“We Could Heal the Land” - An Update on Haiti

Week of Compassion Associate Director Brandon Gilvin recently returned from Haiti as part of a delegation organized by partner organization Agricultural Missions. The following update highlights many of the learnings and experiences of the group, and is adapted from a recent report by Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions.

From areas as diverse as Leogane in the south, La Verettes and Petite Riviere in the rice basket of Haiti, Artibonite, to various communities of the Central Plateau, members of a recent delegation to Haiti met with farmer-leaders, their communities and families, toured well-worked gardens and fields, and waded through rice paddies to get a picture of food sovereignty in Haiti.

During the visit Hurricane Sandy blew through, dumping heavy rains for three days straight.  Though the delegation had to adjust its itinerary, it was largely unaffected by the storm.  Others did not fare as well.  Sandy destroyed crops, killed farm animals and people in several mountainous regions of the country, as well as in Port-au-Prince.  Climate change, environmental degradation, and a history of agricultural policy with little focus on sustainability or food security exacerbated the vulnerability of those in the path of the storm.

Despite the significant challenges facing the country, the small scale farmers we met not only demonstrated resilience but technical skill and a commitment to community that supported their aspirations for food sovereignty.

Rural women continue to play a key role in the partnerships between Week of Compassion, Agricultural Missions, and local cooperatives of small scale farmers.   Many women use rain catchment and raised "tire" gardens (called the "road to life" gardens) and fruit trees to provide a level of food security and healthy nutrients for an expanding number of families and communities-- incredibly important considering the severe alternating drought and flooding Haitian farmers faced throughout 2012.

The rain catchment systems have greatly transformed the lives of the women heads of household by cutting out hours of walking and carrying water.  A recent micro-credit program funded through Agricultural Missions and supported by Week of Compassion has enabled 240 women in 20 women's agricultural associations across Haiti to set up these raised tire gardens, providing training for two women leaders from each community, who in turn train the others.

Establishing seed banks for local communities was also a key strategy for food sovereignty in targeted communities.  However, following the 2010 Earthquake, many seeds set aside for future production were consumed in order to support approximately 780,000 people displaced to rural areas.  Two years later, communities are catching up, and with the support of grassroots partners, 120 craftspeople were trained in traditional tin-smithing work to produce metallic silos for seed banks, allowing them to store seeds for subsequent seasons.  More than 300 silos for community seed banks have already been constructed across Haiti.

"We could heal the land sufficiently in 25 years to give Haiti a new start and feed ourselves,"
said one leader from a member organization of Via Campesina, the planetary food sovereignty movement representing more than 350,000,000 family farmers across the globe. "Small farmers already feed 80% of humanity and can cool the planet back down too, if given a chance."

Partnerships such as these allow each and every one of us to participate in the healing of Haiti.  Agricultural reform, food security, and food sovereignty take the contributions of people from all walks of life, and thanks to your generosity, this healing continues.

Week of Compassion is proud to partner with Agricultural Missions in Haiti and in West Africa.  Thank you for your courageous compassion as we accompany small stakeholder farmers across the world.  

What is food sovereignty?

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation.

What does agricultural development have to do with earthquake recovery?

While the 2010 Earthquake caused massive damage in Port-au-Prince, rural areas were affected and also became the destination for hundreds of thousands of displaced city dwellers, straining food resources.  Little to no emergency government aid made its way to the rural areas.

In addition, in terms of development, Port-au-Prince was prioritized over the rural areas for years.  The centralization of the Haitian economy, educational system, and other infrastructure pushed migrants from the rural areas to the city, straining resources, and leading to overcrowding.  While the damage done by the 2010 earthquake would have been massive under any circumstances, overcrowded buildings led to an even higher death toll.

Investing in Food Secure and Food Sovereign rural communities helps not only  provide opportunity in those areas, it also promotes decentralization, inviting the development of other infrastructure, such as school and health systems, as well as mitigating against migration to the densely populated capital city.