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Church-supported program assists Haiti food crisis

Women from a Church World Service-supported cooperative near Gonaives in northwest Haiti harvest eggplants for their family's use, with the surplus sold at market. UMNS photos by Don Tatlock, Church World Service.

A UMNS Report
By Jan Dragin*

July 29, 2008

Struggling in the grip of a worsening world food crisis, Haitians in the island nation's remote Artibonite and northwest regions are gaining food security through a church-supported sustainable agriculture program.

A co-op member plants shallots.

Church World Service, the global humanitarian agency, is the lead agency for the program, which also has support from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Mennonite Central Committee, Reformed Church World Service and the United Church of Christ.

A new grant from the U.S.-based Osprey Foundation will help expand the program to provide more people, particularly women, with opportunities to grow enough food for their families and increase income for other basic needs through access to credit and training.

"The program was launched in 2005 following Tropical Storm Jeanne as a transition from disaster recovery to sustainable community development," said Martin Coria, regional director for Church World Service in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"We've seen really impressive results in terms of people building robust food production, so they can feed themselves. But more important, beyond basic food survival, the program has flourished in an area of severe poverty which was compounded by the devastation of the 2005 storm.

"Twelve agricultural community cooperatives of men and women have formed, and they continue to increase their farming skills through training and with the provision of what NGOs like to call 'agricultural inputs.' (That) translates as: tools, livestock, poultry and seeds."

Drop in childhood malnutrition

As a result of the post-storm Rural Development Program, family income is up and adult and childhood malnutrition is down, while elsewhere Haitians are rioting over lack of food. Families participating in the northwest co-op farming program are producing larger, healthier and more diversified crops, including rice, by using fertilizer, crop rotation, and cultivation methods that tackle environmental problems and prevent soil erosion.

In the northwest cooperatives, nine small agricultural loan funds and five women's microenterprise loan funds are now viable, rotating sources of micro-funding which help members expand their ventures or start new ones.

“Eating mud patties just won't do.”
–Martin Coria
The Christian Center for Integrated Development (Sant Kretyen Pou Developman Entegre, SKDE), a CWS Haitian partner, coordinates the food and livelihood security program locally.

"After Hurricane Jeanne, most will remember what terrible flooding and destruction there was in Gonaives, in Artibonite," said the Rev. Herode Guillaumettre, the center’s director. "But, now, if you go to Artibonite, where food and gardens were totally destroyed, now people have gotten their gardens back.

"The farming cooperatives in Artibonite and northwest Haiti are like a light in the communities, showing people the way to food security that will last," he said.

A new road being built into the region is literally creating a market-driven economy in the remote area, according to Guillaumettre. "Trucks from other areas will now be able to go in and buy food from the farm cooperatives," he explained.

Training farmers

The established co-ops are extending their project by reaching out to other farming groups. "We send people from our projects to other areas of Haiti to train other farmers so they can establish their own cooperatives, food sources and livelihoods," Guillaumettre said.

Coria said the Foods Resource Bank, a U.S.-based hunger and poverty-fighting organization, has supported the CWS program since its inception in 2005 and will continue through 2009. USAID also provided some funding in the past.

Thanks to an irrigation pump provided by Church World Service, a co-op now harvests three crops a year.

He noted that "more funding was needed to propel the gains and strengths of these communities to a higher and even more durable level. The new $100,000 Osprey Foundation grant will make it possible for the existing Artibonite and Northwest co-ops to increase the capital in their agricultural credit and micro-enterprise loan funds and for new co-ops to establish new loan funds."

CWS will provide further business management training for participants, seen as critical for the ongoing success of the loan funds and the life of the cooperatives themselves.

"This is not just learn-how-to-plant-compost-and-irrigate agriculture for home gardens," Coria stressed. "The people of Northwest Haiti who are participating in these cooperatives are learning hard core business success models."

The new Osprey Foundation grant to CWS will fund training in results-based management, efficiency and practical outcome measurement––all areas that successful business enterprises have to master.

'Mud patties won't do'

"In the case of Haiti and Haitian farmers, results-based management will translate into, 'We can eat now and next year, have healthier children, create family income and build an economically stronger community through cooperatives,'" Coria said.

"The current food crisis has heaped intolerable scarcity on the existing complex, chronic and critical food needs of the people of Haiti. Eating mud patties just won't do. We wish more Haitians could be strengthened and could feed themselves, through programs like those in Artibonite and northwest."

The Osprey Foundation also is a supporter of the CWS Weapons for Water program in Mozambique and of the agency's Emergency Response Revolving Fund, which most recently assisted Kenyans displaced and threatened by this year's post-election violence.

The Chicago-based Foods Resource Bank works on behalf of 25 member Christian denominations and agencies, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief, to mobilize and increase resources that support smallholder, agricultural food security programs in some of the world's poorest areas.

*Dragin is a communications consultant for Church World Service.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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