By Ian MacNeill
Despite Canada’s vast wealth, each month close to 900,000 Canadians seek assistance from food banks across the country. While the need is staggering, behind the scenes, Canadian agri-food organizations are standing tall when it comes to helping address hunger issues in Canada.
According to Food Banks Canada executive director Katharine Schmidt, last year alone Canadian corporations – many from the agri-food sector – donated 20 million pounds of food valued at an estimated $45-million. She points to a long standing relationship between Food Banks Canada and New Brunswick-based McCain Foods among the sterling examples.
“In the past six years, McCain has donated eight million pounds of food and provided $400,000 in financial support,” she says. “We could not do what we do across the country, both at the national and local level, without support like this.”
Joanne deVisser, senior manager, digital strategy for McCain, says contributing to the cause of alleviating hunger just makes sense to a company like McCain. “We’re a food company so we understand the importance of it to Canadian families,” she commented, adding that the company plans to do still more in the years ahead.
“In 2009 we formalized our relationship with Food Banks Canada to help raise awareness of hunger and we’re planning to take the relationship to a whole new level with our Share Something Good campaign,” she says, explaining that in addition to donating a million dollars’ worth of food and financial support over the next year alone, the campaign will challenge all Canadians to help feed families in need.
Other corporate and agri-business donors have also been generous, acknowledges Schmidt. For example, Unilever, Nestle Canada and Campbell Company of Canada are among many major contributors while PepsiCo Foods Canada, Kraft Canada, and Ferrero Canada add to their support through executives who serve as volunteer board members.
On the agricultural side, organizations including the Turkey Farmers of Canada, Chicken Farmers of Canada, and the Egg Farmers of Canada also make a big difference.
“We know that one in seven children in Canada goes to school hungry,” says Lyne Robichaud, public affairs officer for Egg Farmers of Canada. “This is a very troubling statistic for our farmers, who see it as a part of their duty to provide wholesome food to Canadian tables.”
To address the problem, Egg Farmers has entered a three-year partnership with Breakfast Club Canada, which serves up as many as 21 million breakfasts in schools across the country annually. The contribution will include $200,000 in financial support as well as a significant number of fresh eggs.
“This partnership is rooted in our promise to promote healthy living in Canadian communities. Every child deserves a complete breakfast before school,” says Ms. Robichaud.
deVisser adds, “When everyone helps the food banks we all benefit.”
In Bangladesh, a food security initiative takes root
As part of its Good Growth Plan, Syngenta has dispatched 15 members of the company’s international staff to Bangladesh, where they are working to improve the livelihoods of rice and potato farmers.
While nearly 60 per cent of Bangladesh land is used for farming, agricultural capacity is low. Estimates show that 25 million people in Bangladesh lack access to safe drinking water and about 40 per cent of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished.
The Syngenta initiative is focused on helping farmers who cultivate potatoes and rice crops on less than a hectare of land to sustainably improve their economic and food security.
Working with independent development organization Voluntary Service Overseas, as well as local community leaders in nine communities in northwestern Bangladesh, Syngenta employees set out on a 30-day mission this fall to lay the groundwork for a long- term strategy.
Reporting from Bangladesh shortly after his arrival, Syngenta Canada staffer Nathan Klages said,“There’s going to be a lot packed into this first phase of the project, but hopefully by the time we leave, we can be confident that we have the full support of the farmers and communities to carry this work forward.”