By Marie Marthe Saint Cyr
Fostering practices that yield democratic functioning in Haiti is the overarching principle of the Lambi Fund of Haiti's mission. Each and every day, together with our partners, we assess events and situations created by policies or the lack thereof that weaken the capacity of our communities to strive to move forward.
I was never more surprised than when I encountered a Dominican asking me, "Donde está Port-au-Prince?" That was while I was in Ganthier recently, a small town near the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In Petion Ville, when I was hungry, a family member asked me if I wanted some Dominican food that was on hand for an afternoon snack. Whatever happened to Akasans or Fritay (a Haitian medley of fried vegetables and griot), I thought to myself.
When I needed to wash my hair, my choice was Dominican or Haitian hairdressers, not vice versa and with an emphasis on the former. On the road, traveling from the North to Port-au-Prince, there were Dominican firms building the roads with Haitian spectators watching them work.
I suppose you could ask me. "What does this have to do with rural Haiti or the mission that Lambi Fund seeks to fulfill?"
The rural area comprises roughly 90% of Haiti's population. We are Haiti. We produce and deliver the food. We sacrifice to create access to education for our children. In spite of the failings of governance, we continue to produce and feed the local economy — we want to grow and we have long waited for strong partnership with government entities to strengthen our capacities.
Survival in rural Haiti is dependent on the need to and the ability to produce creatively given a shortfall of resources. Communities continue to face serious challenges without subsidies, without plans for protecting the soil, without plans for watershed management, without alternative energy for daily utilization and the latest challenge is the loss of our borders.
The invasion of agricultural production is implicit in the dumping of goods in our local communities thereby reducing the ability of Haitian farmers to compete and reducing the level of profit they can make — devaluing local products such as rice, plantains, coconuts, and lemons.
Whether we invest $300 million or a billion dollars elsewhere, it rids Haitians of job opportunities, the transfer of skills to our youth and for the local farmer it rids him of the right to access the local market. This is the principal source of development and incomes for communities throughout Haiti. Agriculture is the key investment that will yield our nation marked growth, yet it is being attacked and weakened from the outside.
While rural farmers invest in the sweat of their brows to educate their children out of poverty, work opportunities are farmed out and opportunities to make a fair living are dwindling. So, the constant outmigration of citizens from rural towns continues. If the dream of the next generation of rural citizens is to move to Port-au-Prince, then the dream of the next generation in Port-au-Prince is to find the next opportunity to fly out of the country altogether.
There is a vigorous yet silent invasion in Haiti. It is seeping through not just the culture, but the land, the market, the thinking. Even the clothing is no longer made by local tailors or shoemakers. Education is not guided by normative standards with a set of principles and values representing the needs of our country.
We are allowing all of these goods to come from elsewhere and it is diminishing the internal trade and exchange that can fuel the local economy.
This is about recalculating and reversing the trends. Haiti needs policies that reverse these trends and that place value on local markets and local goods. Policies need to help the rural areas to plant, harvest and sell their crops.
The primary result needs to be an integrated practice of development. This will deliver initiatives that put decision-making in the hands of those whose lives are most affected – meaning a much needed inclusion of the rural areas. We must have policies that are dedicated to improving access to land and productivity that will feed all of Haiti's nine million citizens.
Teach the next generation the value of the land while at the same time stressing the importance of respect towards the environment. Raise the standards, expectations, rights and implemented justice so that we can have a new legacy.
None of this can be done without policies that invite community members to be part of the development program and opportunities. These policies should value community members' participation in programs and provide opportunities to change local thinking and the reverse of negative trends.
This cannot be done “for” Haitians, but it must be done “by” Haitians. We simply cannot wait to be delivered, but we need to deliver ourselves. There once was a time that food and basics used in Haiti were made in Haiti.
Now the restaurants are not ours and the products they use are not either. The frontier is open for anyone to come in and sell their goods, while we destroy the rural economy — the foundation of Haiti's economy. We cannot have the international community flood the economy with their goods, we need to close that door and build Haiti's own goods and services.
Read the rest of the 2012 Spring Newsletter here.