Let’s take a moment to talk about hunger. I know, it’s probably far from your mind right now. In fact, being stuffed and needing some exercise is probably more like it, as we near the end of another holiday season. However, it’s an important topic, and now might just be the exact right time to think about it, as it’s surely top of mind for the approximately 795 million hungry people around the world. 795 million. And on top of that, poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five, that’s 3.1 million children each year. Can you even imagine losing a child to hunger?

Hunger at that level is just not something many of us witness or ever think about in our day-to-day lives. For the team at ECHO, a Global Impact Charity Alliance member, these statistics and seeing hunger firsthand paired with their desire to honor God has led them to passionately pursue the work of empowering the undernourished with sustainable hunger solutions. You see, despite the numbers, the world does in fact produce enough food to feed every single person on the globe. According to ECHO, “The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.” To fight this inequality, ECHO works with smallholder farmers to increase their harvests, while also increasing the nutritional diversity of their crops. In essence, they are helping solve global hunger through training, information and seeds for agricultural workers around the world.

Here are just a few of the really cool ways that ECHO is seeing their mission come to fruition (pun intended):

  • They run their own Global Farm and Research Center that simulates six different agricultural environments to test solutions for farming around the world (they’re located in southern Florida – join the more than 10,000 people a year and take a tour!).
  • For 28 years (that’s right, 28 years) they have hosted southwest Florida’s Global Food and Farm Festival (this year it will be March 13-14, 2020) providing thousands of attendees with the opportunity to taste exotic foods, experience life in a foreign country, and explore the Global Farm, learning about food and culture in a new way.
  • Every year, they donate more than 2,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to a Florida food bank from the crops of their Global Farm.
  • Nearly 12,000 seed packets delivered free-of-charge around the globe especially focused on beneficial underutilized plants.
  • 5,481 people received hands-on agricultural training around the world.

There’s another way that this organization is helping change the world, and it has to do with women. You see, in international relief and development, sometimes programs are implemented because they will help the most amount of people, essentially the “greatest impact.” Other times programs are implemented because an underserved population is overlooked – it may not be the greatest impact, but it’s a need, and the right thing to do. And then sometimes, there’s a sweet spot where empowering an underserved population can actually result in the greatest impact. Women in agriculture fall into this category. While ECHO’s underlying motivation is to be followers of Jesus and care for those in need, not necessarily the greatest impact, they have been intentional to provide hands-on agricultural training for women that both fulfills their mission and is in fact a “greatest impact” strategy.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Across the developing world, women make up 50 percent of the agricultural labor force … Yet the gender gap in food and agriculture is extensive. As consumers, women are more likely to be food-insecure than men in every region of the world. And as producers, rural women face even greater constraints than their male counterparts in accessing essential productive resources and services, technology, market information and financial assets.”

ECHO is working to change this statistic, seeing it as a way to decrease worldwide hunger. You might have heard the saying, “Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” I think ECHO would change that to “Train a woman to farm, and you’ve fed her community for generations to come.”

In West Africa alone, ECHO trained 2,861 farmers last year, a 21% increase and 56% more women trained from the previous year! Training workshops are participatory, so farmers get hands-on experience in new techniques that they can implement at home and share with others. In the past, women might have had some training, but hands-on training was rare. ECHO has found that each trainee in West Africa shares what they learned with an average of 39 people, and each person who applied this knowledge benefits an average of six people in their household; as a result, nearly 669,474 people benefited from ECHO’s training in West Africa over the last year.

ECHO’s passionate work is changing lives and they are seeing the fruit of their labor (again, pun intended), especially in this critical area of closing the gender gap in the rural agricultural community globally. Here are just a few examples of their impact shared to me from ECHO:

“Apaikunda is a widowed mother of seven in the village of Ngyeku in northern Tanzania. In order to care for her four children still at home, she weeds gardens for other people; she does not own any land. A village leader, who identified the most vulnerable members of their community, recruited Apaikunda for this project. She attended ECHO trainings on how to prepare and care for dairy goats, and now participates in discussion groups on managing the goats. After her goat gives birth, Apaikunda will have the benefit of additional milk—for her family and for sale. She will also keep or sell any male offspring and will “pay it forward” by giving a female kid to another vulnerable villager.”

“It’s a hot day, even under the shade of the Acacia tree. ECHO West Africa staff member, Bernard “Promesse” Kansie, turns back toward the class to explain the next step. He wipes sweat off his forehead before continuing. The group is standing closely together, leaning in to see the next layer of leaves that he is going to put onto the pile. They are learning the technique that will make compost in as little as 21 days. As he has done many times before, he explains the next step and then asks some of the trainees to gather the leaves for the next layer. They are eager to participate, especially Mama Aisha who had never been invited to learn a technique like this hands-on. She wasn’t often included in other trainings the men attended, but these trainers had encouraged her to come. Closing the gender gap in access to training is a key focus of ECHO’s West Africa team. Empowering women in agricultural skills translates into improved nutrition for children and increased food security within households and communities.”

“Minata Traoré, a farmer from western Burkina Faso, is nicknamed “Engineer” because of her dedication to understanding everything around her. She recently attended ECHO training and loved that it was participatory; everything they learned, they practiced. Information wasn’t just “taught”; it was reinforced through doing. “Such a way of training is a first for the women and men of Sayaga Village!” Minata exclaimed. She immediately put into practice what she learned and made a lick stone for small livestock. These lick stones provide the minerals and nutrients animals need for optimal health and increased milk production. While these can be purchased, salt licks are often too expensive for farmers like Minata or hard to find in rural villages.”

“Nainoto, a widow in Tanzania with teenage children, received a dairy goat and ECHO training. One of her daughters is now able to attend university – something she never dreamed possible!”

So as we end the holiday season and get back to our regularly scheduled lives, including our eating habits, I encourage you to take the time to think about the hungry around the world and consider what you or your family could do to help those less fortunate that do think about hunger on a more frequent basis. Need some ideas? Consider the following:

Thanks for talking hunger with me. I’m hoping now that you’ve read this far, this moment of talking hunger will turn into more time thinking about hunger – and then even more time doing something about it like ECHO has.