectares of land. The fruit growing project provides vital supplemental income to Mr. Bousey’s rice paddy crops.

Mr. Bousey and metal sculpture (by artist Ken Loewen) During the visit with Mr. Bousey (pictured at right), I asked if his land was cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO) such as cluster munitions and was stunned to discover that it was not. When I further inquired of him whether any of his family or community members had been injured by UXO he looked intently at me and said “not yet”.

Those two words stuck with me for the days and weeks following the learning tour and inspired this poem.

not yet

“not yet” he quips
looking me in the eye

not yet
he stakes his cow
every morning

not yet
he plants his rice
every afternoon

not yet
he weeds his gardens
every evening

not yet
his children play and roam
every day

the daily reality
of “not yet”?


can hope and
“not yet”

9 years
580,000 bombing “missions”
2 million tons of ordnance
270 million “bombies”

they sound cute
like babies
but they are not

80 million unexploded legacies
“not yet” realized
unfathomable scope
continued devastation

Jesus grieving
MCC working
not yet
peace in Laos
not yet

Also pictured above is a metal sculpture by Altona, Manitoba, artist Ken Loewen. Ken was also on the learning tour and created this sculpture in response to touring the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) in Vientiane, Laos. This centre provides rehabilitation and employment to victims of cluster munitions through research, design, and production of orthotic and prosthetic devices.

Please help build a safer world by joining MCC Canada in saying No to cluster munitions! Sign the petition asking for stronger Canadian legislation to support the international Convention on Cluster Munitions.

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.