In a year when the drumbeat of bad news from overseas is unceasing, there is a temptation to despair.
It is true that we are facing some major challenges, from global terrorism to the prospect of El Niño-fueled weather disturbances to the long-term threat posed by climate change. And the fact that globalization has linked the world ever more closely means that problems abroad will soon be felt in our nation and in our communities.
But to focus solely on the negative is to miss the big picture. There are important advances being made in the fight against global poverty and the advancement of world peace that you may have missed. As we begin a new year, here are three signs of hope, as reported in Lutheran World Relief's 2016 Early Warning Forecast, that cause us to be optimistic about our future.
1. A Peace Agreement in Colombia
A peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), hammered out over the past few years in Havana, is expected to be signed in March 2016. The inclusion of conflict victims in the talks was unprecedented and various chapters of the peace agreement draft include not only transitional justice but also a plan for investment for a "new Colombian countryside." If affirmed, the agreement will end one of the longest-running conflicts in the world, which dates back to 1964. The end to decades of violence and insecurity offers an opportunity to make an investment in Colombia's rural areas and build a viable peace dividend for those who suffered most in the war.
2. Resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction in the Philippines
In November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, killing more than 6,300 people, damaging or destroying at least 1 million homes and devastating crops. Since that disaster, international humanitarian organizations have worked closely with the Government of the Philippines and local partners to improve disaster readiness through measures such as early warning systems, clear evacuation procedures and pre-positioned aid supplies. These investments have paid off. In the aftermath of two subsequent strong typhoons, Hagupit in December 2014 and Koppu in October 2015, the UN cited the actions of the Philippine government, working with local and international NGOs, in limiting the typhoon's' impact.
3. The Promise of Coffee and Cocoa in Haiti, East Africa, Central America, Indonesia
Coffee and cocoa have the potential to be significant cash crops for smallholder farmers, allowing them to generate more income and lift themselves out of poverty by connecting with domestic and international markets. However, despite strong global demand for coffee and cocoa, producers often struggle to provide for their families, capturing just a fraction of their crops' full market value. International NGOs like Lutheran World Relief believe that satisfying global demand for coffee and cocoa and improving the incomes and food security of the producers who grow them can, and should, go hand in hand.
There are promising initiatives pursuing this goal around the world. In Haiti, international aid organizations are assisting farmers in reviving a once-flourishing coffee and cocoa sector. In East Africa, the Economist has touted the potential of coffee to lift small farmers out of poverty. In Indonesia, more than 90 percent of its coffee is produced by smallholder farmers, offering great income-producing opportunities for farm families. Cocoa from Central America is increasingly receiving recognition for its high quality and market potential, attracting international buyers looking for superior products. In all these areas, LWR and other humanitarian organizations are working with farmer cooperatives to facilitate training and help access credit and markets, and supporting improved post-harvest processing and facilitating key certifications such as Organic and Fair Trade.