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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Foundation Seeks to Use Sustainable Agriculture to Empower Women in the Developing World

November 8, 2011 |

For the Global Hunger Foundation, combatting hunger in developing countries requires more than just sending emergency food their way. The foundation takes a much more long-lasting approach—it aims to empower women in poverty-stricken countries by helping them learn how to grow their own organic food.

Why the focus on women, one might ask.

H. Eric Schockman, president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit and a university professor, said that’s because about 70 percent of small farming entities in the world are run by women. Studies also show that women are more likely than men to pour resources they are given back into their communities, he said.

“(We’re) teaching them skills of entrepreneurship, giving them tools of farming and agrarian commodities that make sense, whether that’s a green mill or a water pump to irrigate their land,” said Schockman. “And then ultimately, (we) connect them to the bigger global market where they can make funds to set aside and become more successful and break out of poverty and dependency.”

The foundation does not directly work with the women abroad. It raises funds and awards grants to nonprofit groups that teach sustainable agriculture practices to women in developing countries. One requirement for funding is that the groups cannot use seeds that are genetically modified, Schockman said.

The foundation, which was founded in July 2010, raised about $100,000 in its first year and has already provided about $20,000 in grants to two nonprofit organizations that are conducting sustainable farming projects in Niger and Nepal, Schockman said. He noted that the foundation is currently developing a strategic plan and determining how to distribute its money going forward.

Women Helping Women

The Global Hunger Foundation is based on a women-to-women outreach model. The way it works is as follows: the foundation consists of women’s councils that plan sustainable growing education projects in their own communities, organize fundraisers for international education efforts and help select foundation grantees, Schockman said.

There are already women’s councils up and running in Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif., with additional groups sprouting up in San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.

The Los Angeles council is in the midst of planning a community garden project in South Los Angeles, said Flori Schutzer, the foundation’s director of operations and development. The council is still solidifying a partnership with a women-led grassroots group in the area, she said. The plan is to set up area on a school property or private property where women can learn how to grow organic food in portable containers.

“South Los Angeles is one of the areas where there are many places where you have limited access to groceries, and to fresh produce in particular,” Schutzer said. “What we’re trying to create is not only the garden itself, but the knowledge among women that if there’s a little corner balcony in the apartment area they live in or a little area tucked under a stairway where they can put a recycled, plastic container with some holes punched in the bottom and some good soil, they can grow some produce.”

The garden project will likely launch next spring, Shutzer said.

Inspired by a Memory

Schockman said he started the foundation after leaving his 10-year post as president of another Los Angeles-based nonprofit that focused on addressing hunger domestically. He decided to branch out on his own, tackling hunger on a global scale.

(Schockman currently teaches for California State University, Northridge’s Master of Public Administration program. He also taught political science and international relations at the University of Southern California for 17 years.)

One thing that inspired him, he said, was a memory that stretched back 40 years when he was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone in Africa. He was doing community agricultural development work and watching the locals’ “very archaic techniques of scratching the earth for nourishment,” he said.

“The impetus was the memory of watching a child die in my arms from starvation and remembering how anguished that death was,” Schockman said. “No death was glorious, but this particular death shocked me that as a compassionate world, we let children die of starvation.”

From there, Schockman said he decided to take his Peace Corps experience and pair it with a scientific agricultural and ecological balance. He shared his idea with colleagues, got support and went through the process of getting legal foundation status.

One colleague who jumped on board was Linda Daly, who was working as a “green editor” at Los Angeles magazine at the time. Daly also volunteers as a Los Angeles County Master Gardener and is a community activist who works with foster care children.

“(The foundation) really comes at a great time,” said Daly, a board member for the foundation. “There seems to be a focus on doing things more organically and more sustainably, and hunger’s obviously an ongoing issue. … It’s been really wonderful finding other women who feel as passionate as we do about this kind of thing.”

Other Outreach

The Global Hunger Foundation also uses other methods for dealing with the issues of hunger and gender disparity. One of the ways it raises money, while simultaneously providing relief to developing countries, is through its “Means-to-the-End” packing events.

For these events, people sponsor meals that will be sent abroad. People of all different ages and religious backgrounds come together and pack the food themselves. A food packing event held by the foundation in April in Washington, D.C. resulted in the packing of more than 75,000 meals and the raising of funds, according to the group’s Web site. Organization is currently planning similar events in other cities, Schutzer said.

However, Schockman said the foundation is upfront with its volunteers that providing emergency food relief is not a long-term solution, and that the focus needs to be teaching others how to grow food sustainably and in an environmentally-sensitive way.

The foundation is also creating classroom material.

“We’re starting to develop a curriculum to teach girls how to be better leaders,” Schockman said. “We know that as much as you can change the current system, in the end there’s got to be gender parity in global economics and global governments. … We’re really doing it in a culturally sensitive way to bring them to understand that notion that women are a powerful force, that they really do work in making this planet a better place.”

Schockman said that while the foundation’s initial focus will probably be in Africa, he hopes to expand to Latin America—Central America will probably be its next on its list—and any other countries where opportunities present themselves. He said he also hopes to expand the women’s councils internationally.

“We have some interest in Germany, where there’s some great understanding of international development,” Schockman said. “I think as we grow into our strategic plan, years three and four and five, we’re really going to look at Canada and some of the English speaking countries like Australia and New Zealand and the (European countries).”

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