A little over a year ago, a small, rural area of Niger faced a hunger crisis. Although most locals made meager income as farmers, they had enough money to buy food. Vendors simply didn’t have the food to sell them.
Fortunately, Christian workers Lane* and Lisa Smith* predicted the failing harvests and empty store shelves. The country’s weather had cyclical seasons of drought, and they knew people would go hungry.
“We have lived in eastern Niger a long time, and we realized there was going to be a major need when all of the nationals kept telling us how bad the harvest season had been,” Lisa said via email.
The Smiths used funds from Global Hunger Relief (GHR), formerly known as the World Hunger Fund, to help solve the problem.
Established in the 1970s, GHR is one of the major avenues Southern Baptist individuals, churches, and associations use to help meet hunger needs. Baptist Global Response, a disaster relief and community development organization, helps the International Mission Board manage, design, and carry out projects overseas. Eighty percent of gifts given to GHR go toward those needs in foreign nations and the remaining 20 percent helps curb hunger in North America through the North American Mission Board. That means 100 percent of GHR donations help fight hunger in the world.
Sometimes, relief workers and missionaries use GHR funds to distribute food directly to families—especially after disasters. But, in cases of chronic hunger, they often find other, more sustainable ways to feed those in need.
The Smiths, for example, boosted local food markets.
The couple knew that distributing food to Nigerien families would solve some problems, but it could also harm the local economy by cutting out community suppliers. So, they decided to work with vendors. They used a loan from the Global Hunger Relief fund to purchase sorghum, corn, and beans and then distributed the items to fifteen salesmen in the area. The vendors sold the food at a reasonable price and received a commission when they gave the proceeds to the Smiths.
“By selling the food at a lower price, we were able to help more people in the community who had an actual need for the food,” Lisa said. “Also, this provided an opportunity for the seller to make a small profit and understand the great need for selling food during the hungry season.”
This method of food distribution, she said, allowed a vendor named Souley* to continue caring for his wife and two children while also giving his friends and family critical access to food. He enjoyed serving his community.
“Every time I returned home with more grain to sell, there was a line at my house of people wanting to purchase,” he told the Smiths. “My first bag of grain would sell out in an hour. In a normal year, this could take days. All of my neighbors are so happy that they are able to buy food for their families now.”
Jeff Palmer, CEO of BGR, said relief workers and missionaries around the world often use GHR funds to meet needs in unique ways. They carefully assess situations and strategize how to solve the root problems of hunger. This approach results in projects that serve communities through various means such as providing villages with agricultural training so they can grow more food, offering vocational skills training so families can improve their income, or demonstrating improved food storage so people can use more of their harvest yields. Many people in need also receive livestock, like pigs, cows, chickens, and more, to provide their families with meat and small business opportunities.
“The summary is that with the [Global Hunger Relief] fund, we help people get food, grow food, buy food, and use food,” Palmer said in a phone interview.
Baptist Global Response and Global Hunger Relief are raising awareness throughout the year for the millions of people around the world who need better access to food. Those who would like to donate toward this cause can do so online through the Global Hunger Relief and Baptist Global Response websites. Any amount can help give a parent hope and send a child to bed with a full belly.
*Names have been changed.
Casey Watson, a former Baptist Global Response staff writer, also writes for Global Hunger Relief.