Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Update

     As you are well aware, Hurricane Sandy barreled through the Caribbean and Eastern coast of the United States and wrought extraordinary damage.  Millions of families and many of you, I am sure, are looking to pick up the pieces from this powerful super storm.  Those living in Haiti are no different. 
Photo by: EFE
Flooding in Haiti from Hurricane Sandy

     Over the course of four days, Haiti received over 20 inches of rainfall, which inundated communities with massive amounts of water and debris.  The Lambi Fund of Haiti is now in the process of contacting partner organizations to assess damage and losses.  Initial estimates calculate that thousands of acres of crops in Southern Haiti have been washed away and large numbers of livestock have been lost. 
     For impoverished families in Haiti still struggling to recover from the earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Isaac in August, this news is just devastating.  These crops are the very essence of rural Haitian’s livelihoods  and the rammifications of this storm could spell widespread starvation. 

     Please take urgent action to help rural communities throughout Haiti pick themselves up and get back on their feet again.  It is during trying times like these that even a little can go a long way.  Donate now and you will help:

  • Purchase local seeds so small farmers can replant their crops
  • Provide the resources needed for community organizations to replenish local grain reserves
  • Replace livestock like goats, pigs and sheep that were lost in the storm
  • Contribute to community-led efforts to clean up debris, fallen trees, and destroyed roads in towns throughout Haiti
  • Replenish community credit funds which provide local  members with valuable access to capital so that they can purchase life essentials like food and water
Its efforts like these that will lessen the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on impoverished Haitians.  Together we can help clean up the wreckage, replant crops and move forward.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  

May your recovery be swift,

Marie Marthe Saint Cyr

Executive Director
The Lambi Fund of Haiti

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

For Haiti’s Agriculture, the Hits Keep Coming

Lambi Fund's Sarah Leavitt recently wrote a guest blog for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

      It’s a common scene in Haiti: Marceline, a small farmer, walks into a bustling market to sell her harvest and the marketplace is riddled with imported goods.  Fruits and vegetables are from the Dominican Republic, packaged goods from the U.S. line the rows and large bags of rice stamped with USAID lay on the ground.   To an unknowing eye, this wouldn’t mean much, but to Marceline these imported goods are undercutting her and other Haitian farmers’ ability to make an honest living.
In Haiti, the idea of food sovereignty means so much more than growing food that is healthy, culturally appropriate and produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods (as defined by the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty).  For the more than half of Haitian society that depends on agriculture for its livelihood, an agriculture system that that supports locally grown foods is imperative.
     The struggle to protect and strengthen local agriculture is nothing new to Haiti. Severe environmental degradation and years of deforestation have eroded the soil and left much of the land devoid of the nutrients essential to producing high yielding crops. This, coupled with Haiti’s propensity for natural disasters, like hurricanes, leaves small farmers especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the environment.
Used under creative commons license from Marion Doss.The damage from Hurricane Isaac was so severe,
 it is estimated that the agriculture sector
 in Haiti suffered $2,420 million in losses.
Take Hurricane Isaac for example. Heavy rains came and quickly washed away topsoil no longer anchored down by the roots of trees, leading to the destruction of many crops and livestock. The damage was so severe, it is estimated that the agriculture sector suffered $2,420 million in losses (Caribbean Journal 2012). This susceptibility to crop loss makes relying on agriculture in Haiti a difficult endeavor. For small Haitian farmers like Marceline, losing crops to a hurricane is devastating. Selling goods from a harvest in the market is now out of the question and the need to feed her children, send them to school and eke out an existence becomes a herculean feat.
     If the seemingly ever-present threats of the environment were not enough, small farmers continually face ramifications of unfair trade policies that promote the incessant dumping of food aid and cripple local markets.
     The most well-known example of this is the infamous U.S. rice programs that destroyed Haiti’s rice production in the mid 1990s. The Clinton Administration negotiated an agreement with the Haitian government that dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice, which became cheaper than Haitian rice. As a consequence, the floor dropped out from beneath Haitian rice growers. As Clinton explains it, "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake." Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March of 2010, "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."
     Then again in May 2010, on the heels of the earthquake, when communities were still reeling from the devastation and loss of life—farmers’ crops were attacked yet again. Monsanto announced the donation of $4 million dollars' worth of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds. Much like Clinton’s rice subsidy policies that were at the time touted as providing Haitians with a cheap and affordable source of food, this donation was given under the veil of benevolence to help farmers who “may not have had sufficient seeds to plant” (Monsanto 2010), an assumption without merit.
     Monsanto’s actions were harmful for a couple of reasons.  First, the seeds came coated in toxic fungicides and require significantly more water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides than local Creole heirloom and organic seeds.  In addition, these hybrid seeds cannot be saved and re-planted, so farmers who use them must purchase new seeds for planting each year.
     Small farmers saw this ruse for what it was—a move by Monsanto to create agricultural dependency in Haiti. The peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called this donation, “a new earthquake [for Haiti]” and “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.”  Local peasant farmer movements were so opposed to this attack on food sovereignty that they committed to burningMonsanto’s seeds upon arrival. Undoubtedly, not all of the seeds were destroyed and thousands of Haitians were distributed these seeds unaware of the long-term risks and impending dependency—all of which impoverished farmers simply cannot afford. (Read more about the continued impacts of Monsanto’s influence in Haiti.)
     In spite of these egregious threats from the U.S. and international corporations, small communities throughout Haiti are uniting to strengthen local food production, protect the environment and promote Creole seed and food storage.
     One such example is the Youth Association of Sél (AJS) who are partnering with the Lambi Fund of Haiti to build a grain storage facility and to launch a community credit fund in their community. The organization is building a grain silo to store surplus grains and seeds for use in times of need—droughts, natural disasters and between growing seasons. The storage facility will also be a place to store local Creole seeds. With this silo, AJS members are working to increase access to high quality, local seeds that they can share and sell to one another at an affordable rate.
     AJS, a youth organization comprised of 255 members (120 women) is a young and vibrant group that realizes the importance of fighting for and promoting food sovereignty in its community.  In order to increase their capacity, members attended workshops administered by Lambi Fund on grain storage management and operation, bookkeeping, the issuing of loans and how to manage a community credit fund.
     To date, 50 low-interest loans have been issued to members who are using the funds to purchase more seeds, tools and organic fertilizers for growing more peanuts, peas and corn in the area.  One recipient noted that investments from the loan allowed him to cultivate 25 percent more land. All of these loans were repaid on time, and since AJS manages the credit fund and interest earnings stay within the community, the fund is growing.  As a result, AJS members are planning to issue an additional 19 loans this fall to farmers in preparation for the upcoming planting season.  The silo is currently under construction and committees have been formed that will be responsible for managing the food storage unit and distributing the grains and seeds in an equitable manner.
     While members of AJS may be young, each of these members is not naïve to the difficulties of farming in Haiti.  Hurricanes, droughts, a degraded environment, unfair trade policies and corporate influences make growing food and earning a fair income markedly difficult, yet members of AJS and countless other Haitians living in rural Haiti realize the importance of standing in unity and working together towards a food secure Haiti. Cooperatives and community organizations much like AJS are working together to promote food storage, seed sharing and community lending practices that are strengthening the foundation of agriculture in Haiti. To read more about efforts like these or to support community-led efforts for sustainable agriculture, please visit www.lambifund.org.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Worldwide Food Crisis in 2013 Would be Catastrophic for Haiti

By Sarah Leavitt     

     According to a recent article in the Guardian, the UN is warning that the world is on the verge of a major food crisis in 2013.  Just the slightest hiccup in plans for the year's agriculture will mean food shortages, rising food costs, and food riots.  

Why? Falling harvests around the globe have put worldwide grain reserves at their lowest since 1974.  Abdolreza Abbassin, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that, "We've not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year." 

Flooded fields in Haiti after heavy rainfall
     This is incredibly troublesome news at a time when costs for main food crops (rice and maize) are rising and weather patterns are becoming anything but predictable and "normal." This year, for the sixth time in 11 years, the world will consume more food than it produces, largely because of extreme weather in the US and other major food-exporting countries (Guardian 2012). 

     Lester Brown, president of the Earth policy research center in Washington, says that, "We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. Food supplies are tightening everywhere and land is becoming the most sought-after commodity as the world shifts from an age of food abundance to one of scarcity.  The geopolitics of food is fast overshadowing the geopolitics of oil."

      One thing that is clear - if and when this food crisis strikes, the world's most vulnerable populations will be hit the hardest.  Take Haiti for instance, 60% of its population are farmers.  Growing conditions are already difficult for this small island nation that suffers from severe soil erosion and depleted soil nutrients.  Increasingly severe weather patterns have already begun taking its toll on crop production - abnormally long droughts have depleted crop yields in years' past while hurricanes and harsh storms have washed away millions of dollars in crops.  If the food crisis that the UN is warning of comes to fruition, the 80% of citizens living below the poverty line face dire circumstances.

     In order to prevent this impending catastrophe urgent action that supports and strengthens local food production is needed.  Haiti is already overly reliant on food aid and imported food: some 51% of the food consumed in the country is imported, including 80% of all rice eaten (according to the Haitian government).  Undoubtedly, if worldwide grain reserves continue to decrease and food costs rise, food aid will abate and Haitians already struggling to scrape by will not be able to afford the increased cost of imported food.
Lambi Fund led training on sustainable agriculture methods

     So, what can be done?  Work to build a strong foundation of local food production with built in safeguards that can withstand fluctuations of markets and inclement weather.  First and foremost, investments in small farmers that provide hard-working Haitians with the resources and training they need to plant more food and improve crop productivity will make a marked impact.  This means providing funding for farmers to purchase high-quality local seeds that are fit for the local environment.  Training is also critical.  Offering training opportunities to small farmers that teach them sustainable agriculture strategies, how to care for the environment and techniques that will boost productivity will foster self-sufficiency and a vibrant food economy.

     Investments in irrigation, water management and low-use watering techniques are of paramount concern as well.  The more that rainfall becomes unreliable, the more that farmers need appropriate water strategies.

     On that same token, building local grain storage silos so that communities can store their own reserves and have safeguards in place if a food crisis occurs will empower communities to plan for unforeseen circumstances and to provide for one another when emergencies do arise.

Supporting local food production provides hard-working
Haitians with goods to sell in the market
     Beyond this, governments like Haiti and other nations in similar circumstances need to implement policies that will protect against land-grabbing, promote local agriculture and that plan appropriate responses for crop failures.
     Regardless of whether or not a worldwide food crisis strikes in 2013, these types of local, grassroots-led investments in local agriculture need to be made a top priority.  Providing training, tools, seeds and the resources needed that strengthen communities and increase local outputs will not only make an immediate impact on fighting hunger, but will equip communities with a built-in safety net when agricultural disasters occur.