The seeds of a food revolution bear fruit – Alistair Dutton

Farmers in Nicaragua and El Salvador trained to grow more diverse crops are just one way to help, says Alistair Dutton

Small farmers like Michael Aburto are growing better crops. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Small farmers like Michael Aburto are growing better crops. Picture: Colin Hattersley

In the sweltering village of La Chorrera in Nicaragua, farmers struggle to coax any crops out of the parched land – but a small seed bank has given hope to this ­isolated community.

Established by SCIAF’s local ­partner, CANTERA, it acts like an insurance policy, to increase food security and ensure locals can grow a range of crops even in the deepest droughts. Farmers can safely store and exchange their best seeds in an area where the worst effects of ­climate change can easily wipe out a season’s harvest.

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It’s an innovative solution to the growing problem of climate change. Here and around the world, the ­climate crisis is making farming harder than ever before, with ­people who have contributed least to it ­suffering the most severe ­consequences.

Alistair Dutton is the Chief Executive of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).

According to the World Health Organisation, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 ­additional deaths per year from ­malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Measures such as seed banks have therefore become even more crucial to protect vulnerable ­communities.

Before this one was established in La Chorrera, seeds were expensive and often of poor quality. Community leader Michael Alfredo Aburto says its impact has been profound, adding: “Without the seed bank we wouldn’t exist as the farmers we are today.”

This bank was part of a three-year programme to improve the ­techniques of rural farmers in ­Nicaragua and El Salvador, funded by the EU and the Big Lottery Fund, teaching them to grow more food and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Figures from our recently-published annual report show it was a huge success. Fifty-nine community-run seed banks were set up, and more than 3,500 people were trained in sustainable methods to grow more diverse crops more reliably. Eighty-seven per cent of families saw an increase in their income.

Michael said: “I don’t even want to imagine the community without your help. Some people did not have food security here, but thanks to this project they are now certain they will have food.”

It’s a similar story in other ­countries we work in around the world. In 2018, we were able to help more than 261,300 people in 26 countries in ­Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Middle East. This involved 145 projects in 26 countries, costing more than £7 million. These included training for almost 17,000 ­people in skills like farming and financial ­management. We also helped almost 16,000 people start their own ­business.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of those who support us. People in Scotland gave almost £6 million last year to help us help others in need around the world. This includes £336,000 donated to help survivors of natural disasters like the Indonesian earthquakes and tsunami.

We are a community of ordinary people coming together to do extraordinary things, from our ­generous supporters in parishes, schools and homes across Scotland, to volunteers and our partners on the ground, who work tirelessly to ensure the most vulnerable people get the help they need.

They have all helped to transform SCIAF from a tiny charity that started life in a classroom in Rutherglen with an £8,000 budget more than 50 years ago, to the organisation it is today, helping to enhance the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the poorest countries in the world.

Our supporters have stepped up time and again to help families and communities like Michael’s and I’m humbled by the generosity shown. I’m very grateful to everyone who has contributed to our work.

But, tonight, more than 800 million people will go to bed hungry, roughly 150 times the population of Scotland. While we should celebrate the fact that we were able to provide ­life-changing help to so many last year, we must also remember that there is much more to be done.

Despite our own political turmoil and uncertainty here at home, we must continue to look with solidarity and compassion beyond our ­borders and remember that there are many people whose lot is far worse than ours and who look to us with hope for help.

Alistair Dutton is the chief executive of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).