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Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Name: Canadian Foodgrains Bank Annual income (expenditure) (2011/12): $44,259,143 ($39,544,210)
Website: www.foodgrainsbank.ca Director(s): Governed by Board of Directors (visit website for details)
Year founded: 1983 No. of staff: 33 (2 overseas)

 

The ENN interviewed Barbara Macdonald from the Canadian Food Grain Bank in the ENN’s London “suboffice” (a table at the Institute of Directors in London). Barbara knows the ENN from her days as Senior Nutrition Advisor at CIDA where she was instrumental in securing funding for various ENN activities over the years – most notably reviews of evidence of effectiveness of emergency nutrition interventions including supplementary feeding programmes. After leaving CIDA in 2005, Barbara took up a post to head up monitoring and evaluation activities at GAIN and only joined the Foodgrains Bank eight months ago.

The Foodgrains Bank is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year (founded in 1983). It is effectively a partnership of 15 churches and church-based agencies working towards a vision of ending global hunger. The way the Foodgrains Bank works is pretty unique. There are over 200 ‘growing’ projects where Canadian farming communities reserve a portion of their farming land to collectively grow a crop. The crop is then sold on the Canadian market and proceeds are donated to the Foodgrains Bank to support food assistance, agriculture and livelihoods, and nutrition projects overseas. The ‘growing’ projects are truly community based, i.e. different local farmers and members of local churches contribute time and resources to grow the food. Communities may grow anything from grain, apples, or pumpkins to donating lobsters from a specific trap in Canada’s Maritime provinces. Funds may also be raised through cattle auctions. Church communities also raise money in other ways and pass this on directly to the Foodgrains Bank where it is then matched with funds from CIDA to support international projects. CIDA provides $25 million (CDN $) annually to the Foodgrains Bank in matching funds. In 2011/12 Canadians donated almost $12 million to the Foodgrains Bank and of that, growing projects and individual farmers contributed $5.5 million through the sale of 19,396 tonnes of food.

The funds from growing projects are kept in separate church accounts by the Foodgrains Bank, i.e. it really is a bank! These are complemented by other church fund-raising activities and donations from individuals. When a member decides to fund a project overseas these monies are then released by the Foodgrains Bank from their account and are allocated to partners and projects that a particular member wishes to support. The Foodgrains Bank therefore effectively works as a secretariat for Canadian churches and the relief and development arm of churches, and their respective communities or congregations. While staff help with the technical design and evaluation of programming, it is ultimately the church based agencies and their partners who design and implement programmes in collaboration with local communities.

Until 2008, a significant proportion of food aid from the Canadian government was still tied, i.e. it was food grown in Canada and shipped to where it was needed. The Foodgrains Bank, along with other advocacy groups, helped change food aid legislation so that food aid did not have to be procured in Canada and could be sourced locally or regionally. The legislation was changed in two phases. Food aid was 50% untied in 2005 and fully untied (100%) in 2008. Untying not only helps speed up the process of getting food aid to where it is needed but also lowers costs as there is reduced need for shipping freight.

Foodgrains Bank activities can be broken down into three types. These are international programming, public policy and public engagement. Public policy involves research culminating in policy development and advocacy at national and global level. Policy activities currently focus on monitoring implementation of the new international Food Assistance Convention, advocating for governmental support to improve food security among smallholder farmers, and climate change financing with an emphasis on adaptation. Public engagement involves deepening the engagement of Canadians in efforts to end global hunger through communications and facilitating trips to visit projects. International programming can be divided into three further types of activity;

  1. Food Assistance programmes – this constituted 66% of programmes in 2011/2012
  2. Agriculture and Livelihoods programmes – with a focus on soil and water conservation, low-input agriculture, and climate change adaptation. This constituted 29% of the international programming budget in 2011/12.
  3. Nutrition programming. These programmes only started around 2003-4 and currently comprise 5% of the international programming budget. Nutrition programming includes home gardening, supplementary feeding, water and sanitation, deworming, school feeding and nutrition education. There has even been one example of funding a CMAM programme (RUTF distribution) in Afghanistan.

In 2011/12, over 70% of programme resources were allocated to Africa, 24% to Asia and 4% to Latin America.

Barbara’s job title is Senior Policy Advisor and she is located in the Public Policy Unit. She is the only nutritionist in the organisation. There are approximately 33 staff in the Foodgrains Bank with only two located overseas. There is a procurement officer based in Europe and a field programme advisor who provides technical support to projects and is based in Addis Ababa. All other staff are based either at headquarters in Winnipeg, Canada or in Canada’s provinces where they aid in the support of growing projects and public engagement. One of Barbara’s first tasks is to review and update the Foodgrain’s Bank nutrition strategic framework including exploring expanding or including nutrition options within food assistance and agriculture and livelihoods programming.

Up until now, cash and voucher-based programmes have been a small part of Foodgrains Bank portfolio. This has been due to the former Food Aid Convention (FAC) – an international treaty where until recently, donors committed to provide certain amounts of food aid each year. The donor commitment is a floor or minimum amount and was previously set as an amount of “wheat equivalents”. Parties to the treaty include the US, Canada, Japan, EU, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, Denmark. Recent changes to the treaty, including its renaming as the Food Assistance Convention, mean that governments can now contribute cash rather than food. In fact, the guiding principles for the FAC now encourage donors to undertake local purchase and support cash and voucher programmes where feasible. This means that the Foodgrains Bank now has the freedom to expand this type of programming, where appropriate. Furthermore, caps on certain types of programming under the FAC, e.g. micronutrient programming, have been removed.

The Foodgrains Bank appears to be a unique entity in the world of aid and there is undoubtedly an interesting history as to how it came about although that is a story that will have to be told in another article. The combination of church communities, farmers working together and matched government funding to generate resources for the poor is an inspirational model. As we said our goodbyes, I could see that Barbara was relishing the task ahead of her and the opportunities to increase the nutrition impacts of the Foodgrains Bank’s work. The ENN will definitely watch developments in the Foodgrains Bank with great interest.

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Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Field Exchange 45, May 2013. p50. www.ennonline.net/fex/45/canadian

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