Tag Archives: Agriculture

Hurricane Patricia: Helping Communities Prepare and Recover

As Hurricane Patricia threatens to devastate the Pacific Coast of Mexico, I thought I’d revisit some of the lessons we have learned about helping rural communities prepare and protect their land from the inevitable storms that they face. Below is a current wind speed map showing hurricane Issac approaching Haiti.

hurricane Isaac

For us at Plant With Purpose, Patricia is a reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the tropical communities to severe flooding and landslides, such as those that occurred in the fall of 2008. In that season, four deadly hurricanes and tropical storms struck Haiti in a three-week period, killing over 1,000 people and leaving 100,000 homeless. After being hit by hurricanes “Fay, Ike, Gustav and Hanna,” families lost crops, homes, and thousands of animals—their food, shelter, and emergency savings. What we call a “natural disaster,” is in the case of Haiti sadly man-made, the result of Haitian farmers cutting wood to make the charcoal they sell in a desperate attempt to meet the needs of their families.

Fonds Verrettes 2004 Flooding

Storm flooding in Fonds Verrettes, Haiti

In the aftermath of the 2008 hurricanes, Plant With Purpose Haiti’s technical personnel and group leaders reacted promptly. Emergency programs were developed that would address the needs of the people, have a sustainable impact on the environment, and promote the economic development of beneficiaries.

Based on these goals, Plant With Purpose Haiti created an emergency plan and sought emergency funding. The objective was to rehabilitate the environment and also to reinforce the potential agricultural production for more than a thousand farmers organized in 50 community groups in six communes in the West and Southwest geographical regions. This program focused on three projects:

–       Providing seeds to replant damaged farms

–       Supporting animal husbandry programs (sheep and goats) to rebuild herds lost to the storms

–       Restoring Micro-watersheds and providing high intensity (short term) employment

In all, Plant With Purpose was able to distribute sheep and goats to over 300 families to enable them to replace their lost animals. Plant With Purpose also provided bean seeds to replenish crops to nearly 2,000 families in 44 communities.

FV Rock wall construction

Rock wall construction to preserve soil

These projects made a tremendous difference in the lives of people who had lost everything. The animals restore their economic safety net, and the beans give them hope for the future, as they were able to plant their land and become self-sufficient again.  Building community resilience is vital. Farmers, who had lost hope in having sufficient seeds to plant, were able to make a new start.

Plant With Purpose was also able to accomplish significant watershed restoration work, installing 238,833 meters of anti-erosion barriers in 21 watersheds. These projects had the added benefit of creating 800 short-term jobs for local workers. (80% of the interventions were carried out in the central region of Plant With Purpose Haiti’s working area, and most of the laborers hired were members of Plant With Purpose community groups and had all been seriously affected by the hurricanes.)

Many individuals expressed their profound gratitude for Plant With Purpose’s work in their communities, and a deep desire to build on Plant With Purpose’s help to continue to improve their lives. One such person was Abbe Gilles Metiver, pictured below, leader of Larevwa community group. Abbe Gilles said, “Things from Plant With Purpose are full of blessings. The goat received got birth to 2 kids. I am going to keep one kid for myself and give a kid and the mother to two other members of the group.”

Abbe Gilles Metiver

Abbe Gilles Metiver

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, Plant With Purpose built on the success of previous programs by instituting a Cash for Work program that employed over 2,500 people. Through this program over 400,000 trees were planted and 360 linear miles of soil conservation barriers were constructed on vulnerable, deforested hillsides.

This work was tested in 2012 when hurricane Sandy struck the Hispaniola. While the northern part of the island was largely unscathed, in the southeast an estimated 40% of the crops were lost, leading to deepening hunger and desperation. However, the rock walls and reforestation efforts dramatically reduced the damage in many communities where we worked. Over and over we heard people say, “Lives and farms were saved because of the preparation work that was done here. It was bad, but it could have been so much worse.”

While we are yet to see the extent of the damage that Patricia will cause, we know that reforestation and soil conservation makes a difference.

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A celebration of hope in Tanzania

I had the opportunity to visit Plant With Purpose’s program the Pare mountsins of Tanzania a few months ago to participate the third annual Village Savings and Loan (VSLA) Competition Celebration. The event was the culmination of a year long competition, where 125 VSLA groups competed in tree planting, adoption of organic farming methods such as composting and pest management.

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Groups arriving for the celebration

We’re in the process of putting together a video of the celebration, but I thought I’d post a few pictures. It was a joyful and inspiring day, especially encouraging to hear farmers talk about how they were learning from each other, the impact on their farms, and their hopes to do even more in the coming year. (Photo credit to Shaun Boyte.)

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Plant With Purpose’s team of agronomists, with prizes for the winners

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Sharing knowledge and vegetables

PWP_Tanzania Day_2-174Victory!

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Heading to Haiti

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This Sunday I’m going to have another opportunity to visit Plant With Purpose’s work in Haiti. I will try to post while I’m there, but I thought you might be interested in this link to an interactive map of our work there. This map, from Interaction, is a pretty amazing resource and allows you to search and discover what organizations are doing relief and development work all over the world.

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Planting Bananas and Peace in Burundi

Plant With Purpose works with some remarkable and dedicated local leaders. I met one of these recently on my trip to Burundi. Pastor Damien is the founder of the Horeb Church on the outskirts of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

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Damien, at right, with Plant With Purpose board member J.K. Shea and Burundi Director Lazare Sebereko

Pastor Damien has a lot of be thankful for these days, with a thriving church of 150 people, a village savings and loan (VSLA) group of 25 people that meets in the church. In addition, the church grows and sells disease-resistant banana plants for $1.00 each and has already sold almost 300. Recently even the president of Burundi visited the church and, to show his appreciation, Damien gave the president a gift of 40 banana seedlings from the church’s nursery.

Plant With Purpose has supported all these aspects of Damien’s work, including helping build the tree nursery, providing banana cuttings and supporting and training the VSLA group. The church also hosts a Theology of Work group, which is training church and community leaders, many of whom have spent years languishing on refugees camps, on the importance of productive work.

Speaking with Damien, one might never guess all the difficulties that he has been through. In fact, his church was founded out of his experience of a serious illness, followed by his near-execution by a local militia. He explains, “I was not a believer in God and had become very sick; I spent six months in bed and lost my sight. At that time I had a vision of a church surrounded by a banana field, and God restored my sight. It truly was a miracle.”

But he still had more suffering ahead of him. As a member of the Hutu tribe with a Tutsi wife, Damien was targeted by extremist Hutu militias, who kidnapped him and took him to the jungle to be executed. As he was about to be killed, he asked his kidnappers, “Am I the only one here with a wife from another tribe? If there are others, why not kill all of us, rather than just me?” To his surprise the guerilla leader asked for a show of hands of who else had a wife from another tribe. The crisis became a moment of conviction for the group, who realized the mistake that they were making, and he was released. Even more remarkably, the guerilla leader and Damien became friends. Damien became the pastor the church, and the other man became the current President of Burundi.

As we talked Damien showed us the banana field that had been his vision. It had been a garbage dump and hostile local authorities dumped even more garbage on it when they learned of his plans to build a church there. His friendship with the president paid off and he was able to overcome their opposition. Now he has good relationships with all his neighbors, who are participating in the VSLA group and buying banana seedlings from the church. The old hatreds between Hutu and Tutsi are continuing to fall away, as both groups work together to seek a more peaceful and prosperous future.

At Plant With Purpose we are often asked how it is that we are able to combine economic, agricultural and spiritual development. Pastor Damien embodies this three-fold emphasis as he seeks to serve the many needs of his community. It was a privilege to meet him, and a great encouragement to know that he is just one of many men and women who are fulfilling similar roles.

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