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In conversation .. with Pedro Medrano

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Most Winnipeggers wouldn't be able to comprehend what Pedro Medrano does for a living.

The assistant executive director of the World Food Programme helps oversee an organization that feeds 90 million people in 75 countries around the world every year. That's nearly three times Canada's population and nearly 90 times the number of people living in Manitoba.

Born in Chile but now based in Italy, Medrano was in Winnipeg this week as part of International Development Week. He met with officials at the Canadian Food Grains Bank and the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation.

He's hoping to get the WFP's message across to as many people as he can because the number of hungry people around the world continues to grow.

It wouldn't hurt to round up a few donations, either. He's projecting a deficit of about $260 million over the next five months just to feed displaced people in and around Syria.

FP: How acute is the world food shortage?

Medrano: We are feeding mostly women and children around the world. They are the ones who suffer the most. The only thing you cannot postpone is eating. You still have 840 million people around the world needing to be fed. We're trying to reach the world's most vulnerable people. There are no safety nets in 80 per cent of the world."

Sometimes we have many crises like this that don't reach CNN. We call them silent emergencies. When you look at the world today, those countries where we have civil war and instability, whether it's man-made or natural disaster, the underlying cause is extreme poverty, deprivation and people suffering from hunger.

FP: How does the World Food Programme work?

Medrano: In the past, we had mostly in-kind donations. Today, we have cash donations, not 100 per cent, but a significant amount of resources in cash. We try to purchase locally in the same country (where we are feeding people), and not import the food from developed countries. We don't want to hamper the local economies or the local agriculture. We buy 2.1 million tonnes of food every year, worth just over $1 billion. We use this purchasing power to reach the small farmers in particular. We have monetary transfers of money to families so they can purchase food in the market, or we give them vouchers so they can redeem them in the market.

FP: What kind of support do you receive from Canada?

Medrano: "We have a multi-year agreement that was signed in 2011. We get $225 million over five years. Canada is supporting school-meal programs around the world in different countries, like Haiti. The programs allow children to come to school because they have food there, but especially girls. The program helps to increase the number of girls at school. Canada is one of the largest supporters of the World Food Programme. It's one of the most important donors and supporters of the program."

FP: How crucial is it for food to be delivered on a timely basis?

Medrano: To purchase food is one thing but to transport the food on time, it takes two to three months. If we don't have resources, we can't pre-position the food. If we do, we can procure and deliver the food well in advance so we can avoid a deterioration of people's nutrition and health. Last year in West Africa, we faced a major famine. We were able to avert it because of the support of Canada and other supporters. It's possible to avoid famines.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 A8

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