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!