This week flooding and storms were again in the news as Fiji was struck by a devastating cyclone, destroying crops and communities and spurring calls for emergency humanitarian relief.
While emergency relief is important and needed, slower-moving disasters often pass unnoticed. This is most apparent in Haiti, where more than a year of persistent drought has lead to failing harvests and amounting hunger. The UN recently reported that more that 60 percent of Haiti’s spring harvest will fail this year, and that more than four million people will lack access to affordable and nutritious food.
For some areas of the country, the drought has been even worse, spanning over five years and resulting in the most severe food insecurity in the last thirty years. These highly impacted areas include virtually all of the communities in which Plant With Purpose works. As a result of the El Nino weather pattern the drought conditions are predicted to continue through 2016.
How is Plant With Purpose responding? As difficult as the current conditions are, they are yet another confirmation of Plant With Purpose’s strategy of helping farmers diversify their crops and sources of income, so that they are less vulnerable to droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. The cash savings that farmers accumulate in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) serve as a vitally important safety net, enabling farmers accumulate the savings needed to buy food when they need to.
These savings groups also teach farmers skills that will help them maintain adequate food in low-water conditions, including raising rabbits, planting more drought-resistant crops, composting, and soil conservation. Tree planting is another important component in this strategy, as healthy watersheds are needed to avoid flooding and help capture water in the ground where it can feed the wells and rivers which people depend on. These strategies are paying off in Haiti, where farmers reported a 26 percent reduction in the time spent walking to get water for their families.
Finally, Plant With Purpose has made some program adjustments this year that will help farmers cope with future droughts, including increasing the number of family cisterns being built to provide water through times of drought. While we can’t control the weather we can anticipate times of drought and collaborate with farmers to help them prepare. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside hard-working farmers, even as we pray for the drought to end.