Fighting hunger from afar

Mid-Missourians’ farming efforts help Kenyans
Sunday, November 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:35 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Rev. Zacchaeus Masake’s return to Kenya will mark one more step in winning the fight against food insecurity in his country, and Boone County residents can take some of the credit.

Masake and community members from Columbia, Centralia and Hartsburg are integral links in a chain of aid organized by the Foods Resource Bank.

The bank draws together churches and communities in the United States to grow crops such as soybeans or corn. The profits from the sale of these crops are then sent directly overseas to agencies in countries such as Kenya that are experiencing food shortages. Along the way, the U.S. Agency for International Development matches the money raised in the states, said Fran Schnarre, who works with the resources bank in Missouri, Eastern Kansas and Southern Illinois.

Two farm projects in Boone County — 70 acres in Centralia and 20 acres in Hartsburg — could raise as much as $35,000 for the Foods Resource Bank, according to local organizers. In Western Kenya, where Masake is from, the money is distributed through the Anglican Church to buy hoes, fertilizer and seeds.

“We estimate we’ll make $12,000 to $18,000 this year,” said Brian Schnarre, spouse of Fran Schnarre and a farmer in the Centralia area. Brian Schnarre was one of more than 50 Centralians who gathered for a dinner Thursday night to celebrate the harvest of the Centralia crop.

At the dinner, Masake explained the challenges his country faces in providing food to the 3.3 million people in Western Kenya. Many of them eat less than one meal a day for eight months of the year and 68 percent live below the poverty line, Masake said.

The people in the region have relied heavily upon cassava, a root which can provide food for up to nine years when harvested correctly, Masake said. But in recent years a devastating disease has attacked the plant, wiping out the staple food crop of the region.

In addition, the closure of area textile mills and a successful campaign to stop smoking have reduced the market for the main cash crops of the region, cotton and tobacco, to nearly nothing, Masake said.

The people of the region have also been powerless to stop the death of their livestock from a disease carried by the tsetse fly, which is prevalent in the marshy western region of the country. The death of the livestock has prevented farmers from easily turning the hard-packed earth, which is extremely difficult to break with a hoe, Masake said.

The factor that has complicated the area’s hunger crisis the most is AIDS. An influx of refugees to the western area of Kenya from Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania has exacerbated the AIDS problem.

As of this fall, the disease has eliminated 64 percent of the work force, said Masake. Many of these were the people who held the knowledge of how to grow food, he said.

“Its hard for American people, who have always had plenty, to understand what’s happening over there,” said Wayne Crowly, who donated the use of his land to the project.

The resource bank has helped to reduce the crisis, Masake said. In the last year, he said, 600 people in his area benefited from the program.

Orion Beckmeyer, who helped coordinate the project in Hartsburg this summer, became interested in the project when he learned his college friend was the national director of the program, but his personal motivation comes from a knowledge of the food crisis in many parts of Africa.

“It’s the knowledge that one child dies every seven seconds there, “ he said.

Beckmeyer said the challenge of the program is to involve a lot of people. The Hartsburg project is a joint effort of the Peace United Christian Church in Columbia and the St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Hartsburg.

The Centralia project is a collaborative effort of 15 denominations, Fran Schnarre said.

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