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Jim Cornelius visits Sarnia's Christian Reformed Church

As reported in Sarnia & Lambton County This Week, December 4, 2018, by Carl Hnatyshyn

Carl Hnatyshyn/Postmedia Network Canadian Foodgrains Bank executive director Jim Cornelius spoke at Sarnia's First Christian Reformed Church on Monday about the organization's work around the world over the past 35 years.

In his over 20 years as executive director of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Jim Cornelius has seen drought, famine, conflict and despair in locales from South Sudan to Syria, from Nicaragua to Niger.

But Cornelius has also seen hope. He’s seen progress, change and success stories among peoples once burdened by poverty, threatened by war, and by malnutrition and hunger.

He has also seen highly depleted and eroded soil turned into rich farmland because of local irrigation schemes.

Most importantly, Cornelius has seen extreme poverty halved since 1990.

He’s also witnessed the generosity of Canadian farmers who, through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, have donated over $1 billion to help end global hunger during the CFB’s 35-year existence.

Cornelius – along with regional representative Dave Epp – spoke about the remarkable success and impact of the CFB, along with the challenges it faces, during a presentation at Sarnia’s First Christian Reformed Church on Monday.

“Our work is not yet done, but significant progress has been made over time,” Cornelius said. “Progress has been made over the globe over the last two, three and four decades … but there are still huge challenges in spite of the progress that’s been made.”

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank has its origins in 1976 when Mennonite farmers from Manitoba pooled their resources and sent grain to famine-struck countries – such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh. It was an era when large-scale famines were taking place with morbid regularity.

In 1983, the project was reorganized to include other church agencies and was eventually re-named the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Today, 15 church agencies representing 30 denominations are part of the CFB’s membership.

While some of the group’s methods have changed – it no longer ships Canadian grain to other countries; instead, Canadian farmers grow grain and sell it domestically, sending the funds to partner organizations overseas, who buy seeds and help local farmers produce food – the mission of the organization has remained the same: to provide food assistance to those in need, to provide training to farmers overseas, and to lobby governments for increased agricultural aid with the aim of wiping out world hunger.

“Initially it was about taking Canadian grain overseas,” Cornelius said. “That’s what it started out as. The good news is that we still have this agricultural, farmer base in Canada. That hasn’t gone away. The way we do our work now is that we no longer ship our grain – we use the proceeds for doing the program.”

“We’re still agriculturally-based, but we have a program that allows a lot of other people to be included,” he continued. “So we get a lot of urban people partnering with rural communities to raise resources. But the farmer hasn’t disappeared – the farmer is still at the heart of the program. And that to me is what’s very heartwarming – we still have a strong, rural base of support and a rural identity. And in a society where those connections become frayed, the rural-urban divide, we become a bridge of sorts.”

For Epp, a Leamington-area tomato farmer, the statistics speak for themselves. In the 2017-2018 budget year, the CFB provided over $37 million of assistance for 800,000 people in 34 countries.

The CFB is a pan-Canadian phenomenon, he said, with over 200 community growing projects taking place across Canada – including 106 in Ontario and four in Lambton County, as well as four in nearby Chatham-Kent.

It is a movement that has stayed true to its roots, Epp said, using the most effective methods to deliver aid to those most in need.

“I always say we’re a grassroots organization,” he said. “We deliver our aid through partners overseas. So we as a Foodgrains Bank work through our 15 owner-members and they have their local partners over there, so that’s how these programs are delivered. It’s very effective.”

“Initially, it started out with farmers giving grain itself, and now its growing grain locally, converting it into cash and then having it matched with the Canadian government to support farmers all over the world,” Epp added.

While progress towards ending global hunger has been steady, it hasn’t been without setbacks, Cornelius said. After years of decline in the number of people going hungry, since 2014 that number has increased, in large part due to a greater number of conflicts taking place around the world and significant changes in weather patterns.

“We’re very, very concerned by the recent uptick,” Cornelius said. “Underneath a lot of these conflicts and crisis are factors … that have to do with environment, food and drought.”

But regardless of where famine breaks out, the CFB has established itself as an effective vehicle for rural and urban Canadians to provide help, Cornelius added.

“We will continue to respond to food crises, as we did at the very beginning. In addition, we’re working on long-term issues such as soil health, improving agricultural productivity and livelihoods, because most people in the developing world who are hungry still live in rural areas and depend on agriculture in various ways,” he said.

Wherever he travels to monitor ongoing CFB projects, Cornelius said he is always greeted with a warm smile. Farmers in foreign countries, often subsisting without insurance or government aid, truly appreciate the safety net the Canadian Foodgrains Bank provides.

“I was recently speaking with a refugee in Lebanon and at one point he was thanking us and he said ‘you have wide hands’. And I wondered what that meant,” he said. “What he meant was, you don’t have closed hands, trying to keep everything for yourself, you open your hands to others. And not just open them a little bit, but open them wide for others. And I think that characterizes the nature of the supporters of the Foodgrains Bank – they’re generous and have wide hands.”

For more information about the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, the organization’s growing projects as well as their recent initiative to end global poverty entitled ‘I care’, visit

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