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.
Members of Lambi Fund’s staff recently returned from a site visit in Southern Haiti to visit the Ox-Plow Service project. This was an incredibly exciting visit as members of the Organization of Farmers from Besi and Klona (OPBK) have recently began plowing fields with their newly minted ox-plow service. The oxen have been trained and are successfully responding to commands by the ox-plow operators. Members of the organization gleefully demonstrated how the use of oxen greatly increases productivity in the fields. By using two oxen, a plow and an operator who directs the oxen, fields are being plowed in record time. What used to take 16 men working day in and day out to plow crops, the oxen have plowed in a matter of minutes. In fact, many of the crops would not get plowed in time prior to the end of the season. This year, as OPBK members eagerly explained, all fields in the area will be planted with plenty of time remaining – no more backbreaking plowing they fields by hand necessary!
In October of 2011, the Lambi Fund of Haiti’s board and staff members planned to spend three days in Southern Haiti to visit grain mills, sheep farming and ox-plowing projects. The plan was to stay in Les Cayes and travel daily to different project sites located in neighboring rural communities.
Unrelenting rains offered visitors a unique opportunity to understand how accelerated deforestation affects the realities of partner communities and Lambi Fund staff.
The first site visit to The Organization of Good Samaritans (OBS) was a suspense-filled journey as board and staff traveled on flooded roads, apprehensively watching the water levels rise as they moved further inland. The visit to this thriving grain mill (first funded by Lambi Fund eight years ago) had to be curtailed because of the risk posed by rapidly rising waters.
Staying in Les Cayes, a town of about 100,000 citizens, did not prove more comforting. Following three days of steady rainfall, cresting rivers and swollen ravines flooded the city and its surrounding rural communities.
Waist high flood waters in both rural and urban areas drove home the point that deforestation impacts Haitians on a regular basis.
For Lambi Fund staff, especially the regional coordinators, visits to project sites have become increasingly risky propositions, particularly during the rainy season. Roads become impassable at a moment’s notice, and journeys quickly turn life-threatening for staff traveling by car or motor bike.
So how does deforestation impact flooding? While statistics vary, most agree that tree cutting has reduced Haiti’s tree coverage from 1-4%. The resulting erosion of Haiti’s mountains has destroyed an estimated two-thirds of the country’s fertile farmland. This loss of trees has meant that arable soil, anchored to the land by their roots, is quickly washed away during the rainy season.
Consequently, without any soil and roots to hold water, a normal amount of water are not absorbed. As such, rainy seasons have turned Haiti into a landscape of overflowing rivers - carrying with them valuable top soil and causing immeasurable damage.
While the world holds its breath when forecasted hurricanes approach Haiti, not much attention is paid to the impact of the rainy season on farming communities.
For Lambi Fund’s partners, deforestation has transformed the rainy season from a much awaited source of irrigation to a season fraught with danger, one engendering unanticipated losses and devastation.
This was witnessed in the recent visit to the South, where some organizations lost 50% of their crops and about 80% of pastures for sheep were destroyed. This means that farmers, who accessed credit from the community-run mutual credit funds, will experience great hardships. Their repayment plans often hinge on the anticipated sale of crops. Meanwhile, sheep growers’ profitability is jeopardized since they will be forced to reinvest in the purchase and preparation of animal feed.
As this vulnerability becomes more apparent, appreciation for Lambi Fund’s reforestation efforts has grown. Partners have responded by participating enthusiastically in training workshops offered on reforestation and seedling cultivation. Members of organizations work collectively to build nurseries, care for seedlings, and replant young trees on their lands and in vulnerable watershed areas.
For the past ten years, Lambi Fund has been steadfast in its comprehensive, grassroots-driven reforestation efforts.
In addition to including a reforestation component in all funded projects, Lambi Fund has incorporated environmentally safe practices in other programmatic activities, most notably animal husbandry. Free grazing has been identified as a significant cause of deforestation and environmental degradation, particularly when goats and sheep are allowed to feed on young trees and seedlings. As a result, all Lambi Fund supported animal husbandry projects build enclosures where animals are kept. The offered workshops show farmers how to grow and preserve the forage needed to keep their animals well-fed and healthy even during the dry season.
Over the course of 10 years, Lambi Fund partners have prepared over 1.5 million seedlings and have planted 1.2 million tree saplings. It is estimated that 60% of these trees survive, meaning that about 720,000 trees have matured in communities throughout Haiti.
Lambi Fund also has plans to hire an agronomist with expertise in agro-forestry who will oversee all reforestation projects. In addition, staff members are exploring the use of grassroots-friendly GPS technology to better document the impact of Lambi Fund’s reforestation projects. Mapping reforestation progress will better allow Lambi Fund to see the strengths and weakness regarding tree planting efforts – allowing staff to enforce and adapt strategies as needed.
In spite of the daunting challenges presented to farmers by deforestation, they are not losing hope. Clermont Yogane Enold, a twenty-something farmer of the Association of Youth from Tet-Kole Bedo, summarized it most eloquently. When asked what they would do to address the losses sustained in the floods he replied: “We cannot give into despair, we will work the land, plant trees and grow our crops once again....”
Members of the Organization of Farmers from Besi and Klona (OPKB) have received valuable training in numerous training sessions. This includes:
• A training that was provided for 25 members on animal selection, caring for the animals (veterinary agent and pharmacy), and animal feed.
• A training was provided on managing a microcredit fund for 25 members which covered: setting up a managing committee, the principles of microcredit lending, record keeping, and the documentation of loans.
• A training was provided on organizational capacity building for 25 members. Topics included membership engagement, how to engage members to make the organization stronger, transparency, gender equity and civic engagement.
Each of these workshops have provided OPKB members with valuable skills that are making the organization stronger and the daily operations of their ox-plow service efficient and effective.
Cholera, like most news in Haiti, made headlines and then was placed on the sidelines as other more "newsworthy" events were brought to the forefront. Since the fall of last year, Haiti has been battling this ugly epidemic and it has been particularly devastating in the countryside due a lack of water infrastructure and nearly unnavigable dirt roads.
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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
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