Tag Archives: Haiti

Dealing With Drought in Haiti

 

Fonds Verrettes Watershed

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.

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Cistern Construction in Fonds Verrettes, Haiti

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.

Cistern1

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.

 

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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.

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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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Hurricane Season in Haiti: Chantal

I haven’t written much lately but thought I’d post this image of tropical storm Chantal’s trajectory. It seems that storms hit Haiti so regularly now that, sadly, we hardly think about it. I’ll probably put another post up on this later in the week.

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New Savings and Loan (VSLA) Groups in Haiti

Almost three years ago Plant With Purpose’s international meeting in Tanzania focused on the village savings and loan program,or VSLA, which I’ve written about quite a bit on this blog. Since then, the program has spread the other five countries where Plant With Purpose works. The pattern of pooling savings that are then made available for loans is the same in every country, though groups also have freedom to decide things like how much interest they will charge for loans and so on. Another consistent pattern has been skepticism as to whether “it will work here,” followed in a few months by a growing sense of excitement about how effective the groups are in empowering members and the community to work together to improve their lives.

So one of the highlights of my recent trip to Haiti was seeing two new groups, one in Tewouj in Grand Colline and another one in Tefwad. It was especially exciting to be at the Tefwad group, as this was the very first time that they were meeting to begin saving. The plan is for 50 groups like these across the Haiti program in the next year. Here’s a (not very good) picture:

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Notice that the leadership of the group is shared by four people who are elected by the group, and that all transactions (savings deposits, loans and loan repayments are handled up front for maximum transparency.

For me this has been a super encouraging and inspiring trip to Haiti and I will have a few more posts, along with better pictures, soon.

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Photos from Fonds Verrettes, Haiti

I made two quick visits to Fonds Verrettes last week. It was very inspiring, as always, to meet the farmers there and hear how the community is moving forward together. Here are a couple of photos and short reflections.

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Here’s where the trees go: Charcoal for sale at the Dominican border. It was sobering to see all the large  trucks coming down the mountainside filled with charcoal…

ImageYes, despite the first picture, trees in Haiti really can grow well! This man proudly showed us his very steep five acre farm, which included these trees. The trees are preventing erosion and increasing his crop yields. He was super happy to talk with us.

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Free and fair elections: This savings group changed their meeting time so we could attend. They selected five new officers for the year, using pebbles to vote for their candidate. The whole process was taken very seriously, though they also had a good time.

ImageThe newly elected officers

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We met this man, Monel, in the loan group. (as is often the case people take posed pictures very seriously…) When we asked him what he thought about Plant With Purpose’s work in the community, here’s how he responded:

“I am very happy that Plant With Purpose is in Fonds Verrettes. We have accomplished more in six years that we did in the previous eight years. We are grateful for your help in protecting our land. The work you have done before and after the earthquake isn’t just good- it’s wonderful! When I compare the consequences of the last two storms, I see much less damage, thanks to Plant With Purpose’s work. You have helped us learn how to make tree nurseries, composting, grafting, and working with animals. All these things have improved our economic condition. Your being here isn’t just a job, but is a calling from God, like a family, and like a medicine.”

ImageWe get to stay in the lodge in the Foret des pins above Fonds Verrettes. A very cool place to stay. One thing I learned last time I was there was that you can actually heat water in a plastic bottle right next to the fire, you just need to fill it all the way to the top.

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The road in and out of Fonds Verrettes is memorable- here’s one section of it.

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New Leadership in Fonds Verrettes

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Me with Edvard Joseph (left), Haiti country director Guy Parison, and a giraffe…at least I’m not the tallest one.

One of the important changes that happened this year in Fonds Verrettes was that Plant With Purpose hired a new Fonds Verrettes program coordinator, Edvard Joseph. There are 12 staff that he manages, working in 14 villages in the area.

Edvard is new to Fonds Verrettes, but not new to Plant With Purpose. He grew up working with Plant With Purpose in the Grands Collines, our largest program area in Haiti. Edvard recently finished his university agronomy studies in Port au Prince. It was really great to get to know him- Welcome Edvard! I’m in Port au Prince for another day, but will be driving back to Fonds Verrettes again tomorrow, so I’ll see Edvard again.

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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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