by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator
Over the past two years, TWP has been working with our partners at Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT) to design a new approach to reforestation in Northwest Haiti. Our goal is to reduce dependency on seasonal agriculture and the risk of catastrophic crop failures by giving farmers an opportunity to grow valuable trees. One of the keys to this program is the use of Self-Help Groups (SGHs), which have been a powerful force for economic development and women’s empowerment around the world.
In Haiti, AMURT uses the SHG approach in their development work because of the belief that poverty is a denial of basic human rights and women in developing countries are disproportionately impacted by poverty. Most SHGs are comprised of 15-20 women, who bring a certain amount of money to the table each week. This money is kept with the elected Secretary of the group, and is available to be ‘withdrawn’ when a woman member is ready to use it. Along with the amount saved by each member, there is also an amount each person gives to the general account that can be used if the group has an emergency and needs a loan. All decisions are made collectively and all members have an equal opportunity to borrow money.
However, the true impact of SHGs goes beyond increasing an individual’s access to savings and capital. These groups serve as a community gathering place, an educational platform, and a forum for members to express themselves. The true benefit lies in the economic, political, and social empowerment instilled in each and every member.
Based on its success with women’s SHGs, AMURT decided to try the same approach with groups of farmers to help invest in agricultural inputs and learn about best practices for conservation and agroforestry. Since 2012, 14 SHGs were created and active, organizing 280 farmers in four villages which collectively saved a total of $2,315. These groups have also participated in workshops on composting, seed selection, disaster risk reduction, and more.
While most farmers in Haiti are men, AMURT has not limited their outreach efforts to men, and have added women farmers with a focus on single mothers. According to AMURT, the SHG approach initially created and designed for women has proven to work very well with these male farmers. They have had 100% attendance rates for SHG members for the monthly agricultural training. In many cases, men have the capacity to earn more money than women as they are often the chief bread winners of the family, having completed higher levels of education and participating in local leadership or development initiatives. According to one member, “I used to spend 50 Gourdes per day on drinking, but now I know I have to have this money available for the group savings so I stopped drinking.” Another member reported, “I feel strong and part of a group that protects me and represents me.”
In addition to the self-help groups, we have started offering high quality farming tools to the groups as well as seeds for farmers to buy with funds from the group savings. AMURT and Trees, Water & People also produced over 90,000 tree seedlings in 2013, with an additional 120,000 planned for 2014.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how you can support a farmer savings and loan group with matching loans or donations!