Hurricane Matthew’s Destructive Path in Northwest Haiti

by Sebastian Africano, International Director of Trees, Water & People

For the last week I’ve been pondering the severity of Hurricane Matthew’s destruction in the Caribbean, a region in which I’ve spent a lot of time, and where I’ve worked with dozens of chronically vulnerable communities. While Matthew made landfall on the south coast of Haiti, which is what most are seeing in the news, I had not seen one mention of the conditions on Haiti’s northern peninsula, the region in which TWP has worked since 2007 with partners at AMURT and LOCAL.

Today I received the first news from the communities with which we’ve worked, and it’s not good (see below). As such, Trees, Water & People will be raising funds for the relief effort in the Northwest, and for continued stabilization of the hillsides with trees, shrubs, and grasses. 100% of funds raised will go to the recovery and reconstruction effort. Here is an email from our colleagues at AMURT, who just conducted a 3-day visit to the region:
Even before Hurricane Matthew, the northwest of Haiti was designated as an extreme vulnerability zone as a result of the 3-year drought – the farming and environment of the entire area has been devastated and has led to an increase of migration, the spread of cholera, and shrinking of livelihoods. The passing of Matthew along the NW of Haiti has devastated all coastal communities which rely on fishing, salt production, and subsistence farming. The photos show the extensive damage done to houses, but the damage extends inland – most of the irrigation canals have been destroyed, farms wiped out, livestock lost, salt basins submerged in mud, trees uprooted. Polluted water sources and very poor sanitation raise the danger of the expansion of the cholera epidemic which still plagues the region.

hurricane-matthew-destruction-2
This couple stands in front of a line of destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew in northwest Haiti. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Hurricane Matthew has increased the vulnerability of this already impoverished and isolated corner of Haiti to a new level, which is exacerbated by the complete lack of basic services. The real crisis will deepen week by week as the sparse stocks of seeds and supplies begin running out. With the primary sources of livelihoods (in particular salt production and farming) severely impacted, those most vulnerable have lost the only source of meager income that has helped them meet their basic food needs. The situation is critical and requires an immediate response which is integrated, durable and targeting the most vulnerable populations.
Assessment

  • 280 houses completely destroyed, 640 houses inundated and damaged, 720 houses severely damaged, five schools severely damaged.
  • 90% of salt basins severely impacted/destroyed.
  • Majority of farming land and irrigation severely impacted from the mountains to the coast.
  • Majority of road severely impacted, access to most inland areas very difficult.
hurricane-matthew-destruction-3
This family stands beside their demolished home after Hurricane Matthew raged through northwest Haiti. Photo by Sara Wolf

Greatest Needs

First phase – emergency food, water, sanitation, medical and emergency kits, temporary shelter, child-friendly spaces, cash for work to clear debris and repair roads and salt basins.

Second phase – Livelihood creation, cash for work to protect watersheds and coastal areas, construction of permanent shelter, school reconstruction.

Program Focus of AMURT during the first 3-month period

  • Emergency food distribution (dry rations) and hot meal canteens for vulnerable groups (children under 5, elderly, pregnant women and handicapped) – a total of 2,500 beneficiaries in 5 coastal communities
  • Distribution of Non-Food Items (NFI) and emergency shelter kits until more extensive reconstruction can be planned
  • Water and sanitation – treated drinking water stations, latrines, sanitation education
  • Emergency Child-Friendly Spaces – daily hot meals and psycho-social and arts programs for children
  • Cash for Work program to repair roads, damaged areas, salt basins
  • Assistance to re-build the damaged fishing, salt production, and farming (tools, seeds, accompaniment)

Trees, Water & People has planted almost 500,000 trees in northern Haiti with our partners, and with any luck, they lessened the damage downhill of where they were planted. All funds raised by TWP will be used for the priorities listed above, and any remaining after the initial response will go toward rebuilding tree nurseries and replanting the contour channels and check dams that reduce erosion and mudslide risk. This is a desperately isolated region, which is why we worked here in the first place – let’s not let it be forgotten as the country recovers from yet another devastating natural disaster.

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Project Update: Matching Loans for Women Farmers in Haiti

Haitian women farmers

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Progress

In late October 2014, I was able to travel to Haiti to meet with our partners at the Local Capacity Alliance (LOCAL), who have taken over all field activities for the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT). Once at the project site, six hours northwest of Port-au-Prince, we launched into three days of visiting tree nurseries, reforestation sites, farm plots, and the Self Help Groups (SHGs) who will be supported by these Catapult funds throughout the coming year. Far from being the timid, poor victims on the margins of an economically challenged society, the women members of the Self Help Groups groups have taken charge of their development, and are dedicated to the notion of lifting themselves out of poverty. One testament to their success was a recent award received by LOCAL’s Self Help Group coordinator Remise Belizaire, recognized as Digicel’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” for the region – an honor bestowed on 10 outstanding leaders per year in Haiti.

Risks and challenges

As the Self Help Group program grows, it places increasing levels of responsibility on the members of each group to manage their growth, keep their leaders in check, and to deal cooperatively with problems. Some groups have had members withdraw from the group and take their capital with them, which destabilizes the rhythm of the group and shrinks the pot of money available for loans. Even though they can only leave with what they actually deposited, a new member recruited to replace the old does not deposit the same amount in replacement, so the group’s capital is reduced.

Haiti Self-Help Group

Get personal

“The Self Help Groups are not only for us to make money, it has also shown us how to live together, to collaborate, and how to work in groups”

“Our husbands have begun to understand the benefits we’ve been gaining from our Self Help Group, and have asked LOCAL to help start groups for men following the example of the women.”

Next steps

LOCAL has just hired two Haitian Agronomists to manage the program, and they are in the process of developing a strategic plan for 2015, including activities with the Self Help Groups. Initially they will focus on working with the them to improve agricultural productivity, increase the use of tree crops and orchards, and to produce Moringa powder, a locally grown superfood, for sale and local consumption.

To learn more about this project please visit Catapult.org!

The Mighty Moringa Tree in Haiti

Haiti Moringa trees
The Moringa tree is well-known in Haiti for its medicinal and nutritional value.

This year, our Haitian partners at AMURT and the Local Capacity Alliance (LOCAL) have focused their Transformation de l’Environment Rural (TER) training on agroforestry, fruit trees, and Moringa. Hundreds of Haitian farmers in the northwest region of the country have learned diverse cultivation methods and utilization of the mighty Moringa tree, known in Haiti as d’olive, benzolive, or gabriel.

moringa-vs-common-foods
Source: http://moringaoleifera.com/nutrientcontent.html

According to AMURT, people have been very interested and enthusiastic about Moringa, which is well-known in the area for its medicinal and nutritional value.  Training sessions have focused on tree-care, harvest and simple processing of the leaf into Moringa powder. In the near future, experiments will begin on extraction of the Moringa oil, which also has multiple beneficial uses. Due to it’s high vitamin and mineral content, AMURT and LOCAL’s ultimate aim is to promote cultivation of Moringa as a nutritional supplement for families, for school meals and eventually as an export product from the economically challenged region.

Moringa powder
Moringa leaves can be ground into a fine powder and used as a nutritional supplement.

LOCAL’s Moringa Specialist, Daniel Isner, said “This training is a fundamental step in the projected establishment of a Haitian Moringa producers network, one that holds great potential in supplying Moringa leaves to booming global superfood/nutrition markets and to quality Moringa seed oil to a variety of markets, both here and abroad.”

farmer training
Farmer training promoting Moringa cultivation and agroforestry

Thanks to many generous donors, we have been able to support this very impactful project that is helping Haitian farmers earn an income while also protecting the land. As Demeter from AMURT recently commented, “It’s inspiring to see the partnership we started 7 years ago give such beautiful fruits – more than a million trees, 600 farmers organized in Self-Help Groups with more than 50,000 USD in savings, and a growing appreciation for “green” in this isolated NW corner of Haiti.”

Notes from the Field: Transforming Rural Environments in Haiti

 by Sharifa Bagalaaliwo, Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team

Haitian farmers

Located in the quiet and scenic Northwest region of Haiti – a small team is doing big things using holistic and sustainable methods to transform the rural landscape of the communes of Anse Rouge and Terre Neuve.

Since 2008 Transformation de l’Environment Rural (TER)/ Transformation of Rural Environment has been the brainchild of the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team in Haiti (AMURT- Haiti). With the support of Trees Water & People (TWP), the TER project has been helping communities preserve the fragile ecological balance through grassroots initiatives focused on watershed protection, soil conservation, sustainable agro-forestry as well as integrated water management.

Exchange of tree nursery techniques, Hatte-Dimanche
Exchange of tree nursery
techniques, Hatte-Dimanche

But what are we talking about when we say environmental transformation?  For starters, our integrated approach relies on organizing Haitian farmers into Self-Help Group (SHG) structures, providing technical agro-forestry training and accompaniment, creating model demonstration parcels, and helping farmers save their own money, manage the self-generated funds and create micro-lending programs that allow them to rely less and less on external inputs. The SHG’s have registered savings of more than $1,500 USD per group!

As part of this integrated approach, AMURT-Haiti has also used support from TWP to transform plots of land into community demonstration garden parcels that are models of sustainable farming and watershed protection. The demonstration gardens are accompanying farmers to develop more sustainable methods they can practice in the model gardens and then take back to apply in their private yards and farms. Hand-in-hand with this, the TER program emphasizes collaborative leadership and autonomous initiatives through the Self-Help Group approach. This collaborative strategy includes the creation of tool and seed bank cooperatives (Boutique Agricoles). The Boutique Agricoles have made it easier for farmers to access essential materials and products locally saving them time and money, increasing self-sufficiency and keeping the focus on the environment and agriculture.

Rivier Forad tree nursery
Rivier Forad tree nursery

As partners of TWP, AMURT – Haiti is also proud to admit that something else that’s been hugely successful is our focus on tree planting. Over the last year, this partnership has led to the planting of approximately 100,000 trees in three villages with a special emphasis on Moringa. Tree nurseries set up in selected villages (Hatte -Dimanche, Ti Plas, Rivier Forad, and Gros Roch) have been the base of ongoing training and exchange opportunities between our tree nursery technicians, farmers, and the community. Growing community participation during annual tree planting days have shown us that there is a greater appreciation for trees, increased awareness of the need for tree planting and improved knowledge of planting techniques.

A SHG member plants Moringa trees
An SHG member plants Moringa trees in Northwest Haiti.

All in all it has been busy for AMURT – Haiti’s TER team and a fruitful and valued partnership with Trees Water & People. In the following months and year we are excited to continue working alongside TWP in Haiti to help strengthen local capacities and keep helping people and the planet.

Photo of the Week: Planting trees in Cite Soleil, Haiti

Kids planting trees_Haiti
About this photo

In partnership with Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), we have been working to “close the loop and transform the poop.” Part of this effort involves tree planting and educating the local youth.

In this photo, Haitian children in Cite Soleil learn about caring for the environment by planting trees using Ecosan compost. This special compost, produced by SOIL, is created using innovative composting toilets. The sustainable and environmentally friendly “humanure” compost is changing the way Haitians look at sanitation, agriculture, and natural resource management.

(Photo credit: SOIL 2013)

Notes from the Field: A New Approach to Reforestation in Haiti

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

Self Help Savings Group Haiti
Self-Help Groups are empowering women and men in Haiti.

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.

International Director, Sebastian Africano, trains Haitian farmers on using technology for crop management.
International Director, Sebastian Africano, trains Haitian farmers on using technology for crop management.

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 lindsay@treeswaterpeople.org to learn more about how you can support a farmer savings and loan group with matching loans or donations!

Guest Blog: SOIL and TWP Work Together to Plant Trees in Haiti

by Monica Roy, Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)

Haitian school children plant trees

Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods, or SOIL, is one of our reforestation partners in Haiti. In this new post, Monica Roy provides an update of the 10,000 Trees for Haiti project that donors helped us fund at the end of 2012.

It’s been quite a year so far for SOIL! Among our many activities, we’re currently building a new office for our Cap-Haitien team in order to be closer to the SOIL farm and to reduce our long-term operating costs, we’re continuing to scale up our innovative new social business model for providing affordable sanitation services in Haiti’s most impoverished urban communities, and we’re transforming over 20,000 gallons of human waste every month into rich, organic compost critical for agriculture and reforestation. We sell some of the compost to support our ongoing sanitation activities, but some of it is used at our tree nursery to grow healthy trees.

Thanks to the support of Trees, Water & People, SOIL’s reforestation projects in Haiti continue to have a positive impact on improving food security, increasing rural incomes, and fighting soil erosion.

SOIL tree nursery HaitiWe’re happy to announce that we’re now almost halfway to our goal of planting 10,000 trees. There were a few hold-ups figuring out the best strategy to plant trees with a higher rate of survival (those pesky goats!), but we are on track to finish planting by the end of the year. So far, we have collaborated with the Scouts of Haiti, schools, community organizations, and our neighbors near the farm. There has been lots of positive feedback and a growing wait list for people interested in planting trees in their communities.

In the SOIL nursery, we focus on seeding fruit trees, which provide so many additional benefits beyond just re-planting Haiti’s largely deforested land. Not only will these trees help stabilize soils, they will also provide shade, food to eat, and an income for local people.

In the coming months and years, we will continue working with schools, community groups, and entrepreneurs to plant more and more trees in ecologically vulnerable areas such as mountainsides and mangrove terrain along Haiti’s coastline. We’re committed to ensuring that not only are we planting more trees every year, but also that we’re following up to make sure those trees have a lasting positive benefit for Haiti’s soil, environment, and people.

We’re very excited to continue this work with Trees, Water, & People and we thank everyone in Haiti and around the world that have supported this effort.

SOIL tree nursery Haiti