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Member Profile March 2012

In March 2012 CCIC caught up with Tony Breuer, Executive Director of the Canadian Hunger Foundation, to create a member profile for our e-bulletin Flash. Here is the interview:

Tony Breuer
Tony Breuer - CHF's Executive Director. A goat -symbolic of food security

CCIC:  When was your organization created, and what is its mandate?

Tony Breuer: CHF, the Canadian Hunger Foundation was created in 1961. Our mission is to enable poor rural communities in developing countries to attain sustainable livelihoods.
On our fiftieth anniversary, our commitment to our mission is steadfast. It continues to drive everything we do. Over the past five decades, CHF has worked in 52 countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas, enabling millions to improve their daily lives.

CCIC: What are the main themes and issues in the work of CHF?

Tony Breuer: While each of our projects reflects its unique local context, all of our projects focus on increasing the food security and sustainable livelihoods of the poorest and most vulnerable rural populations, particularly women. We aim to build a critical level of livelihoods resilience at the household level to enable target households to break out of the cycle of low productivity, low incomes and asset depletion, to become self-reliant and engage in markets – essentially laying the groundwork for long-term development at the household and community levels. We are grounded in two approaches: the sustainable livelihoods approach and building local capacity.

We also focus on increasing Canadians’ awareness and understanding of international cooperation, and specifically on issues of food and livelihood security, gender equality and environmental sustainability, and we encourage Canadians, particularly youth, to engage actively in Canada’s international development efforts.

CCIC: CHF works in many parts of the world, including in South America, several regions of Africa, South and South-East Asia. Can you tell us about one particular success story from one of your country programs?

Tony Breuer: A good example is the food security project for 42,000 people in the Bati district of Ethiopia, where we worked with grassroots partners to rehabilitate soil and forests, among other things.  Bati district was on its way to becoming a desert. In areas where CHF worked, the environmental results of the project were eye opening:

  • Communities analyzed the causes of deforestation and soil degradation, and they set up nurseries, hillside terraces, check dams, reforestation plans and drainage systems that improved the environment and generated incomes
  • Forest cover increased significantly, with exotic and local tree species that had commercial value and that reduced soil erosion
  • Soil fertility and moisture increased, and water tables rose, making more water available for irrigation and domestic use.
  • Biodiversity increased with the return of wildlife such as antelopes and birds.
  • With the money generated families bought agriculture tools and grew more food.

All of these activities contributed to building capacity of Ethiopian farmers and communities to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

CCIC: What have been the top three or four challenges for CHF in the past several years?

Tony Breuer: A particular challenge has been to develop a body of practice that enables us and our local partners to target individual vulnerable households within a rural community in a cost-effective and efficient way.  In fact we are learning to disaggregate impacts not only by household but by gender as well.

We have had a lot to learn about working with local partners in a way that supports their institutional development while still delivering good project results with them. The CHF partnership model helps build sustainable institutional capacity with the application of technical support as well as action learning throughout the joint implementation of project. This model is showing good results with benefits to both sides.

Like all Canadian NGO’s we have faced significant challenges in securing funding for our work but we are generally doing well.  We are receiving solid support from CIDA (which we genuinely appreciate, by the way), from the many thousands of Canadians who donate to us and through a growing endowment fund put in our trust by an individual Canadian family.

CCIC:  How do you envision the future of your organization?

Tony Breuer: The future for CHF integrates climate change adaptation with food security and livelihoods. Plus women’s roles are crucial in many of our food security projects; for maize, sorghum and other staple crops in Africa, if you increase women’s agriculture training, the result is a 20 percent rise in crop yields. CHF concentrates on increasing yields by providing women with access to appropriate technology, building resiliency to climate change and natural disasters, recognizing their leadership role in food production, and by balancing gender equalities in terms of women’s control over technology and agricultural production.

CHF will continue to hold sustainable livelihoods and food security as its mission. Building on five decades of development work in more than 50 countries, CHF looks forward to the next five decades, knowing that the elimination of global poverty is a real possibility. 

CCIC: What makes CHF unique?

Tony Breuer: At CHF we take a very unique view of the world… a very different view.  We see assets instead of liabilities, opportunities instead of scarcity, and power instead of helplessness. In places around the world ripped apart by war, famine, drought, and unimaginable poverty, we‘ve learned how to see beyond the crisis… beyond the moment… to focus not on what has gone wrong… but on what is inherently right.

By seeing people’s strengths and embracing the vision of those whose human need is greatest, we’ve helped to create maximum impact through solutions that are built by the people… solutions that reflect the uniqueness of their situation, their geography, and their culture.

Seeing more means pulling the strengths of a community together and building on them: Investing in seeds, tools, livestock, skills and knowledge so families can lift themselves out of poverty. And when they are able to earn meaningful income – that income can transform lives, families, communities, nations.

CCIC:  How would you summarize the role of CSOs in development?

Tony Breuer: CHF's approach to development focuses on partnering with local organizations in the Global South in order to build more sustainable livelihoods and improve organizational capacity. Through practice-based policy engagement, CHF seeks to ensure that its work in the field is closely linked to the objective of shaping Canadian policy and public consciousness on issues related to development and poverty alleviation.

By identifying, documenting and disseminating lessons learned and best practices, CHF contributes to building the knowledge base of the broader community of practitioners in the areas of sustainable livelihoods development, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, mitigation and management, gender equality and women's empowerment, pro-poor market-led development, and institutional capacity building.

CHF tries to contribute to Canadian and global policy dialogue, strengthen coordination with other civil society actors and bolster the collective voice of Canadian civil society to advocate for increased support for sustainable livelihoods development and poverty reduction programs. CHF actively participates in a variety of policy fora, such as:

The Canadian Coalition for Climate Change and Development (C4D). C4D's objective is two-fold: to bring international development perspectives to climate change dialogue in Canada, and to develop knowledge and capacity in the international development community to address the global challenges associated with climate change and development in their programming. As a member of the Executive Committee of C4D, CHF is able to contribute to shaping the debate on climate change in Canada, and to advocate for more funding to be allocated for international development initiatives focused on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and mitigation in developing countries.

The Food Security Policy Group (FSPG), an autonomous working group of Canadian humanitarian and development NGOs and other Canadian organizations with experience in food security in developing countries. The Group carries out joint advocacy on food security-related issues and examines how international trade rules, as well as Canadian policies on agriculture and food security affect the Global South. As an active member of the FSPG, CHF works to effectively engage CIDA, Canadian parliamentarians and the public at large on the important role of sustainable livelihoods development in achieving food security.

Co-Chair of The Policy Action Group for Emergency Reponses (PAGER) - PAGER is a network of Canadian NGOs and government agencies involved in emergency response and disaster risk management activities in Canada and other countries. For the next two years CHF will be leading PAGER activities jointly with the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada. Currently PAGER has 25 members including CIDA, DFAIT and DND. PAGER is coordinating ER activities of Canadian NGOs in collaboration with CIDA and DFAIT and providing policy advocacy and guidance, coordination, capacity development and knowledge management support to Canadian NGOs and Government Departments.

CCIC: CHF held a successful two-day 50th Anniversary Symposium this month, featuring many great speakers and engaging workshops for youth and for development professionals. Was this event everything that you hoped it would be? Can you also describe how this event has helped to build a stronger team at CHF?

Tony Breuer: I thought it was very successful. I certainly learned a great deal and hope that the hundreds of other participants over the two days did as well.  They were certainly animated and involved.  I was really proud of the way it all came together.

Jeffrey Sachs, as always, was most interesting and engaging. The other speakers, a rather distinguished and thoughtful group, all more than met that standard as well.   CIDA’s Darren Schemmer organized a mini-workshop entitled the Challenges of Celebrating Development Results. With the time he had to work with, he generated a lot of interest and praise.

The young people that made up the first day on global citizenship were simply amazing in their energy, engagement and commitment do something that will make a difference. This generation of youth is arguably the most empowered in our history. Let’s see what they do with it.

By the way, the Canadian War Museum is a great place to hold such an event.  Their staff really went the distance for us.

I have to save a final word for the CHF staff that made it work, and that means nearly everyone.  Various teams in the field and at headquarters really pulled together. They managed to make a complex organizational challenge look so easy.  That is a real measure of success, in my view.


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