Shared interest in the common good

by
15 September 2017

Cassie Woodard describes how Christian Aid’s Harvest Appeal is supporting farmers in Southern Malawi

DeAgostini/SuperStock

Gleaning: The Harvest of Ruth, a 16th-century miniature from a Latin Bible from St Amand’s Abbey, France

Gleaning: The Harvest of Ruth, a 16th-century miniature from a Latin Bible from St Amand’s Abbey, France

HAVING grown up in an agricultural community, I find that the season of harvest evokes memories of vivid sunsets, dusty skies, and late nights spent riding in the combine harvester with friends. The race to gather the harvest before the rains came was always stressful, the current of expectation running just below the surface of casual conversations.

It was a season of coming together and celebration — then rest when it was finally over.

Harvest was always about the community, even for those who were not ploughing the land directly. This was true for the Israelites as well: they celebrated with a festival for the “firstfruits”, and again later in the year with a festival at the end of the harvest. Just as now, crops were gathered and stored in preparation for the lean seasons ahead — not just for the landowning family, but for the community and the poor.

God instructs us to keep some of the harvest for “the poor and the foreigner”. Today in the UK, many turn to foodbanks for their share of the harvest. Cheryl Kipping, who is a supporter of the charity Christian Aid, and is also involved with a foodbank in her area, outlines how the community has come together to provide for those in need: “The local foodbank was recently short of certain items and types of clothing. The message got around to the local churches and, within a week, people responded so generously, and the need was met.”

Cheryl emphasises that faith was a big part of her motivation for getting involved with charities that focus on needs both near and far. While, in this country, we have foodbanks that can provide for those who may otherwise go hungry, other places around the world have no such safety net.

Cheryl reflects on this reality: “We don’t have to walk four miles to get to the nearest GP. We don’t have to pay for our education. There are subsidies for farmers. . . Despite the challenges facing these systems, they exist here and provide a kind of safety net for those in need.”

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IN SOUTHERN Malawi, Christian Aid is working to support farmers so that their future is one of abundance and security. Working with the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), the charity is supporting farmers in growing a special variety of pigeon peas. This remarkable crop is high in protein, and its deep roots are ideal for southern Malawi’s dry soil, as it can resist the destructive flash flooding that is on the rise in the country.

Frank, a farmer in south-west Malawi, was taught a planting calendar by his grandfather, based on the regular seasons — but the ever-changing climate means he can no longer depend on this knowledge. He used to rely on growing maize to feed his family, but this crop is now unsuited to Malawi, and fails easily when the rains don’t come.

Frank has already had a bumper crop of pigeon peas, but he still hasn’t been able to make a profit. Many farmers like Frank work individually and often lack the space to store their peas effectively. This means they have no choice but to sell their harvests to unscrupulous middle men: traders who buy at farm gates, and drive prices down to the lowest level.

Christian Aid’s project will bring farmers together into farmers’ clubs, where they will learn vital business skills and work together to plan their planting to ensure a good balance of crops. They’ll learn marketing techniques and new methods for production and storage of pigeon peas, and they will be trained in negotiating fair prices for their crops. Through this project, other farmers as well as Frank will be able to rely on their own harvest once again.

 

WHEN Cheryl is asked how she came to be a supporter of both Christian Aid and a local foodbank, she replies without hesitation. “The most important thing about being a Christian is putting your faith into action. When we live in a world that’s uneven, if we want to follow Jesus’ example, we need to do something about it — whether that’s speaking out, donating, fund-raising, or praying.”

When we come together as a community — local or global — we glimpse the fruits of the sacred labour of building up rather than tearing down. When we seek wholeness and common ground, we bring about a holy harvest that once again becomes a time for celebration, joy, giving thanks, and sharing the bounty, both near and far.

 

Cassie Woodard works at Christian Aid; https://www.christianaid.org.uk/harvest-appeal.

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