The 2015 ECHO Annual Conference

Full title “ECHO International Agriculture Conference 2015”. Last week (Nov. 17th to 19th) was the 22nd annual conference. Over 200 delegates listened to plenary speakers, attended workshops and got to know each other. Many have been to a number of conferences and so it feels a bit like a family reunion!

It is the only time during the year that we here in Florida are able to be in the same room with so many people in our global network. I’d like to tell you about one of those people.

Roy and his family have served in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and the Central African Republic for almost 40 years. In their mission work they assist local partners in meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of rural communities He has planted thousands of trees and has been through several coups and evacuations.

He found out about ECHO in the early years of the organization, back in the 80’s. He has read most of our development notes and technical notes, he has received seeds, and we have even sent live trees to him in Africa. He always attends this annual conference when he is in the US on home assignment.

In turn Roy has shared his knowledge and experience with ECHO. Three of our interns have served with he and his family after their internships here in Florida. And Roy has spent time at ECHO as a missionary in residence.

He shared at our closing banquet that part of the purpose of home assignment or furlough is to spend time with people that support their ministry and to spend time with family. And Roy feels that ECHO is family and so he must come see us whenever possible.

Even though Ellen and I would rather be in Africa we count it a wonderful privilege to be able to provide information and give advice to people like Roy and his family who are living and serving in communities around the world.

Unexpected trip to South Africa

Due to changes in personnel and the planting season coming up in South Africa ECHO  found itself with the need to send someone out there for a couple of months to lend a hand. This came up in late August and I was asked to fill that need.

I told them I needed to check with Ellen and wait until after the birth of a grandchild. Becky and Elliott were expecting in mid-September and tentatively scheduled a baptism for last Sunday (Sept. 29th). That was agreeable with all concerned.

In short, Evalena Joy Pinegar was born on Sept. 17th and Ellen and I were able to be with them in Michigan for a few days.

Evalena
Evalena Joy Pinegar with her maternal grandparents!

Sunday we celebrated her baptism at the First Presbyterian Church in Bad Axe, Michigan where Elliott is the pastor. Evalena by the way is beautiful!!

Becky is doing great and they seem to be adjusting very well to having a newborn in the household. Even Montgomery the cat seems to be handling the situation well.

I leave tomorrow (Oct. 2nd) and will be in South Africa at the farm near Modimolle about 130 miles north of Johannesburg. While I am away Ellen has plenty to keep her busy at the AIM office in Peachtree City, Georgia (near Atlanta) and with her parents in Cincinnati.

I am scheduled to return to Cincinnati in time for Thanksgiving and then Ellen and I should be back in Fort Myers in early December for the annual ECHO conference there.

While I hate being away from Ellen for those seven weeks or so and while I will miss watching the Gators play I am excited about this opportunity. I have never been to South Africa but will enjoy being back in Africa and am looking forward to being involved in the research going on there.

The Impossible Dream

Ellen and I had a great trip to Tanzania. We spent the first week with James and Daphne in Geita and Mwanza, both near Lake Victoria. In addition I had the opportunity to connect with two ECHO contacts who had attended classes in Florida and are helping communities with agricultural development there.

The next week was the ECHO East Africa Symposium in Arusha attended by 180+ delegates. The three days were packed with excellent presentations and enthusiastic networking. It is very encouraging to be with so many like-minded people who are working hard to fight hunger and improve food security in East Africa.

Food Security — what is that? The widely accepted definition is: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient  safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. (World Food Summit, 1996)

This has been the focus of my study, work and ministry for 35 years now. I have moved from a general awareness and concern for “world hunger” to a deeper understanding of what that means for communities. Is this an “Impossible Dream” (my high school class song!)? Maybe not. Although thousands die daily from diseases that bodies weakened from hunger cannot fight off we can look back and see signs of progress.

Data from the 2012 “The State of Food Insecurity in the World” report from the FAO show that the number of undernourished people in the world has dropped from close to a billion to around 850 million. Progress, yes, but still too many children die  every day from hunger, malnutrition and related causes.

Most of the gains have been in Asia and Latin America. In Sub-Saharan Africa the percentage of undernourished has dropped from 32.8% in 1992 to 26.8% in 2012. But since the population grew by 350 million people the total number of undernourished people has actually increased.

And that is why I am encouraged by the many people I know working daily to end hunger and extreme poverty. And motivated to keep pursuing the dream. ECHO promotes proven sustainable agricultural practices that build the soil, improve the environment and make agriculture more productive for farmers with limited resources. This is seen to be the most effective way of ending extreme poverty. According to that Food Insecurity report:

“Agricultural growth involving smallholders, especially women, will be most effective in reducing extreme poverty and hunger when it increases returns to labour and generates employment for the poor.” (poverty and hunger go hand-in-hand)

I close this post with a quote from “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs:

“Extreme poverty can be ended not in the time of our grandchildren, but in our time.”

Preparing to travel to East Africa

Three of us from ECHO will be leaving next Friday, Nov. 4th for East Africa.
The first stop will be Arusha, Tanzania where we will meet with key people and discuss plans for opening an ECHO East Africa Impact Center.
Two of us will proceed to Kigali, Rwanda to consult with Akilah Institute for Women on plans for an agricultural component on their new campus.
From there I will continue on to Kenya and join our son James in a visit to Turkana. James and I will then attend the 25th anniversary celebration of the Africa Inland Church Cheptebo Rural Development Project on Sunday, November 20th.
And of course I will squeeze in some birding along the way!
My intentions are to send a report from each of these countries — you can check up on me 🙂