United Methodist Committee on Relief

chaya-project-014.jpgPHOTO: MIKE DUBOSE, UMNS

‘Multiplying the Loaves’ summit to highlight Africa’s agricultural sustainability

By Barbara Dunlap-Berg

In Africa, where many struggle simply to produce enough crops and livestock for their own family’s survival, finding ways to “multiply the loaves” is crucial.

Addressing that reality is the goal of a Jan. 13-16 summit, “Multiplying the Loaves: The Church and Agriculture in Africa.” Recalling the familiar account of Jesus feeding the 5,000, participants will gather in Johannesburg for the event initiated by Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu. Approximately 80 people are expected to attend.

“Agriculture is the mainstay in most African countries,” says Kepifri Lakoh, senior director of monitoring and evaluation for the General Board of Global Ministries. “Over 57 percent of households in the continent depend on farming for their livelihood. Given the low levels of productivity and the lack of adequate resources, average farm sizes have remained very small. Households only produce on a subsistence scale to meet their immediate food needs.”

The summit will allow The United Methodist Church to engage a broad spectrum of stakeholders in dialogue around two questions: What best practices and resources within the United Methodist connection already address food security and livelihood challenges in Africa? In the current landscape of dwindling church funds, how can the African church strive toward self-sustenance through agriculture?

“Answers to these questions,” contends Lakoh, “are critical for the continued growth of the African church and the global United Methodist family. Over the last decade, the growth of the church has been strongest in Africa. Continuing with this trajectory is important as we aim to spread the good news of Christ into new frontiers.”

Speakers from a variety of backgrounds will share through case studies, panel discussions and roundtable conversations. Workshop topics will include agricultural and farm livelihoods; community engagement, leadership development and social change; integrated programs, livelihoods and market access; monitoring and evaluation; and technical innovations and opportunities.

Gender and age equality are essential to agribusiness, says Lorrie King, WASH, food security and livelihoods program manager for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Women, King notes, “are the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. In Africa, 80 percent of the agricultural production comes from small farmers, who are mostly rural women. Women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector, but do not have access and control over all land and productive resources.”

“Where I come from, Sierra Leone,” Lakoh notes, “the land tenure system prevents women from owning land. This significantly limits the scale of farming women can undertake.”

Another growing problem is the exodus of youth from rural farming communities to metropolitan cities. “This has significantly affected access to labor in farming communities,” says Lakoh. “As a result, labor costs have increased further, affecting land sizes and total production.”

At the summit, King will present industry-wide best practices in program planning and grant writing, with specific benchmarks UMCOR seeks when considering funding for projects, as well as the food justice and food sovereignty movements and gender inclusion in rural agricultural development.

Lakoh will lead sessions on monitoring and evaluation. He also will serve as a resource person for discussion around African agriculture, based on his personal experiences in Sierra Leone.

King says she is energized “about the brain power converging to resource our bishops and their community-development teams. Creating a space where the African teams can … connect and create their own solutions is most exciting to me.”

“The U.S. church is called to be in ministry with people of Christ all over the world,” adds Lakoh. “Stewardship and Christian discipleship are at the heart of the Wesleyan revival. With the growth of the church in Africa, there isn’t a better time than now for the U.S. church to galvanize and mature the seeds that have been sown for decades in the continent.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Starting on Jan. 17, recordings of all sessions will be available in English, French and Portuguese from this link:

Retired from United Methodist Communications, Dunlap-Berg is a freelance writer and editor.