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Badger farmer looks at food program in Africa

Foods Resource Bank began as church project, but open to anyone

November 3, 2007
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer
Feeding the hungry helps, but teaching the hungry to feed themselves gives them faith in the future.

With this in mind, 20 Webster County farmers have donated 72 acres to the Foods Resource Bank program — creating their own Fields of Opportunities and Dreams. It’s a project started in the Catholic church and joined by members of Lutheran, Methodist and the First Evangelical Free Church.

Crops from those acres are sold, with 100 percent of the money raised donated to the program, said Wayne McMannus, of Badger, one of those spearheading the local Foods Resources Bank. All administrative costs of the program are covered by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation.

‘‘It’s a nonprofit food production program centered around farmers,’’ McMannus said. ‘‘It’s a unique alliance with farmers, nonfarmers and large agricultural companies like NEW Coop and Land o’ Lakes. Nonfarmers make cash contributions throughout the year.’’

This is the third year crops have been donated to the program.

There are 15 different denominations worldwide that work with the program started in 2000 by three Canadian farmers faced with overproduction and cheap prices on wheat.

‘‘They tried to figure out how to do some good with this overproduction, so they monetized it — sold the wheat, turned it into cash and helped others learn how to grow their own food,’’ McMannus said. ‘‘We’re not giving people food or money. We’re giving them the ability to raise their own food. We do this by selling our crops and raising cash and getting contributions, and then, if we’re lucky, Foods Resource Bank, the national organization, gets a matching grant.’’

Donations and grants keep the fund growing.

‘‘We’re starting with a small amount of money in the Midwest, and because we get these matching funds, we generally turn $2 into $5 or $6 dollars by the time it hits Africa,’’ McMannus said.

A list of programs being operated is studied by the local group, which chooses what they want to fund.

‘‘Last year they had 50 different programs in 30 different countries,’’ he said. ‘‘Basically, they’re poor, undeveloped countries of the world that are politically stable.’’

Typically, there are four or five meetings a year. Anyone interested may attend the meetings to voice their opinions about which country and which program to choose.’’

The program gives farmers in the poor countries ‘‘things that will enhance them in their farming operations for many, many years,’’ McMannus said.

For example, ‘‘in western Kenya, Foods Resource Bank did a seed reproduction program for corn. They call it maize. So we’re helping them raise their own seed for future production. That sounds kind of backward by our standards.’’

Seed corn is available in Kenya, but not affordable.

‘‘There is no money in Kenya or Ethiopia,’’ McMannus said. ‘‘It’s total poverty. Eighty percent of the people in Ethiopia earn less than a dollar a day. In Kenya, 57 percent of the people earn less than a dollar a day. So, you see, the farmers, if you get them good, reliable seed that they raise themselves, then the battle is half done.’’

Because McMannus wanted to see for himself how this program works, he and his wife, Sara, traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia in mid-August. Another couple from Michigan and the Foods Resource Bank manager from Michigan went, too.

‘‘Fifteen different Christian denominations are already in place in those countries,’’ McMannus said. ‘‘They are the ones who apply for money for the projects. The Anglican Church in western Kenya has agronomists helping farmers raise crops. There are different crops in different regions. That’s the part that really impressed me. Every farm we went to had training sessions set up. Once a week they’d meet and talk about what’s going on. It’s much like Iowa State University — it was every bit as impressive, on a much smaller scale, because everything was done by hand. But the education was very good.’’

Everything can be done by hand, he said, because there are huge amounts of people and the farms are very small. ‘‘Three or four acres would be a big farm. Everybody is working in the fields.’’

In Ethiopia, a navy bean program has been funded by the Foods Resource Bank program in Webster County.

‘‘It’s an alternative crop there,’’ McMannus said. ‘‘It wasn’t previously raised there. Navy beans are very high in protein, so it’s a good source of protein for the people in that area. They’re trying to raise their own seed. It’s hoped that some day production will increase to the point where it might be a commercial crop, that people will sell what they don’t use.’’

Both countries have research universities, as far as food production, McMannus said. ‘‘Seed originates from there. It’s very impressive for their standards.’’

The first year Webster County had a program, funds were sent to Tanzania for a sweet potato program. In year two, money went to Ethiopia for the navy bean program. Funds raised with the fall crop here will be allocated in January.

‘‘The flexibility part is wonderful,’’ McMannus said. ‘‘It gives you more of a personal feeling when you go through and decide for yourself. This way we kind of earmark where we’d like our money to go.’’

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or

Fact Box

WHO: Foods Resource Bank.
WHAT: Harvest Festival.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 11.
WHERE: Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, Moorland.
A POWERPOINT presentation will run continuously through the day, with Wayne McMannus, of Badger, discussing his trip to Africa to check on the program firsthand. He will explain how a $2 contribution can, with matching funds, be increased to $5 or $6, which is enough to help one person in the program.
THE PRESENTATION will run in conjunction with the church’s annual pork loin dinner. Tickets are $7 for adults and $3.50 for children.

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