As investors around the world rush to claim farmland in the wartorn, politically unstable country of Sudan, a Minnedosa man is working on a project that helps the Sudanese people farm it themselves.
In the process, Ray Baloun is connecting people across Canada who share an interest in farming.
Baloun, who works as a grain buyer for Viterra, co-ordinates the Kernels of Hope growing project through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The project provides people in Awiel, South Sudan with tools and equipment and seed for farming and fishing.
The African country is no stranger to conflict. Civil war killed an estimated 1.5 million people in the south before it ended in 2005.
In Darfur, in the western region of the country, more than 200,000 people have died and two million people have been displaced since fighting began in 2003.
Against this backdrop of suffering lies rich, fertile land, which has attracted the attention of many international investors anxious to grab hold of this lucrative opportunity. The problem with foreign investments is that the money and the food do not stay in the country, even though hunger is a constant threat.
When Baloun’s project started six years ago, its focus was to provide seed, tools and food for the people of Suakoko, Liberia, who were chased from their homes and had returned to find nothing left but the land they lived on.
After three years, Kernels of Hope left Liberia and sent its efforts to Sudan. Baloun said their goal in Sudan is to “help new mothers and babies to get the proper nutrition.”
Kernels of Hope is part of a network of approximately 200 CFGB growing projects across Canada.
Growing projects are joint farming efforts by farmers and local businesses. “The land may be rented or donated for the year. Then they will approach different businesses in the area to donate as much of the products required to plant, nurture and harvest that crop,” Baloun said. “One company may provide the seed, another may provide the fertilizer, another may provide weed control chemical, and someone may provide the trucking away to the market of the grain.”
Cash donations and volunteer labour are also welcomed.
Baloun’s project took on a virtual twist after he decided to start an online blog: www.ker nelsofhope.blogspot.com.
The blog monitors the progress and provides continual updates about the Kernels of Hope crop. He hoped it would give city people and rural people who don’t farm a connection to the project and a way for them to help through monetary donations.
“This makes people who donate virtual farmers. They don’t get involved in the planning or the work, but their money goes to work and produces a crop. I keep them up to date on the blog and periodic emails throughout the year,” said Baloun. He estimates there are approximately 250 virtual farmers, many are groups like schools, Sunday schools, or camp projects.
Baloun’s project now has crops in three provinces. When combined with the four-to-one matching contributions from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), it has raised more than $1 million over the past six years.
Kernels of Hope works closely with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide food and development assistance to people in need on behalf of their 15 Canadian church partners. Together with its various partners the CFGB provides more than one million tonnes of food to people in need worldwide.
“The CFGB views these projects as not only being effective fundraisers, but also an effective way to engage Canadians in discussing the issues of hunger in our world, and being part of working for justice for the poor,” said Harold Penner, regional co-ordinator of CFGB.
Baloun’s project “is very important in finding a new approach in how to do a growing project. Traditionally many of the growing projects have been done mostly by farmers, but this project is unique in that it uses the Internet and email to engage many people no matter where they live, urban and rural, and people in all walks of life.”
In March 2007 Baloun, travelled to Africa to visit CFGB projects along with 13 other Canadians. Baloun describes the trip as life changing. “If you cared before, that care and concern will be multiplied enormously.”
The group was part of CFGB’s annual Food Study Tour, which allows members to see first hand the work that is being done overseas. They visited growing projects in Zimbabwe and Malawi. They spent time as well in South Africa and Swaziland.
“It was absolutely fascinating to experience,” he said. “One of the members of our group looked at me one morning and said, “your eyes have changed.” People don’t come back from those trips the same,” said Baloun.
”Thismakespeople whodonatevirtual farmers.Theydon’t getinvolvedinthe planningorthework, buttheirmoney goestoworkand producesacrop.”
– RAY BALOUN
– RAY BALOUN