A Silent Tsunami – Peace Corps Volunteers Tackle the Issue of Food Security Around the World

(music) There can be no enduring progress on peace and security or human rights if we do not also make head-way on economic and social development. What happens in one country can have dramatic effects in many others. Global problems demand global solutions and global action. In the last two years, world food prices have doubled, leading to a major food security crisis in over thirty countries. There are several other factors that are currently impacting world food security. Fuel and transportation costs are on the rise. Two years of poor harvests in traditional export countries have led to low grain stocks while there’s an increase in demand. Export controls and reduced agricultural research impact distribution and production. All of these factors and more, lead to rising food prices, and the world as a whole is feeling the impact. Since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961, Volunteers have addressed the adverse impact of food shortages in the countries where they have served. Volunteers are seeing the multiple faces of the food crisis up close because they work with those in need. In collaboration with other U.S. Agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations, Peace Corps Volunteers work at the grassroots level to improve education, agricultural development, income generation, nutrition and sustainability for countries suffering the most. I cannot tell you how many countries want Peace Corps programs. Through your work, you’re strengthening communities. You’re improving lives and you’re building bridges between nations. Agriculture is the primary economic activity of most of the world’s people, and yet many countries cannot produce adequate supplies of healthy food. Peace Corps agriculture projects focus on implementing sustainable practices, promoting the diversification of crops, and production of more nutritious foods. As food prices increase, purchases are often limited to staple foods, while nutrient rich vegetables are often the first to disappear from the family table. This can have a detrimental impact on health, especially for young children. Home and community gardens enable the most vulnerable households to produce large quantities of vegetables. In El Salvador, Scott Wilhelm helped his village plant fruit trees after a volcanic eruption devastated its crops. Scott’s hometown in the suburbs of Chicago raised money through the Peace Corps Partnership program. I feel like I’ve opened the eyes of some of my friends and family back home to life in a small Salvadoran community. And one of the most profound ways is that they sort of realized that fruit trees are very important in these people’s lives. Agroforestry Volunteers educate farmers about sustainable soil conservation and integrated pest management practices to improve soil fertility. With organic farming projects, farmers have been able to save money that would otherwise be spent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Business Volunteers work with farmers to expand crop production and improve marketing. In Mongolia, Vita Trujillo helped small business owners start a seed growing project. I work with an American Business Development NGO. We were able to get some seeds from the seed program in the United States. For a lot of Mongolian farmers, things like broccoli, cauliflower, corn and spinach – they’ve never seen it before. So, for them to trust and be able to try it, and say, “OK, we’ll try this, we’ll grow it, and we’ll even try eating it, and also sell it for extra income” was just really great to watch that change. In Ecuador, Sergio Arispe used his agriculture background to help his community start guinea pig breeding businesses. He also worked on harvesting wool from alpacas and llamas. In Zambia and Benin, Volunteers help their communities cultivate fish ponds. These community cooperatives put food on the table, as well as provide extra income. While it is necessary to expand food production and agribusiness, it is also important to encourage healthy and nutritious diets. In Mali, West Africa, Meldy Hernandez worked with her counterpart to coordinate a women’s nutrition and maternal health education program at a local clinic. I have a background as a maternal/child nurse in the States where I practiced for five years before I came into the Peace Corps. And so I’m able to use some of those skills here. This is Fanta Kelly. She’s my homologue. We work together in teaching women health basically – how to keep themselves healthy, how to keep their children healthy. I’m training her to a point where she’s able to do these animations by the time I leave so my work will be sustainable. (Talks in Bomburra) She just said when I leave, she will teach the women. In recent years due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, health Volunteers have worked to improve access to nutritious foods. In Uganda, Paul Babcock started an organic farming program. After a certain point if you’re HIV positive, you can’t even lift the hoe to go out into the field and dig. Their labor is what brings in their income which then helps feed everything else. So, eating a balanced diet helps fight against infections which lead to a lot of death of HIV. Millions of people affected by the food crisis are laborers in rural communities and urban centers who don’t produce their own food. They depend on wages and other income sources to have access to food for their households. Volunteers help them start income generation projects to provide money for food. In Panama and Togo, Volunteers provided sewing machines that have allowed families to save their limited income by making their own clothing. In Ecuador, a Volunteer helped his community manufacture buttons from vegetable ivory. In Morocco, a Volunteer helped local artisans market their wood carvings to tourists. Peace Corps Volunteers also focus on improving the use of natural resources. Increasing the number of trees and bushes in the fields, reducing erosion, improving field water management, and providing access to clean drinking water are a few ways Volunteers are making a difference. Peace Corps also deploys returned Volunteers who serve again for short-term assignments world-wide. These Peace Corps Response Volunteers play an active role in addressing food security issues. Following devastating floods and mudslides in El Salvador, Peace Corps Response Volunteers have worked to improve erosion protection. In Guatemala, Volunteers introduced women to permaculture and ways to produce income through the sale of seeds and vegetables at local markets. I think Peace Corps Volunteers are uniquely qualified to explain to their friends and neighbors that the solution to the world food crisis is to get serious about investing in world communities all around the world. These communities can in fact lift their countries out of the food crisis. As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th Anniversary, it will continue to provide host countries with motivated Volunteers who are equipped with the skills needed to lessen the adverse effects of the current food security crisis.

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