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Mercy Corps Food Crisis Response Gets $2.7-Million Boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

August 14, 2008

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Portland, OR - The global relief and development agency Mercy Corps has been awarded a $2.7-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance its food crisis response efforts. The grant will help impoverished families and small-scale farmers in five countries to earn higher incomes, and grow greater quantities of food for household consumption and sales.

"The skyrocketing price of food has created a desperate situation for the world's poor. This grant will allow us to provide immediate relief to hungry families, and help people feed themselves in the long run," said Penelope Anderson, Mercy Corps director of food security.

The foundation's grant will support food and agriculture programs in the Central African Republic (CAR), Nepal, Niger, Somalia and Sri Lanka - all countries that have been dramatically impacted by the rising price of food. More than 107,300 people are expected to benefit from these programs with better access to food and higher incomes.

Activities in each country will include a combination of measures designed to address hunger in the short- and medium-terms, and lay the groundwork for longer-term solutions through economic and agricultural development. These measures complement existing Mercy Corps work in each country, and include:

• The Central African Republic (CAR): Enable people to earn more through short-term employment; increase the yields of key crops like corn and peanuts by helping farmers buy seeds, tools and other necessities, as well as access microfinance and technical assistance.

• Nepal: Raise incomes through short-term employment; improve agriculture and market infrastructure; boost harvests of crops like rice, potato and bamboo by providing farmers with technical assistance and access to microfinance, and improving the competitiveness of agricultural market chains.

• Niger: Offer technical assistance and vouchers to families that raise livestock and poultry, an important source of protein and income; train veterinarians and strengthen linkages between farmers and veterinarian services.

• Somalia: Increase incomes through short-term employment; distribute seeds and tools to farmers; provide micro-loans to women involved in dairy cooperatives; train animal health workers to keep livestock and poultry healthy.

• Sri Lanka: Provide farmers with higher quality seeds, link them to improved seed suppliers, and help them access microfinance; improve the local seed industry by providing improved techniques and business planning.

Mercy Corps' grant is part of a $17.6 million package of assistance that was announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While these grants address some of the most urgent consequences of the food crisis, the foundation is also deeply committed to funding nutritional programs that promote lasting health and supporting long-term, sustainable efforts to help hundreds of millions of small farmers boost their yields and incomes.

"Mercy Corps has been a very important partner of the foundation, helping channel critical assistance to people in real times of need," said Valerie Bemo, senior program officer the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "This assistance transcends the immediate crisis and we rely on our partners, such as Mercy Corps, to help lay the groundwork for long-term solutions that will not only increase small-scale farmers' productivity, but will help them lead healthy, productive lives."

Rising food prices have had an intense negative impact on the world's poor, who spend up 80 percent of their budgets on food. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that, in the first three months of 2008, international food prices reached their highest levels in nearly 30 years. These price rises threaten to exacerbate hunger, roll back advances in healthcare and education, and create political instability.

The grant from the foundation will augment Mercy Corps' existing efforts to help people around the world come to grips with these soaring prices. The agency already expends $72 million on food and agriculture projects in 23 countries, and recently raised $150,000 for a Food Crisis Action Fund to address hunger. Mercy Corps staff from around the world will submit innovative project ideas to compete for this and future funding.

Mercy Corps is also investing in efforts to help Americans learn about and take action against global hunger and poverty. The Action Center to End World Hunger, a first-of-its-kind interactive, multimedia space, will open in New York City this coming fall. It will be joined by a West Coast center in Portland, OR in 2009. The centers will educate visitors of all ages about the root causes of global hunger and poverty while providing the tools necessary to take action. The centers live online at www.actioncenter.org.