For 32 years, the Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute has been Brigham Young University's outreach to impoverished people in less-developed countries. At its founding in 1975, Apostle Ezra Taft Benson declared: "The Institute will be an agency of experimentation whereby the agricultural resources of various lands can be evaluated, new technology applied, and nutritional needs studied. Then the beneficial results of this research can be implemented at the proper time through the world wide…channels of the Church…"
The day foreseen by President Benson has arrived. Over the next few months, the Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute will become a part of the Welfare Services Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With Benson Institute methods, the families
of Otavalo, Ecuador have increased their corn production 300% and begun taking surplus vegetables to the local market for cash.
BYU faculty and students have worked collaboratively with in-country university colleagues and students to address nutritional and agricultural problems of the rural poor. Many private donors have supported this work. The Institute's family-based small-scale agriculture program has achieved remarkable things. As a condition of participation, husbands and wives were required to attend training sessions, implement what they learned, teach their neighbors, send their children to school, vaccinate their children against preventable diseases, and save for future reinvestment.
Families have become nutritionally and economically self-reliant. Hope has replaced despair. Health has improved. Infant mortality has been reduced. Children are now completing not only primary and secondary school, but many are going on to higher education. People have learned that they can change their situation. The tears of mothers have been dried and fathers have become men of ability.
The Institute's success has captured the attention of many. Early in 2007 Mrs. Pilar Nores de Garcia, the First Lady of Peru, came to BYU. Scheduled for only a brief stop at the Institute, Mrs. De Garcia lingered for more than an hour. She kept asking: "Why have you not brought the Benson Institute program to Peru?" Her nation has a thousand villages on the Peruvian Altiplano that could be blessed by what has been discovered and applied in Ecuador, Guatemala and Bolivia. Colombia and Paraguay want the Institute to help address their pressing rural problems too.
The needs of the rural poor are greater now than they were in 1975. Seventy five percent of the billion people living in desperate poverty are rural. The Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute will be there to help them now more than ever before.