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Kirk Harris of MCC's U.N. Office speaks at a student seminar on global food issues. From left, Mary Stata, Reuban Schamehorn and Zemedkun Baykeda eat at a table as part of an activity illustrating global food inequities Doug Hostetter

Kirk Harris of MCC's U.N. Office speaks at a student seminar on global food issues. From left, Mary Stata, Reuban Schamehorn and Zemedkun Baykeda eat at a table as part of an activity illustrating global food inequities Doug Hostetter

Global food crisis gets personal for Mennonite students

Kirk Harris
November 20, 2008

NEW YORK – Forty-one students from Mennonite colleges, universities and congregations in Canada and the United States participated in a seminar on food issues Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in New York, organized by the United Nations Office of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

The seminar, titled “From Farm to Table: Meeting the Challenge of the Global Food Crisis,” brought together experts from the U.N., diplomatic missions, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions along with staff from MCC and its partner organizations. Discussions focused on a crisis that the U.N. World Food Program has termed a "silent tsunami" – the dramatic, worldwide increase in food prices that has driven millions of poor people to hunger over the last year.

On the first day of the seminar, students faced the stark realities of the crisis when they were arbitrarily divided into groups representing the world’s income brackets. A small group representing the wealthiest people was given an elegant meal and dessert. A large group representing the burgeoning “middle class” got by with a satisfactory meal of rice and vegetables. An equally large number of students, representing the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day, was served only rice, which they ate with their hands while sitting on the floor.

Food security experts shared about the causes of the current food crisis, food security in relief and development, the economics of food and the concept of food as a human right. MCC food security consultant Zemedkun Baykeda shared his experiences and lessons learned from decades of work in emergency relief and agricultural development in Ethiopia. Baykeda drew the contrast between relief efforts, which provide short-term food aid to hungry people; rehabilitation, which helps communities recover from a famine or food crisis; and development, which prevents food crises by creating long-term solutions to hunger.

Students expressed their appreciation for the seminar. Kate Walker, a student at Goshen (Ind.) College, said, “I had always thought of the food security crisis as far-off and impossible to solve. But this seminar showed me its many triggers and the United Nations’ role in the solution. I hope I can share the information I received with other people in as meaningful a way as MCC did for me.”
The U.N. Office seeks to advocate for people with whom MCC works around the world and for issues of concern to MCC's supporters. The office organizes a seminar for undergraduate and graduate students each fall.
MCC is responding to the global food crisis by helping to provide food to nearly 100,000 people in southern Ethiopia who are at risk of hunger because of crop failures and high food prices. MCC is seeking to raise $1.5 million for this effort and other responses to the global food crisis. Contributions should be designated "Food for All" and may be made online at mcc.org/donate or to any MCC office.

Kirk Harris is program associate for MCC’s U.N. Office.