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Women the heart and soul of agriculture

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — When an audience is told to keep its cellphones on, and to use them to tweet, Instagram and otherwise instantly share the upcoming proceedings with the world, you know that’s a young audience and a vitally important topic.

The event was the Manitoba Catholic Schools Social Justice Workshop Feb. 17 at the Archdiocese of St. Boniface Pastoral Centre and the discussion was about world hunger and what young people can do about it.

Students from Grade 6 to 12 heard there are eight hundred million people who suffer hunger every day, yet “there is enough food on the planet for everyone,” said Brenda Chaput-Saltel, Youth Programs Officer for Development and Peace. “Pope Francis is calling on us to help eliminate hunger by 2025 because having food and water is a God-given right,” Chaput-Saltel said. “It is one of the crises we can change.”

Chaput-Saltel told students about the THINKfast activities for young people that can be held at schools, churches, in homes or anywhere a group can gather. THINKfast is a 25-hour fast that teaches lessons about hunger, equality, democracy, management of natural resources, ecological justice, humanitarian aid, and raises money for the work of Development and Peace. Information and resources to hold a THINKfast are on the Development and Peace website.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is the official international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada. Development and Peace is a membership led organization supported by parish collections, individual donations and government grants, principally from the Canadian International Development Agency. Development and Peace was established in 1967 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Populorum Progressio, which teaches that development is the new word for peace.

According to Development and Peace, in the African country of Burundi, 90 per cent of citizens make their living from agriculture. On average, each family farm has one acre of land, often not enough to feed a family and there is rarely a surplus to sell at market. Burundi’s farmers deal not only with the usual uncertainty caused by pests, fluctuating prices and poor weather, but they are still recovering from a civil war between 1993 and 2005. Farmland, livestock and farming knowledge were lost. Forests were cut down for charcoal and to build new shelters. This, in turn, caused erosion on Burundi’s hills. Development and Peace partners help small family farmers improve their agricultural practices and work together to challenge policies that make small family farming even more difficult.

Women farmers face even greater challenges. In Burundi, they are unable to inherit land, so women farmers must often rent land and take on debt to grow food.

Janelle Delorme, Animator for Development and Peace Manitoba, played a video for the students with Dr. Vandana Shiva, a feminist seed advocate and scientist, who in November 2014 was co-sponsored by Development and Peace to attend Food Secure Canada’s national assembly in Halifax.

Shiva said women produce 80 per cent of the food in Africa but own only one per cent of the land. “Women are the heart and soul of agriculture,” she said. “Women were the first domesticators of food and women must be the new leadership.”

Delorme told the students seeds for growing food “are like the foundation of life but whoever controls the seeds controls farming and the food system and only six companies control 60 per cent of the world’s grain and seed market.”

Students heard about two other ways they can help and learn more: the Development and Peace Mustard Seed Campaign that raises funds for the Kamenge Youth Centre in Burundi and Youth in Action for Change in Haiti; and the On Earth as it is in Heaven! retreat package for secondary school students.

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