When forecasts of the 2011 drought across the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert spread in 2010, Development and Peace stepped in along with other Caritas agencies with new funding for its partners in the region. The funding went into community based agriculture and soil conservation projects and forestalled famine in parts of Mali, Chad, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Just five years later and the Horn of Africa faces an even worse drought. But Development and Peace knows its best response overseas is helping local communities with sustainable agriculture in the face of an unreliable climate. It’s also the reason behind Development and Peace’s “Create a Climate of Change” fall campaign to push Canada into more robust commitments at December’s COP21 United Nations climate change conference in Paris.
“It’s also a stock-taking moment, to come back to the simple solutions, those alternatives, those ways of life that we thought needed progress at one time,” said Development and Peace’s Josianne Gauthier.
In 1967, when Canada’s bishops launched Development and Peace, the majority of its development work was with small farmers in Latin America — helping them form co-operatives, grow new crops and band together to get better prices for their produce. Nearly half a century on, food and farmers are becoming even more important to the Development and Peace agenda.
“There is a humbling call to come back to some of the basics of what development is all about,” said Gauthier. “We’re actually finding that if we give a voice to solutions that the poor have actually been promoting all along we might have the answer right there.”
Development and Peace’s partnership with Canadian Foodgrains Bank has helped fuel the movement back to the basics of helping the rural poor to sustainable livelihoods.
But Canada’s Catholic development agency can’t just fund the overseas agriculture projects when its partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America are telling them their climate has changed and their environment is degraded.
The Catholic agency’s obligation to its partners is to campaign in Ottawa and among ordinary Canadian Catholics for solutions to the climate crisis, Gauthier said.
On a per capita basis, Ethiopians produce 0.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases. Compare that to 14.67 tonnes per Canadian. Even if Ethiopians were to completely eliminate their carbon footprints, Canadians will still be pushing planet Earth to the climate brink.
The solution to Ethiopia’s problem with climate lies in Canada and other rich nations.
“We have to step out of our comfort zones and get together,” said Gauthier. “It’s going to take everybody to change this, not just the Catholics. But the Catholics have a moral responsibility to step up to the plate... Step up to the plate, get with the program and join everybody with this common concern.”