For Life, not just for Harvest

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” Luke 8.8 TNIV

When MRDF chose its work in Ethiopia for the focus of the Reclaim Harvest pack, it couldn’t have known the twist to the story would take – before churches here had even celebrated Harvest.

Just as MRDF launched its latest Harvest resource for churches in June of this year, news of a serious drought in Ethiopia hit the headlines.

‘We chose to feature Ethiopia for Harvest because the work we are involved in is agricultural and the partnership we have there typifies MRDF’s way of ‘doing development’. But we didn’t expect that reclaiming harvest would become quite so literal and immediate!’ says Amanda Norman, MRDF’s Supporter Relations Director.

In fact, MRDF’s way of ‘doing development’ was key to the response it was able to make to the unfolding emergency. As news of the drought situation filtered through, MRDF contacted its local partner to ask how the region was affected. Coincidentally, directors of the local agency were due to visit London. So it was in an office in Methodist Church House that Amare Kebede, Director of MRDF’s local partner SUNARMA, explained the gravity of what was happening, to Kirsty Smith, Director of MRDF.

In this mountainous region there are two harvest periods, one in May and another in November. There is a rainy period in February/March, but there was very little rain this Spring and therefore, few crops at the May harvest. Lack of food and spiralling prices forced families to live off the grain stock they would normally have kept for planting in July. Without seeds to plant there would be no harvest at all in November. Lack of grain and water had caused the deaths of thousands of livestock. Without immediate help, many human lives were now under threat.

But there was hope – because here was a local agency with the knowledge and the networks to take action – which is just the sort of result that MRDF hopes for when it starts working with a partner. MRDF isn’t just interested in seeing vegetables and grain grow, as important and thrilling as that is: MRDF also gets enormous satisfaction from seeing local agencies mature and bear fruit.

When this Ethiopian organisation first approached MRDF in 2003 it was tiny and had never had an international donor. It was rich in knowledge about conservation and agriculture; it just didn’t have the money to implement the solutions it could envisage.

The initial two-year partnership that MRDF agreed enabled work to begin on breaking the spiral of soil erosion, poverty and hunger this region was suffering. This first grant established an innovative tree-planting project that trained groups of young people to earn money and produce food while preserving the land. Training in managing natural resources sustainably and in working effectively as co-operative groups has meant degraded land can be reclaimed, new crops grown and traditional produce farmed more efficiently and profitably. The groups began to reclaim their harvests.

But local agencies get more than financial support from the MRDF Programme Officers. The experienced team helps overseas partners to build their capacity by providing practical resources and knowledge in governance, staff development and financial management.

Ongoing MRDF support and funding has enabled this organisation to grow from just two paid staff and a single office to 29 staff members working across three field offices. And it is this increased capacity that provided the seed of hope in the current drought crisis.

The infrastructure of staff and field offices that had been developed meant not only was information about the effects of the drought readily available, but the start of a solution was there as well. Sitting in Methodist Church House, Amare explained their idea. If MRDF could provide the money for grain to be purchased from unaffected neighbouring regions, the local partner would have the means to administer grain loans through the village self-help groups it supports: they were in a position to set up a seed bank.

Timing was critical though. There were only another three weeks of planting time before the next rains were due. If seed were not in the ground by then there would definitely be no harvest in November and the communities would be thrown into famine. MRDF moved fast, and within a matter of days sent £23,564 for the purchase of grain. Within 20 days around 1,600 households, representing more than 7,500 people, had received 37 tonnes of seed and planted around 700 hectares of crops. Had this MRDF partnership not developed, such speedy action would not have been possible and 4,000 more people would be facing starvation this Autumn. Their only hope would have been handouts of emergency food aid.

Instead, this emergency intervention has a lasting benefit. All those who have taken seed have done so on the agreement that as they harvest, an equivalent amount of seed will eventually be repaid. The resulting seed bank will provide a co-operative system for the efficient storage and distribution of grain, providing the community with the resilience to withstand environmental shocks in the future.

This is how MRDF ‘does development’. By working with small organisations where the need is great, and very often in areas where other donor agencies are not operating, it enables individuals, communities and organisations to work towards self-sufficiency and long-term development.

It’s a tragic reality that the drought in Ethiopia is far from unique or even the most acute situation; it just happened to be the one that got into the headlines for a few days. Every week MRDF hears from all around the world of crisis situations relating to food and crops. Global economic policy, climate change and fuel prices are inflicting a complex and dangerous web of factors on the world’s poorest communities.

‘It is important that in being moved by news stories of emergencies we don’t lose sight of long-term development’, Sam Tuck, MRDF’s Programme Officer for East Africa, explains: ‘It is the ongoing partnerships that enable communities right on the margins of survival to stand up to the challenges and the future with self-sufficiency and hope.’

MRDF, with the generous support of Methodist churches throughout the country, responds strategically and sustainably to ever-changing needs. Its work is about enabling communities to be strong for life, not just Harvest.

This Autumn, you can help people around the world to reclaim their harvest and future with MRDF’s new all-age worship and resource pack, Reclaim Harvest. It will tell you more about MRDF’s work in Ethiopia and help you to support it in transforming more lives around the world this year. To order a copy call 020 7467 5132 or visit mrdf.org.uk

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