Northwest Haiti Still in Dire Need After Hurricane Matthew

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Friends, Family, Colleagues,

I ask for your attention again as we get critical news from Hurricane Matthew’s wake in northwestern Haiti. In total, 55,000 people have been directly impacted by the storm in the two municipalities where TWP has worked since 2007. Our colleagues at AMURT have just returned from a trip to the area to assess needs, and are seeing immense challenges ahead. Roads have been washed out, irrigation systems have been destroyed, and almost all livelihood activities have ground to a halt. 70% of crops for this fall’s harvest are gone. 90% of the salt basins used to harvest sea salt have been flooded with mud. The limited sources for potable water in the area have been washed out.

family in northwest Haiti
A family in northwest Haiti stands by their crumbling home after Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Here is a first-hand account from our partners at AMURT.

“Just returned from the Northwest after a very hard trip – productive but very heartbreaking at the same time. The damage after the last inundations and heavy rains has been much more extensive than I thought. In fact when I went to the area after Matthew and compare what I saw then and what I witness now – it’s several degrees more severe and critical. I visited villages that have such substantial malnutrition, whose residents have lost all of their livelihoods and have nothing left to them. Several villages had cases of infant death due to malnutrition (only 3 weeks after the hurricane!), cholera returning, no drinking water, mud covering everything, productive soil covering salt basins, eroded roads…

This is a very extensive humanitarian crisis that is not talked about anywhere in the news. It’s as if this region is forgotten by all and is slipping into a spiral of vulnerability that will surely deepen week by week. I wanted to send you a quick email while I’m fresh back with very strong impressions and renewed urgency to respond.”

Destroyed village
Entire villages turned into rubble after Hurricane Matthew blew threw northwest Haiti last month. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Due to their economic fragility and geographic isolation, families in this region have nowhere to turn to feed their families. They can migrate to one of Haiti’s overcrowded cities to live in the squalor of an informal urban slum, or they can rebuild their lives where they are. At TWP, we’re supporting the latter alternative – providing emergency relief via our partners, and helping the region rebuild and reinvest their way to a livable state.

Our resources for this effort are extremely limited, so we turn to you, our donors to help us with a special contribution to the effort. Again – 100% of the funds raised for this relief and reconstruction campaign will go to the communities in the Northwest Artibonite. No amount is too small. We will keep you posted as updates arise.

Thank you!

donate button

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: Guatemalan Youth Discover a Love for Community-Based Conservation

youth farmers Guatemala

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Migration from Central America to the United States has been in the news more than usual these days. It is accelerating due to the difficulties that come with rapid population growth, rising energy demand, massive crop losses from the effects of climate change, and organized crime and violence reaching alarming levels along this tiny string of countries.

Even if migration is just to the nearest city, the actual movement of family members is really a means to an end. These families only seek to provide a better future for their children: keeping them fed, educated, safe, and healthy. At Trees, Water & People (TWP), we have learned that there are many opportunities to create sustainable livelihoods in rural areas, and that often these opportunities can be paired with better natural resource management.

To modify an old adage – this is akin to getting two plants from one seed. Recently, I had this conversation with a group of young men from a rural village near Escuintla, Guatemala. They have formed a youth group in their community that is taking on migration by seeking new, local income generating opportunities. David Bautista, 26 and Osvin Gomez, 25, are the de facto leaders of the group, and together have been pitching their projects to TWP since we first began working in their community, La Bendición, in 2011.

“At first, there were many in the community who didn’t believe in us – they’d say that it was a passing fad,” says David, referring to their plans several years ago of starting an entrepreneurial youth movement in the community.

Guatemala tree nursery

Today, the ambitious young group has a plantation of 5,000 organic pineapples that produce a continuous, mouth-watering harvest, a few dozen bee hives from which they are bottling and selling honey, and plots of shade-grown coffee. In addition, the group also runs a 15,000 tree nursery, which they use almost exclusively for fruit trees. These high-value crops, including coconuts, cashews, citrus, coffee, and cacao, are providing an important source of income to young farmers while promoting natural resource conservation.

The youth group’s mission, which TWP continues to support, is simple: find approaches that allow them to develop their community from within, so they never have to migrate to the city, or to the U.S., to work for someone else. “An old tree can’t be straightened out,” says the sitting President of the town council Oscar, who still bears the memories of his time laboring in the U.S., “It has to be trained while it’s young.”

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.

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!

Notes from the Field: Reforestation Brings Economic and Environmental Benefits to Haiti

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

A desert brush fire in the northwest of Haiti foreshadows the scene I returned to when I flew back to my home town of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Usually when I return to Colorado from an extended period abroad, I notice many differences, and breathe a sigh of relief as I enter the world of the predictable, the reliable and the comfortable.  However, as I left the airport in June 2012, after my 4 week stay in Haiti, there was a striking similarity in the air that brought my work full circle.  It was sunset, and 70 miles northwest of Denver International Airport, I could see the tremendous smoke cloud of the High Park fire, burning the parched forests just miles from my home in Fort Collins, CO.

After the fires in our state, heavy rains brought thousands of tons of blackened sediment and tree parts into homes, over roads, onto agricultural fields, debilitating these vulnerable communities even further. From one natural disaster to another, severe swings in weather patterns like the ones we have seen recently in Colorado can be brutally destructive to people in all walks of life.  Sadly, this debilitation is almost a yearly occurrence in the remote and remarkably barren wilds of northwest Haiti, where I spent 3 weeks before returning to safe, reliable and predictable (!!!) Colorado.

The hills of Petit Boise, in the northwest region of Haiti, are dry and barren from prolonged drought.

All of Haiti is experiencing a severe drought at the moment – a condition which puts agriculturally dependent communities in the crosshairs of hunger and destitution.  The irony is that they are on the cusp of hurricane season, which almost always swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction – flooding communities, causing landslides and ruining already mangled roadways.  These extremes cause incredible unpredictability in what to (attempt to) grow, how to save, how to plan, and who of the family to keep in school, to send to the fields, or to send to the city for a “better” life.  There are no guarantees, and no easy ways to reduce risk to one’s livelihood.

Trees, Water & People, CSU’s Global Social Sustainable Enterprise MBA, and the Center for Collaborative Conservation are working with TWP local partners AMURT and LOCAL to address this extreme vulnerability in northwest Haiti.

Working with AMURT extentionists to learn how to utilize GPS technology to map farm lands in the region.

From our years of experience working with trees and biomass energy as a renewable resource, we are engaging struggling farmers throughout the region to examine their land and their agricultural productivity, seeking to dedicate under-utilized portions of their land to tree farming.  Trees over 5 years of age can provide myriad benefits in food security, income stability, and soil conservation and sustained yield management can ensure these benefits are provided over generations.

This tree nursery in Lagon, Haiti produces tens of thousands of valuable fruit and hardwood trees throughout the year, benefiting both people and the fragile environment of northwest Haiti.

By focusing on the economic benefits that trees provide over time (fuel, fruit, poles, lumber) and the environmental benefits (soil conservation, soil rehabilitation, water retention, shade), we are making the argument that banking value in trees will have a net positive impact on regional sustainability and economy over time.  By providing the right incentives, the right team of local extensionists to provide technical support, access to high-quality seedlings from our tree-nurseries, and building wealth through self-driven community savings and loans groups, we are creating the foundation necessary to get farmers on board, and to plant and care for trees as if their future depended on it.

To be part of bringing positive change to northwest Haiti, please donate to TWP on our homepage at www.treeswaterpeople.org, with “Haiti Trees” in the comment field.