Organization Trains, Empowers Farmers in Haiti

 

Article Highlights

Haiti

Nearly half of all Haitians work as farmers, yet 53 percent of the country eats imported foods.

JÉRÉMIE, HAITI – The many farmers in the Grand’Anse department of southwestern Haiti have not stopped working. But some have quit farming to go to Port-au-Prince, the capital, in hopes of escaping the unforgiving, often backbreaking labor of the land, says Elenord Florestal, a farmer in the Grand’Anse. 

 

"They go to Port-au-Prince to work in people's houses or start small street businesses where they sell things on the street,” Florestal says. “Life is not really much better, but they do make a little money from time to time, so they can send their children to school."

 

But Florestal, who lives in Twaktwa, an area south of Jérémie, the capital of the Grand’Anse, continues to farm, as he has done for as long as he can remember.

 

“It is by working the land that I make money to cover my various expenses, like buying seeds and other products, tools, sending my kids to school and to the university,” he says. “It allows me to put food on my table and cover unforeseen expenses, like medical bills.”

 

Florestal plants his crops himself. In one parcel of his land, he plants corn. When he has harvested the corn, he plants beans there. In another parcel, he plants plantains. It’s a demanding process, one he says could improve if he had access to proper infrastructure and equipment.

 

“For us farmers in the Grand’Anse, we suffer a lot of difficulties to harvest what we plant,” Florestal says. “We depend on rain for our planting. When the rain does not come, it is not good for us. The problem is not that there is not enough water, but there is no structure in place that could help capture the water so that we can irrigate the fields.”

 

Florestal says that his crops also aren’t secure because animals like chicken and goats roam freely in the area.

 

“When we plant, the animals come into the fields,” he says. “The chickens eat the corn, and the goats eat the young plants.” 

 

Even though farming has the potential to produce income and food security under the necessary circumstances, it is the hardships and problems associated with planting that cause farmers in Haiti to look elsewhere for work, Florestal says. This mean cutting down trees for charcoal, which requires fewer tools but contributes to forest degradation, or heading to the capital.

 

With all the setbacks farmers currently face, Florestal wonders when the farming industry will get the support it needs from the local or national government.

 

“What are our elected officials doing to help get agriculture to the level it is supposed to be?” he asks.

 

Filling this void, an organization called Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse, which operates in Roseaux, one of the dozen communes in the Grand’Anse, aims to reduce social inequality and improve the farmers’ standard of living.

 

As a member of Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse, Florestal pays a small amount to benefit from technical trainings, facilities and other services, such as seed distribution.

 

Government officials recognize that although many citizens work as farmers, they lack the proper tools and infrastructure to become the country’s main supplier of food as well as earn a strong income. With the government lacking the resources to develop the industry, a nongovernmental organization has stepped in to offer trainings, infrastructure and discounted products to support farmers in southwestern Haiti. It also works to promote human rights.  

 

There are more than 4 million farmers among Haiti’s population of more than 10 million, according to the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Informatics.

 

But 53 percent of Haitians eat imported foods, while only 40 percent eat locally produced foods, says Jean Robert Vladimir Potgony, the director of the Department of Agriculture in the Grand’Anse. The remaining 7 percent live on handouts.

 

The agricultural industry in Haiti is still in its infancy, Potgony says. More technical training and access to credit, as well as a more streamlined system for local enterprises to sell locally farmed products year-round are what will help the industry not only survive, but also flourish.

 

Potogny says the government offers technical assistance and training to farmers but lacks the resources to do much more.

 

Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse is working to bridge the gap to help farmers flourish.

 

Founded in 1997 by a reflection group named Pinga, which means “attention” in Creole, Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse has since grown into a large project that aims to develop agriculture and provide farmers with good soil, farming implements and seeds so they can farm more effectively. Its office is located in Bivet, about four kilometers outside Jérémie.

 

The organization generates funding from ActionAid, an international anti-poverty nongovernmental organization; the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, an international development organization; Meriah Fund, an international nongovernmental organization focused on community development; as well as member contributions.

 

Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse reaches 10 of the Grand’Anse’s 12 communes. The organization assists farmers not only by providing them with tools, but also by offering them continuing education from agronomists on a monthly basis.

 

In November 2011, Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse erected 10 mills in nine communities in Roseaux, one of the 12 communes in the Grand’Anse. It also offered a workshop to show the farmers how to use the mills.

 

“In the workshop, the farmers learned how to properly grind corn, cassava, peanuts, breadfruit and coffee,” says Pierre Dalinstry, director of communications for Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse.

 

Flanese Pierre, a corn and bean farmer who lives in Castillon, a community located in a mountainous region of the department, is one of the beneficiaries of a corn mill in his area.

 

“Thanks to KPGA, who came all the way up from Jérémie to bring us a mill to grind corn and with whose help I have been able to purchase the tools I need at a very reasonable price,” Pierre says.

 

Pierre’s community is not the only one to benefit from a new mill.

 

Arnouse Pika, a farmer from Roseaux, says he has stumbled upon the future of farming in the area thanks to its new cassava mill.

 

“Here, we grow a lot of cassava,” Pika says. “It is growing cassava that allows me to feed my family, my wife and my eight children.”

 

Pika says he used to struggle to find and afford the tools he needed for farming and to grind the cassava root to make cassava flour to sell. But he says that now, with the help of Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse, he can make cassava flour quite easily.

 

Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse has established a work schedule and hired several local people to mill cassava on Mondays and Thursdays and to change the blades to mill corn on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Coffee and peanuts can be milled every day.

 

Luck Trifose of Chadonet, an area west of Jérémie, says her area received a corn mill.

 

“I know about the work KPGA does in the Grand’Anse,” she says. “My area also received a corn mill.”

 

Trifose, who sells her corn, beans and yams in Port-au-Prince, says that farmers no longer have to venture elsewhere in order to mill their corn, which she says took several hours of walking. They can now do it right in their own communities.  

 

The mills are just one of the ways Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse encourages farmers so they do not have to stop working, Trifose says.

 

“Even if we had not gotten a mill, I would still appreciate the work of KPGA because I can see their impact on all of the Grand’Anse,” she says.

 

The work of Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse extends past providing mills.

 

The organization has also started a project to provide farmers with access to clean drinking water in an area called Minan, where lack of water was hurting farming, says Juste Nativita, 28, who has worked for Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse for six years.

 

Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse also opened a farming store in Bivet in 2011 to give farmers the chance to buy what they need at a lower price than anywhere else.

 

“If something sells for 100 gourdes ($2.50) someplace, the KPGA shop will sell it for 70 gourdes ($1.60),” says Pierre Fredy, a management accountant for Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse.

 

The organization will soon add a kitchen to the cassava mill in Roseaux, which will allow those working the mill to make a cassava flatbread, Fredy says. There are also plans to install additional flour mills for breadfruit, peanuts, coffee and corn in the department.

 

The organization’s reach also extends past farming.

 

“KPGA not only helps farmers with tools and seeds, but we also work in the area of human rights,” Nativita says.

 

Nativita says members have formed a committee to defend the rights of local farmers during land disputes.

 

Still, some farmers whom the organization has not yet been able to benefit say they wish it could do more to help them. But this depends on funding.

 

"There are always people who are not happy,” Dalinstry says. “We do not have enough means to satisfy all the needs of the farmers.”

 

Dalinstry says that the long-term objective of Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse is to continue helping as many farmers as possible, especially in the area of continuing education. The organization would also like to establish a community radio station.