Foodgrains Bank celebrates 40 years of grain donations

Grain from this CFGB project will become part of the Foodgrains Bank
Grain from this CFGB project will become part of the Foodgrains Bank

In October 1976, farmers in western Canada answered the call of hungry people in the developing world, and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), as it was later named, was born. Now the CFGB is stronger than ever, and celebrating 40 years of mitigating hunger around the world.

Farmers didn’t want surplus grain from higher yield harvests to go to waste. “The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) was only exporting a certain amount of grain, so farmers had grain that was piled and stored and at times even spoiling,” said Rick Block, the new Saskatchewan representative for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), together with his wife Jacquie.

Media reports of starving people in various regions propelled farmers to act. They worked through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), who lobbied the Canadian Wheat Board to find an avenue through its jurisdiction to distribute surplus grain internationally, Block said.

“This grain could be basically handled, tagged and shipped outside of what would be the CWB quota, specifically as grain for relief and food aid.”

The CFGB is a member-based cooperative of 15 churches and church-based agencies that work together to end world hunger through food assistance, longer-term assistance with agriculture and livelihoods, and addressing nutrition.

The organization is one of perhaps a half dozen agencies across Canada that is recognized by the Canadian government as having a valuable rapport and demonstrated leadership internationally in providing assistance of this nature, Block said.

From the beginning, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as it was known then, would do matching grants. CIDA became Global Affairs Canada, which recently announced $125 million in funding over the next five years for the world’s most vulnerable. In the announcement, Jim Carr, Federal Minister of Natural Resources, stated that the Foodgrains Bank has been one of Global Affairs Canada’s most important partners since 1983, when they officially took the name.

In 1977-78, MCC sent the first shipment of grain from the Food Bank to India. For years, the CFGB shipped mainly wheat or barley to countries experiencing famine. “But even years ago, that was controversial because then you may have introduced a whole host of potential problems as well,” said Block. Distribution became an issue at times and there was a risk of piracy. But there was also the possibility of destabilizing local markets.

“Think about this huge ship coming into countries like India and Ethiopia with all this grain. There’s wheat farmers in those countries as well. And suddenly you are flooding the local market with all this cheap wheat,” said Block. Local growers would be impacted as prices were pushed down.

Roughly 10 years ago, CFGB made a transition and ceased shipping grain. Grain is still donated but now it is sold into the Canadian market. This also opened the door for individual and corporate monetary donations. All the proceeds are funneled into the Foodgrains Bank and member agencies determine how it is allocated.

In the past year, the CFGB provided over $43 million of assistance, which focused on over one million people in 40 countries, according to their annual report for 2015-2016.