From East Africa to Minnesota – Connecting Hunger, Poverty & Climate

By Ashley Osteraas, Sierra Club Climate Outreach Intern

On October 2, the Sierra Club North Star Chapter teamed up with American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA), Oxfam Action Corps Minnesota and Somali Family Services to host an engaging public forum discussing the connections of hunger, poverty, and climate change from East Africa to Minnesota. Stephanie Hemphill, from Minnesota Public Radio, hosted the event at the Safari Restaurant and Event Center in Minneapolis that attracted more than 80 concerned Minnesotans.

As guests enjoyed authentic East African sambuzas, panelist Mohamed Idris, executive director at ARAHA, discussed the continual struggle of poverty, civil unrest, hunger, and disease that occurs daily in East Africa. An estimated 16 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, and ARAHA works to combat just that. Idris shared two of ARAHA’s current projects to provide assistance, promote self-reliance and reduce climate impact – providing solar stoves to over 200 families and providing solar lighting for families  - non of whom have electricity. ARAHA hopes these pilot project will steer families towards more sustainable and reliable solutions and away from more harmful ones, such as fossil fuels.

Another panelist, Dr. Paul Porter, a professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, also shared his experience completing field research in East Africa. Dr. Porter, who rode his bicycle 12,000 km across 10 Africa countries, discussed common issues that are prevalent in East Africa. Although food aid is needed, international food efforts have had adverse effects. Many farmers have suffered from international food aid and consequently, have seen a decrease in local demand. Dr. Porter focused on promoting locally grown produce and designing efficient agroecosystems that can change with the changing climate.

 Following Dr. Porter, District Director Jamie Long spoke on behalf of Congressman Keith Ellison and voiced concern over the recent release of the IPCC report. Ellison acknowledge that despite the U.S. being the largest carbon dioxide emitter, “ people in developing countries will bear an undue portion of its burden.” Ellison also advised supporting the efforts proposed by Obama in controlling carbon pollution from power plants.

The thought-provoking night concluded with a discussion led by the Sierra Club’s Jessica Tritsch. Guests were asked to share ideas about what they could do here in Minnesota to help improve the environment and apply more sustainable practices in their own lives. Whether it’s signing a petition supporting the EPA’s efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants,  starting up your own garden, biking to work once a week, or showering one minute less than usual, I challenge you to start a more sustainable habit for yourself and the environment!

Check out more photos from the event on our facebook page.

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