Saturday, August 02, 2008

From Italy to home

Well i finally made it! And not a moment too soon. 2 days after my flight the airport here went on strike and all flights are now diverted to a neighboring country and you take a bus the last 10 hours. ouch!!

I am so happy to be back with paul and the kids, and even happier that i can finally say i am officially done my masters! After 6 years, i owe many thank yous to many people for the encouragement and support they gave me, even the times it stopped being fun and was a lot of hard work. My degree is being mailed sometime in the fall, and we are planning to attend the next official convocation ceremony to walk the stage and celebrate my degree. (some of you already asked so here is what it is officially called - a Masters in International Development from the School of Law at Tulane University) Hands down this last class was also the best. I came home even fuller of passion and interest and raring to go than before, if that was even possible! Paul just laughs at me when i find someone who is like minded and we get off talking about programming and development and get all excited and passionate like. So thankful to have such great education that specifically relates to our job here.

I went from Rome to Lake Bolsena, where we spent ten days and had amazing, top level speakers from major aid organizations and the UN. Lots of opportunities to chat privately with them as well and discuss Niger. Then we went back to Rome to visit a few major food aid agencies and have meetings there, then we went down south to Brindisi to visit the United Nations response depot, from which they can respond to any emergency in 72 hours or less. Amazing class in every way.

SO I will give you an overview of a few of the things that really hit me about this world we live in, and specifically about the food crisis. Have you noticed that Costco runs out of rice and prices for rice, tomotoes, etc have skyrocketed alongside the oil and gas increases? Well its not a coincidence and its not going away anytime soon. In terms of impact, this is the biggest disaster the world has seen in 45 years, and yet no one is talking about it. 30-40 governments are on a watch list for instability because of all the riots and unrest caused by people who are unhappy with the governments response to high food prices.

But what are the causes and why can’t it be stopped? The causes are not easily explained, but are linked to numerous factors. Here are a few of the main ones

  • The increased demand for food commodities in developing countries (such as China and India) . Their ability to purchase has increased, and their tastes are changing. They want a more varied diet and food from other countries, same as we do, so their imports are increasing.

  • There is a reduced amount of land being used for food production in some countries due to biofuels. The USA gives huge subsidies to corn farmers who use their crops for biofuel rather than food crop. The USA originally admitted that they felt their biofuel impact was only 3% of the price increase, they recently adjusted that number to admitting 11%. However, a recent report by the World Bank blames 75% of the price increase on biofuel policies. The truth is somewhere in the middle, but no one is denying it is there.

  • The increasing costs of oil, gas and inputs (such as fertilizers) is leading to a higher final price from producers and importers.

  • There are reduced crops from natural disasters such as floods and droughts in major crop producing areas recently.

  • Increasing consumption by western economies that dont produce enough in house to match their increase appetite, thereby increasing imports.

  • The declining value of the U.S. dollar, the currency with which oil and food prices are generally pegged.

  • Large amounts of speculation in the markets. People are hoarding since they know prices are going to go up, which does happen, people speculate on that, etc. Market madness!

For those who have more income or food security, the food crisis will mean increasing prices and decreasing availability of some foods. For those who are the poorest, these increasing food prices can potentially push them into absolute poverty and crisis. They may be forced to sell what little assets they have to buy food. Aid organizations will also be forced to drop their number of beneficiaries as prices rise and their purchasing power decreases. The World Food Programme is estimating 50 million people will have to be dropped from programs!

In the long term, these crisis decisions and drastic measures will make it much harder for those living on the poverty line and below it to regain livelihoods, income and security. These decisions will include selling assets, taking children out of school, not accessing healthcare, and buying less nutritious food, which will lead to greater susceptibility to disease and epidemics.

While richer countries have the ability to shift their spending and manage price increases, the poorest of the poor will be the most affected. Food importing countries will also be hurt as prices rise for their imports and some items are inaccessible. Traditional farmers will suffer as the costs of inputs such as fuel, technology and seeds skyrocket. So while it may be hurting your pocket book only a little as you have to spend a few extra dollars for your food or treats, it may actually be life or death for the poor.

As for ways to address this problem, there are many things that can be done inckuding food aid to bridge the gap, stopping market distortions through import and export restrictions and speculation, re-examining biofuels, increasing research and development in agriculture,etc. Nothing is going to be a quick fix. So can you expect the price increases in oil, gas and food to stick around? You bet. Be thankful that most of you reading this can manage those increases, and please pray for us as we work with those who can't.

There is also a huge disparity of aid help out there for this crisis. According to the UN FAO, there are 36 countries that need assistance so far with this crisis. The top ten are (in no specific order) Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mozambique, Burundi, Liberia, DRC, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Niger. And yet the largest amount of aid is being given to North Korea and Ethiopia. Not that these countries dont need some help, but they are far from being the worst off. Ethiopia actually has a substanital safety net system. So why do they get some a huge share of the aid resources if they dont need it the most? Truth is that aid is highly political. (Please believe im writing this as impartial and non political as possible with facts!). Aid is often tied to countries that are keys for regioanl security, and jumping off points for other military action. It also protects pipelines, ports and allows other countries to retain some control of an area of the world. For example, wuth all the unrest in Somalia and Sudan and Chad, the USA (which is the largest donor of aid money and food in the world) cannot afford to have any instability in Ethiopia and lose their foothold there, thus the aid arrives. True stuff folks, aid is tied to politics, sometimes regardless of need.

To give you another comparison, approximately 12 US$ per person is pledge in aid to Niger (of which much is expected to not arrive due to other factors and the falling US dollar) For the Tsunami victims, there was $2500US per person in aid.

All this to say we are entering some scary times, especially for the poor in the world. I dont know what your affiliations are, what your politics are, what your donations or charitable giving look like, but I encourage all of you to make a difference in whatever way you can, through whoever you support. Here our team is trying to put in place some agriculture, goats, microenterprise,etc to shield some of the people we help from the crisis. Thank you so much to those of you who make a difference by supporting our work here through our work special and the Global Advance Fund. If you would like to contribute, please let me know (you do receive a charitable tax receipt)

Many blessings on you all. Thank you for the support and encouragement again of me through school, and now in our work here in Niger.

If you would like to see my top 58 photos from Italy (I took over 1300!) you can check out my public facebook album at

B: Dad, I dont love you anymore
Dad: you dont why not?
B Just because. i love mommy now
Dad: Oh ok....
B: NO, its NOT ok. But thats just life!!
(2 minutes later he loved dad again too..dont worry!)

Today while driving
"Mom I dont like the french people anymore!"
Mom: why?
"Because all they do is talk french!


Daniel and Linda Kroshewsky said...

Hi Daniel and Linda formally from Sylvan Lake Alliance Church. Now living in Red Deer. I see I have much to read to catch up. Congradulations on the Masters. Just wanted to say Hi and send our prayers. Have to read before I can comment more, :) I will though. God Bless all of you and (((HUGS))) all around. Take care...

Daniel and Linda

Ron said...

thanks for the report CM, much resonates with my board tasks at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which is one way Canadians are contributing through the faith community and making a difference.
Congrats on finishing the course! Proud of you.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome achievement Chantelle..Congratulations! Thank you also for the insight into the current / future food shortages & increases. We are not so far removed from this anymore. Help is critical for those folks in Niger. It can be overwhelming but I do believe we can't allow that to deter any of us from reaching out and helping in any way we can. Love the Bennettisms.... Love,hugs and prayers. heather