Every year, SCIAF’ Lent campaign reminds us of the gospel call to build a more just world by sharing what we have with people in developing countries who are struggling to survive. SCIAF’s communications manager outlines this year’s campaign message which reminds us of the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest countries.
‘Hope’ is a key theme of SCIAF’s WEE BOX, BIG CHANGE Lent appeal this year. Thanks to those who support SCIAF, extremely poor families in many developing countries have hope – that they’ll be able to grow enough to eat, earn a little money, send their children to school, and live in dignity.
Droughts, flash floods and climate change are making it harder for families in many countries to grow food and support themselves. Traditional rains have become unpredictable and often don’t come so people don’t know whether their crops will survive, let alone flourish. Many modern farming methods, such as the use of chemical fertilisers, are hurting the environment by stripping the soil of vital nutrients needed to grow good harvests.
Families in countries such as Zambia are struggling to grow the food they need to support themselves. Many are reliant on casual work or emergency aid for several months of the year. The WEE BOX BIG CHANGE Lent appeal tells the story of how SCIAF is helping poor Zambian families to overcome the environmental challenges they face and improve their soil so they can have better harvests, earn an income, support themselves and have real hope for the future.
Despite improvements in recent years, Zambia remains one of the poorest countries in the world with 74% of people living below the poverty line on 85p a day or less. With a population of 15 million, just under five million people still have no access to clean, safe water. And nearly three-quarters (72%) of people are completely dependent on farming for food.
David Munyindeyi, a poor Zambian farmer in Mongu, is pictured with his family on this year’s WEE BOX. SCIAF is supporting a project which helps David, his family, and many others to work with nature to grow more food through sustainable organic farming. This means learning how to make organic compost which returns vital nutrients to the soil, helps produce bigger harvests, allows farmers to grow a variety of crops which can survive if the rains don’t come, and avoids using expensive chemical fertilisers.
‘Before we lacked farming knowledge,’ David told us, ‘we grew very little and we didn’t have enough food to eat. We grew enough to last for four months and the rest of the time I would work in other people’s farms for food. When we could, we’d have two meals a day but sometimes we had nothing. It made me sad that my children were malnourished and we didn’t have anything to sell.
‘I got seeds, training and tools. I learned how to get the land ready for planting, how to space out my crops and how to improve the quality of the soil by making compost and using manure. Now I grow maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, ground nuts and vegetables. My harvest lasts for at least seven months and I sell vegetables to my neighbours.
‘There has been a lot of change. We don’t have to struggle as much. I feel happy to be able to provide for my family. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones to have been involved in this project. It’s changed our lives. Without it, I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have today. I’ll continue to use the skills I’ve learned.’
I’ve just returned from Zambia where I met many farmers like David whose lives have been transformed by changing the way they farm. Many used to struggle to survive but now find they have what they need to support themselves, all year round.
Warren Simutili lives with his wife and their four children in Kasangula, on the outskirts of Livingstone. He told me: ‘I’ve seen a difference since I started the project. I have gained a lot of knowledge so we don’t have the problems we had before. The cost of the chemical fertiliser was high which was a big problem for us. But, because of the consistent use of manure from my animals, even with less rainfall, we’re now able to have better harvests.
‘Before, from one hectare I’d only get between 10 and 20 50kg bags of maize. Now, in the same hectare, if I prepare the ground well, I can get 55 to 65 bags. The thing that has really made a difference is improving the soil fertility.
‘Now I can send my children to school from the income I get from growing more food. We now eat whenever we want. Hunger is no longer a problem. Now we can eat nshima, eggs, chicken, fish and vegetables. Thank you very much for the help that you have given.’
Support for the WEE BOX BIG CHANGE appeal during Lent makes a huge difference to people in need in Zambia and other poor countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Last year alone, with the UK government matching people’s donations, the Lent appeal raised £3.4million. This money helps many thousands of families to grow more food, start up small businesses, get an education and learn new skills so they can support themselves. It also helps promote peace where there’s conflict and provides emergency aid like water, medicine and shelter when disasters strike.
As well as putting money in your WEE BOX and sending it to SCIAF at Easter, it’s important to reflect on what we can do to reduce the sometimes negative impact Scotland is having on poorer countries around the world.
Our use of fossil fuels is driving climate change, which is pushing poor families further into poverty and hunger. Time after time I have spoken to people in countries such as Zambia and Malawi who have told me that the weather they depend on to grow food has become much more erratic and severe. Many had also been hit by floods which destroyed their homes and crops.
The Catholic Church has taken a leading role in highlighting the issue of climate change since the 1990s, when Pope John Paul II warned us of global ecological crises brought about by deforestation and our use of fossil fuels. Pope Francis has urged us to replace fossil fuels ‘without delay’. He also states that sustainable energy should be available to everyone and that richer countries must help poorer countries to develop cleaner sources of energy.
The Scottish Government recently published a new Climate Change Plan and Energy Strategy laying out policies to meet its targets to reduce greenhouse emissions and secure our future energy needs. However, oil and gas still supply the majority of the energy we use in Scotland today.
In a new report, Powering Our Common Home, SCIAF is asking the Scottish Government to phase out fossil fuels in Scotland and dramatically increase our use of clean energy such as solar, tidal and wind power. The report urges the Government to take stock of the damage caused by fossil fuels and invest considerably more in clean energy.
It’s vital that we work with poor and vulnerable communities today, so they have the tools, skills and knowledge they need to support themselves. But it’s also vital that we come together in solidarity with the poor to tackle major global issues like climate change, so that we can have hope of a better future for all.
To find out more about SCIAF’s WEE BOX BIG CHANGE Lent appeal and the new report, visit www.sciaf.org.uk.
Val Morgan is the Communications Manager for the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).