Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Farmers Training Centers

F.T.C.

A quick Google search of this acronym might bring the following results:

-In the business world: Federal Trade Commission – meaning an agency responsible for consumer protection and promoting competitive business markets.
-In the legal world: Failure to Comply – meaning the inability to follow the letter of a court order.
-In the engineering world: Fault-Tolerance Control – meaning the ability to design systems of continuity and recovery given the inevitable (something breaks or stops working properly).

These F.T.C.’s are all very important in their own right. However, there’s another very important F.T.C. that’s less well-known but is extremely important to fighting global hunger.

In the agricultural world: Farmers Training Centers – meaning a place of education and community where farmers can learn how to make their lands more productive and ultimately, serve themselves, their families, and their communities better through increased and sustainable food production.

These Farmers Training Centers are one component of overall agricultural extension services in many countries all over the world. Take, for example, the country of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has invested heavily in ag extension services that have established nearly 18,000 F.T.C.’s all over the country. These F.T.C.’s are used as local-level focal points for farmers to receive the latest information, equipment training, demonstration, and classroom and hands-on field education. It boils down to farmers teaching farmers and building community leaders in agriculture.

Want proof of those community leaders? Look no further than Ethopia's very own Female Food Hero Birtukan Dagnachew Tegegn! When her husband passed away in 2000, Birtukan convinced neighbors to help plow her plot of land, a job considered too difficult for a woman to do alone. She sought out agricultural training through extension and learned how to plant crops that would conserve water in her drought-prone region. Her training and education empowered her to make bold decisions, leading to great success. Furthermore, by participating in ag extension, Birtukan can learn new skills and pass along her existing knowledge to other farmers – continuing the cycle of empowerment.

Birtukan and Oxfam Action Corps Organizer Amy pose for a
picture at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market.

Recently, Birtukan and an Oxfam delegation of farmers from Ethopia and Ghana came to Des Moines, Iowa for the World Food Prize 2014 Borlaug Dialogue. During this time, she and the others spoke on panels and further discussed the importance of investing in small-scale women farmers. Birtukan shared the importance of investing in farmers before a crisis occurs (like a drought or famine). It happens to be a more efficient use of funds but, and perhaps most importantly, it's empowering to the farmers and communities who wish to take care of themselves rather than relying on external partners to provide constant support, especially if that support comes after a crisis has already occurred.

Realizing the impact these F.T.C.’s have on communities, organizations such as Oxfam and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have stepped up to supplement the cost of running these centers as well as further building capacity for the centers to have longevity, adequate facilities, and training for extension workers. Their research continues to show that ag extension is a powerful force for fighting global hunger yet, donor support for this common-sense solution of ag extension has historically been low.

By showing support for U.S. government programs such as Feed the Future and legislation such as the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 which improves our U.S. food aid system, you too can add your voice for common-sense solutions that can help reduce global poverty for years to come. Click here to send your support to Congress: fully fund these investment strategies that empower small-scale farmers and end inefficient and wasteful food aid practices!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Active Citizenry

Guest blogger Aaron Schlumbohm wrote a wonderful piece (below) for our blog about his recent experience lobbying at U.S. Senator Grassley's office in Des Moines.

Bio: Aaron Schlumbohm lives in Des Moines and has been an active volunteer with the IA Oxfam Action Corps since fall 2012, even serving as a co-organizer for Des Moines in 2013/2014. He is a University of Iowa grad and USMC veteran currently employed in the Insurance industry. 

On September 5, I had the pleasure of accompanying two other Iowa Oxfam Action Corps members, Amy & Stephen, on a lobby visit to United States Senator Chuck Grassley’s office here in Des Moines. Lobbying typically calls to mind a fair amount of negative associations with special interests, money, and influence – but there we were, three grassroots volunteers, about to speak to a legislative assistant for a United States Senator. The idea that regular citizenry can access that high-level representation is exciting and knowing that this not the case in many other countries I was filled with enthusiasm for this opportunity! How could anyone fail to see the rightness of our cause?

Aaron (left) and Stephen (right) speak with Grassley's office
 about issues important to Oxfam and Iowa supporters.

We spoke to Kurt Kovarik, a Grassley legislative assistant in Washington D.C., via teleconference, which the Des Moines office was kind enough to set up for us. On the table were issues that Oxfam had been working on for, in some cases, years:

A. Poverty focused development assistance
B. Effective foreign aid/co-sponsoring the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act
C. Food aid reform/co-sponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act
***click hyperlinks for more info***

Mr. Kovarik listened politely and asked relevant questions about the issues we presented. He was very direct and his answers and comments gave us great insight to the landscape of legislative committees, foreign relations, and U.S. interests. At the end of the discussion he thanked us for our time and for the information we left to be forwarded on to the D.C. office, promising to read it thoroughly to present the information it contained to the Senator. We walked out of the office with no commitments. We had not, in-fact, changed the world with our one visit to the local office of a U.S. Senator, and we understood that the bills we advocated for were unlikely to move forward in this legislative session. We would see them stall again, as we have in years past, while we wait for the political will to mobilize around the reforms needed to help people in need of effective, efficient aid. But every year these issues come up and the bills advance a little further, a little closer to passing, because active citizens around the country are walking into elected representatives’ offices to let them know that these things are important.

And we’ll do it again next year.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Let's not forget Oxfam's youngest supporters!

At the beginning of this summer (2014), Oxfam America staff in Boston, working with Action Corps members, put out a call to current and former organizers to share past highlights, stories of lessons learned, and experiences of the unexpected - pleasant or otherwise. The following blog post looks at how one unexpected source of success helped to shape the advocacy being done by Iowa Oxfam Action Corps organizers in 2012...

As the Oxfam Action Corps, we often mobilize around targeted issues, campaign actions, and lobbying stunts. Our ultimate goal is to raise awareness about injustices faced by people all over the globe.

Poverty is wrong, we say.
We can RIGHT that wrong, we say.

Our call for a more just world is heard at farmers markets, music venues, hunger banquets, and sometimes by congressional staffers. And for all the good that that contributes towards, our primary audience is, well, adults.

Should it be so surprising, then, that two significant and memorable successes for the Iowa Oxfam Action Corps came from the help of children?

In July of 2012, the Iowa Action Corps had an opportunity to develop educational activities for a youth “survival” summer camp at the Science Center of Iowa. Here, we prepared activities to teach children about the food and water scarcity experienced by millions around the world. Many children, like adults, had never considered how far some people have to walk to get to their water source or considered how difficult life could be for farmers and the communities who depend on them in drought stricken areas of Africa. For the final activity of the day, we asked the children to prepare a message for farmers experiencing hardships in Senegal, Africa. Their message: believe in the future.




That’s rather amazing when you think about it! These children (a.k.a. “the future”) in some small way were already taking ownership of their distant responsibilities for shaping our shared world. They understood that poverty and hunger won’t be solved overnight – their message was that it’s a multi-generational effort.

Believe in the future, they said.
Believe in us, they said.

Later that year, in September, the Iowa Action Corps had the chance to table at the World Food and Music Festival in the Historic East Village of Des Moines. This annual multi-day (family-friendly) event features nearly 75,000 attendees and, of course, some amazing food! One of our volunteers, a teacher, had suggested that we have an activity at our booth that gives children a chance to participate. We brainstormed and came up with an activity for children to draw and color pictures of food on paper plates, that if they could, they would give to hungry children around the world. The results were amazing! Their work decorated our booth and easily served as a draw for passerby’s throughout the entire event. Our booth stood out because of their work and that, in turn, helped us collect more than 1,000 petition signatures for a campaign action – a huge leap for Oxfam support in Iowa.




For many of these children, their colorful plates of food were drawn with the understanding of our shared human experience of hunger: hunger lacks comfort and empty plates represent the expectation that food is on its way. The plates drawn contained a variety of pictures of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, and sometimes, pizza. Seeing all of the plates together delivered a clear message: nutrition, sustenance, abundance. That’s the world they want.

Going hungry is wrong, they said.
Every child should always have enough to eat, they said.

Adults are great supporters of Oxfam’s work but let’s not forget about the potential of the youngest of Oxfam’s supporters: children. In time, they will grow to be our next generation of farmers, teachers, activists, doctors, and politicians – just to name a few. Regardless of their future role, each will have an important part to play in continuing the fight for a more just world. May our efforts leave the world a little less broken for them so they don’t have to fight as hard to right the wrongs of a previous generation.

#desmoines #oxfamactioncorps #iowaoxfamactioncorps #historiceastvillagedm #children #survival #Senegal #rightthewrong #sciowa #worldfoodandmusicfestival #poverty #advocacy

To see more pictures from the Science Center Survival Camp, click here.

To see more pictures from the World Food and Music Festival, click here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What FUN! Music, Food, and Doing Good!

The Iowa Oxfam Action Corps has had an amazing summer run: volunteering at St. Timothy's Faith and Grace garden, tabling at farmer's markets, and spreading Oxfam's message at major musical events like 80/35 and Fitz and the Tantrums at Des Moines Nitefall on the River.

How about one final summer hurrah?! Yes, please!



The World Food and Music Festival (WFMF) is coming up - September 19th, 20th, and 21st. And, what a way to finish the summer! The Iowa Oxfam Action Corps has had a presence there for the last two years and it's been greatly successful. Check out the photos from 2012 and 2013. As you can see, the festival-goers have really enjoyed Oxfam's message as well as taking part in our table activities.

What's more is that the WFMF is an amazing celebration of culture paired with some truly delicious worldly food and spectacular tunes. 75,000+ people attend this multi-day celebration in the Des Moines East Village. Attendance is free, but food and drink do have a cost. See their website for more details.

Action Corps volunteers Aaron and Brittany
showcase the Oxfam tent!

Your Iowa Oxfam Action Corps will again have a strong presence at the WFMF but we need your help. Tabling at an event like this is best enjoyed with many people to help spread Oxfam's message of righting the many social injustices that face our world. Whether you can offer 1 hour or an entire afternoon, we want to hear from you! Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and we'll provide some basic training on how to speak to people about the issues. Click here to sign-up for a time. Thank you for your help in making this year another successful World Food and Music Festival!

Oh, yeah - I almost forgot! Banana man is making a return appearance...


Monday, August 4, 2014

The New Face of Hunger

Iowa is well-known as a state where a lot of stuff is grown. The dark soil, often described as “black gold”, is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium - nutrients that corn, soybeans, and a variety of other plants need in order to grow.  Last year (2013), Iowa saw 2.2 billion (yes – with a ‘b’) bushels of corn grown and harvested (the majority going to feed livestock). The numbers are equally impressive for soybeans and other vegetables.


In a place where so much food is grown, it’s hard to believe that still 1 in 5 Iowans faces food insecurity. Fields upon fields of lush green crop spread over tens of millions of acres across Iowa and, yet, 20% of the people living in the state struggle to feed themselves and their families on an ongoing basis.

That isn't right!

National Geographic Magazine (yes, THAT National Geographic) has a new 8-month series focused on the future of food. They recognize that feeding a planet of 9 billion people by the year 2050 will be a major stressor on our planet’s natural resources and want to draw attention to the importance of and struggles of our food system.  Going to their website on hunger in America, a visitor is met with a very basic question:  Why are people malnourished in the richest country on Earth? Now that’s a big (and good!) question! Why should anyone have to experience malnourishment?

As a part of their series, NatGeo spent time investigating hunger and food culture in three specific communities across the United States, including Osage, IA. Yes, Iowa. Land of the farmer. Fields of plentiful corn, soybeans, and other vegetables. Home to “the new face of hunger”.

The magazine’s August issue captures the story of the Dreier family who is supported in part with the money that spouse and father Jim Dreier makes applying pesticides to fields and driving trucks. But it's not enough. The family said their SNAP benefits were cut 16 percent, to $172 a month, after Congress cut the program last year. The Des Moines Register wrote an article about the magazine’s focus in Iowa and further described the food insecurity rate for children in the 16-county region as well as why NatGeo picked a community in Iowa to spotlight. Briefly: farm subsidies.

A nationwide look at the percentage of people around the country who
rely on SNAP assistance. Darker colors represent higher percentages.

Be sure to check out the amazing, yet saddening infographics, videos, pictures, research, and other details on the National Geographic website or pick up a copy of their August magazine to read more about Osage, Iowa and the other communities NatGeo visited.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014

How do you get your news? Do you turn on a television, perhaps a radio? Do you "fire up" an Internet browser and type in your favorite news URL?

For all the many ways that we can have news communicated to us, so much never gets delivered. Or, rather, so much else gets in the way that we miss important stories. Stories of hope. Stories of tragedy.

The story of South Sudan is the latter, I'm afraid. It's an ongoing story of lives lost, lives disrupted, and livelihoods and futures in peril...but it doesn't have to be!




Three years ago (in 2011), Africa's longest-running civil war ended. But peace in the newly formed South Sudan didn't hold. In December of last year (2013), violence erupted largely upon ethnic lines as a result of a decaying relationship between the president of South Sudan and his former deputy. Since the violence started, over 10,000 people have been killed. Over a million people have been displaced and nearly 400,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Worse yet, the violence has left upwards of 4 million people in need of immediate assistance: food, clean water, shelter. Without it, the United Nations estimates 50,000 children could die of malnutrition by year's end.

All this has me thinking...in an era of political wrangling, budget cutting, of putting forth fiscally conservative solutions, how can we, the United States, make our overseas food aid programs do more to save more [lives, money, time, etc.]?

Food aid has its issues. You can read more about them here. Truth is, it’s a system that could do a lot more with existing taxpayer dollars if it just made a few changes. “Get more bang for your buck,” as it were. A current piece of bipartisan legislation – the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 – is aiming to do just that. By ending some ineffective practices with how food is shipped and where it is purchased, existing money can be freed to do more for more people. Millions more people, same amount of money. People, just like those in the South Sudan, could benefit from modernizing the policies in our food aid system. Let's get it done!

Use your voice - take action today! Call your U.S. Senators and ask them to support the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014! If you are not sure who your member of Congress is, click here and enter your five-digit ZIP code. It only takes a few minutes and is a great way to easily participate in the democratic process - remember: they are elected to serve you!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If you build it...

"If you build it, he will come.”

Okay, so maybe I stole that line from the iconic 1989 fantasy-drama film Field of Dreams which has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post.  Yet, allow me to modify the quote to its more recognized misquoted form, “If you build it, they will come.”
I’m talking, of course, about that delightful family-friendly tabletop game called Jenga. True story. How so? Easy! For those unfamiliar with Jenga, players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 equally sized blocks. Each block removed is then balanced on top of the tower, creating a progressively taller yet less stable structure. Make sense? Good!
Are you ready to have your mind blown? Jenga is derived from a Swahili word meaning “to build”.
Therefore…“If you Jenga, they will come.”



 
I think the pictures speak for themselves. What success we had! 80/35 Music Festival-goers had a delightful time playing our home-built oversized game of Jenga (aptly named: Giant Jenga) while learning about the serious issue of climate change and the role that top food and beverage companies play in contributing greenhouse gases. Think of it as educational Jenga! Or Jenga with a conscience!
Regardless of whatever you might call it, there were several intense games played over the two day festival – some even came back to play multiple games. During more tense moments, when the swaying structure seemed on the edge of collapse, dozens of people along a busy walkway would be at a dead stop, staring, waiting for the tower of bricks to come crashing down. It was fun to watch them.
The goal of Oxfam’s signature campaigns such as GROW and Behind the Brands is to build a better food system for all. After this last weekend, I might say that Oxfam’s goal is Jenga a better food system for all. Brick by brick, lifting up others so that those communities can Jenga a better future for themselves.

To see more pictures from our time at the 80/35 Music Festival, click here.

To learn how to build your own Giant Jenga set, click here.