Archive for January, 2010

Groundswell and Partnership for Local Development (PLD), our member organization in Haiti, are moving ahead to support rural communities to respond to the earthquake.  Here is the latest update from Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of PLD.

Erosion in the Haitian countryside

Erosion in the Haitian countryside.

On January 22 Cantave drove to Haiti’s Central Plateau to discuss rural recovery strategies with leaders of the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP), and then north to meet with leaders of peasant organizations supported by PDL in Ranquitte and La Victoire.  Meanwhile, other PLD staff have gathered information from seven other peasant organizations that PLD supports.  So far PLD has identified 849 rural families that are hosting 2,219 people who have fled the earthquake’s destruction in Port-au-Prince and other cities.  This initial survey represents about 20% of the population involved with these nine rural organizations.  Working to complete the survey, PLD estimates that communities are hosting at least 10,000 displaced people – with more continuing to arrive.

With the support of PLD’s staff members in recent years these peasant organizations have developed community-managed grain banks, storing the corn and beans they produce in order to increase their food security before the next harvest and their resilience to shocks.  Some of these peasant organizations are now able to provide families who are hosting displaced urban people with additional food.  But they will need support to replenish these dwindling stocks and to ensure seed for the coming planting season.   In meetings with community leaders and displaced people, Cantave was also able to discuss the psychological challenges they face:  How long will they need to remain in rural communities?  Should they begin to consider farming, or working with local farmers?  When will the youth be able to return to their destroyed schools?

In the short term, PLD will support peasant organizations to ensure that immediate food, shelter and health needs are met.  Longer term they will help to create temporary employment to improve community infrastructure and to increase food production and conservation of natural resources.

Haitian woman farming hillside

Sustainable agriculture bringing the barren landscape back to life.

Cantave has also become involved with the Haiti Response Coalition, a grouping of NGOs and civil society groups working to ensure that resources entering Haiti are well targeted to effective grassroots efforts.  Cantave has begun to attend meetings of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in particular the Agriculture Cluster group – to participate in ensuring that the efforts by multiple groups are coordinated, and to seek to influence how the recovery is implemented.  This includes sharing the following ideas that we have drafted to guide our work:

A Vision and Principles for Rebuilding Rural Haiti

Vision: We will work towards a ten year vision of a prosperous and sustainable Haitian countryside as the foundation for national development.  Haiti’s rural communities will be healthier and more productive, community organizations will be stronger and have greater control over their resources and destinies, and soils and natural resources will be conserved and improved.


1. An Asset Based Approach- Build upon the capabilities and assets of Haitian rural families, communities, and organizations, and of displaced people from urban areas.  External support should leave them stronger and more self-sufficient rather weaker and more dependent.

2. Sustainable agriculture by small scale farmers: Evidence increasingly shows that agroecological approaches are the best way for small scale farmers to overcome poverty, meet their food needs and strengthen resilience.

3. Community Health: Promote health through community-based efforts to improve nutrition, disease prevention and reproductive health, and by strengthening access to health services.

4. Increase Production for Communities and Local Markets: In the next five years, double Haitian food production for domestic consumption – led by small scale farmers.

5. Sharing Knowledge: Support farmers’ organizations to share information with each other on what is working to sustainably increase production—for example approaches to soil conservation, improved management of seeds, water, livestock, and forests, and linking to local markets.

6. Food Sovereignty: Create the supportive policies and institutions required to enable this approach to succeed.

We are seeking further feedback on these principles from Haitian organizations, to build collaboration towards sustainable solutions. Review the full Vision and Principles document.

Finally, watch Larry King Live tonight (January 29) to see David Diggs, Director of Beyond Borders (our fiscal sponsor), discussing the important issue of protecting vulnerable children in Haiti during the crisis.

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Dear Friends,

Thanks to so many of you for your support and donations to allow Groundswell and our member organization in Haiti, Partnership for Local Development (PLD), to help Haitians recover from the devastating earthquake.  We have received heartfelt messages from all over the world asking for news, so we would like to share this update.

We have re-established regular communication with Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of PLD.  He and the rest of the PLD staff have survived.  Even while they seek to reconstruct their own lives, they are planning a response with the rural communities and organizations that they support.

PLD mainly supports communities north of Port-au-Prince.  While not physically damaged by the earthquake, these communities are now impacted by waves of people returning to the countryside from Port-au-Prince and other cities.  Rural families are struggling to absorb, feed and house these returning people, even as they mourn the loss of loved ones who won’t return.  This swelling population will put pressure on their limited resources.  Last year’s harvest was very poor, and families’ limited stores of food won’t last long.  People are then likely to eat whatever seed they had saved for the planting season, which arrives in two to three months.

But PLD is already developing action plans.  They are coordinating with peasant organization leaders, encouraging them to form emergency committees and to include representatives of the displaced people who have returned.  Together they will assess their needs, develop plans and implement the response.

The earthquake has made painfully clear to the world the weak infrastructure of Haiti’s cities.  What is less visible on news reports is the eroding foundation upon which the country is built – its rural areas.  Haiti’s population is still predominantly rural and dependent on agriculture.  For many decades, as soil has eroded from Haiti’s mountain communities into the sea, so too have rural people flowed away.  Many end up in overcrowded cities with few economic alternatives and vulnerable to disasters.  These Haitian’s in Port-au-Prince and other cities desperately need emergency assistance right now for medical care, food, water and shelter, and we applaud the heroic efforts of those helping them.

PLD’s immediate contribution will be to support rural communities to absorb the displaced, to help them find food and short term employment, and to ensure that communities have seeds and tools to plant in a few months.  For the longer term, the challenge and opportunity is to build a viable agricultural foundation for Haiti’s future.  This can be built on the strengths of rural families and their community organizations.  Community members and displaced people can be employed to build soil conservation structures on farmers’ lands, cisterns to capture water to extend the growing season, and to improve roads.  PLD will support farmers to regenerate soils and increase and diversify food production.  Community-managed seed banks, tools banks and savings and credit funds will need to be replenished.

Some years ago, one of the peasant organizations that PLD has supported developed a simple mission statement:  “To make our district a place where people want to live.”  They have made great strides, and PLD will work with other organizations to spread those kinds of successes.

Thank you again for your support,

Steve Brescia
International Director

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Cantave Jean-Baptiste, PLD National Coordinator

After multiple failed attempts over the last few days, at about 9:30pm tonight (January 15) I once again dialed the cell phone of Cantave Jean-Baptiste in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  “Hi Steve,” he answered.  What a joy to hear his voice and know for sure that he is alive and well!

Cantave directs Groundswell’s member organization in Haiti, Partnership for Local Development (PLD).  He told me that the other PLD staff members are also fine, but his communication with them has been limited as cell phone service remains sporadic.

“I cannot describe the situation in Port-au-Prince,” Cantave said.  “It is more than 50% destroyed.  Cities to the South like Leogane, Petit Goave, and Jacmel are also badly affected.  My house (on the northern outskirts of the city) is badly damaged.  I don’t know if I will be able to fix it or have to tear it down and start over.  We can’t go in to check until the tremors stop.  We had another aftershock at 4:00pm today.  I am sleeping out under the sky again tonight for the fourth night.  We are gathered together with other families and neighbors so we do not have to spend the night alone.  So we can talk to each other and support each other and not only think of the terrible tragedy. Thank God it is not raining on us!”

In spite of the situation, there was a positive spirit in Cantave’s voice, and I could even hear his laugh and his smile a couple of times through the phone line.

Staff from PLD Haiti.

PLD staff. Front row (from the left): Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Solange Marc Saint Hilaire, and Antoinius Cadet. Back row: Rochel Sylvain, Nicole Romain, Josu/ Desrosiers Allen.

“I was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake happened,” Cantave said, “but other staff – Nicole, Cadet and others – were out in the countryside visiting partner organizations, so they are okay.”  The peasant organizations that PLD supports are north of Port-au-Prince, and so far it seems those areas were not directly affected.

“Some of the leaders of the peasant organizations called me after the earthquake to see if I was alive and okay.  Though we do not think they have been very directly affected, they will face indirect impacts.  Everyone from Port-au-Prince comes from a rural community.  Many, many people are now returning to their rural communities.  Nothing will function in Port-au-Prince for months.  Many in rural communities have lost loved ones in the city.  Last year’s harvest was not good for farmers, so rural families have stored limited amounts of food.  There may soon be food shortages in the countryside.  They are likely to eat up the stored grain and even the seed they have stored for planting.  So we still have to talk with them to assess their situation, but this will be a challenge.  The planting season does not come until between the end of March and May.  We hope we can begin to communicate with them on Monday and begin to understand their needs and how to respond.”

I am picturing Cantave gathered with neighbors in a lot somewhere near his broken home.  They are living a horrific tragedy that has shaken their lives and sent tremors to the hearts of the whole world.  There is no electricity, but Cantave charges his cell phone from his car battery.  When the cell service works, he is communicating with his PLD team and with farmer leaders, to think about how they can respond.  Rural communities will need to absorb people leaving cities, be a buffer against further suffering, and a foundation for a future that Haitians will need to create.

I see and hear from all sorts of friends, colleagues and strangers connecting via the internet, conference calls – responding or trying to respond in myriad ways.   It is painful to watch the images from Haiti on the news.  The reality is awful.  The power of people acting together for good is beautiful.  It is hard to keep the pieces together.

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Dear Friends and Supporters,

Yesterday afternoon a powerful earthquake destroyed most of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince as well as areas beyond the city. Initial estimates indicate that thousands have perished and a full third of Haiti’s population – some 3 million people – have been affected by the earthquake and its dozens of aftershocks.

Groundswell is working with our local member organization in Haiti, Partnership for Local Development (PLD), to help rural communities cope with the disaster and eventually to rebuild their lives.

This disaster comes on the heels of two particularly difficult years for the people of Haiti. Just the night before the earthquake we posted a hopeful update on the progress Groundswell and PLD are making in Haiti (see below).  That evening, I was collaborating with Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of PLD, to complete the story on how PLD works to help communities to build their own capacity and resiliency for food production and self-sufficiency.  His last e-mail message of the evening was, “Thanks Steve, for working so late.”

While we do not yet have reports on the extent of the damage or the plans for response, we do know that PLD has strengthened the resiliency of rural communities and families.  Communities are no doubt already pulling together on their own to save lives, repair damage and rebuild their future.  And we know that Cantave and the PLD team will find the best way to respond once they are able – because they always have, through floods, droughts, and political upheaval. They will need resources to do so. Please support their work through this difficult time.

The night before the earthquake, Cantave wrote, “In this New Year PDL and local partners will engage families and communities in a process of social change and coping strategies to counter the cycle of poverty prevailing in the country.  We affirm our commitment to build Groundswell as a global network to connect with local groups in other countries, to learn from each other and to work together towards building a better future for ourselves and our children.”

Right now please join together with us for the people of Haiti. We will continue to post information as it becomes available.

In solidarity with Haiti,

Steve Brescia
International Director


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The past two years have been extremely difficult for rural families in Haiti. By many accounts, hurricanes/tropical storms Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, which occurred successively during a three-week period in August and September in 2008, resulted in the worst disaster to hit Haiti in more than 50 years. Crop damage was extensive because farmers’ fields were in full production when the storms hit; thousands of acres of crops and precious topsoil were washed away and many thousands of farm animals drowned. Not long after the storms abated, a prolonged drought gripped the island. Throughout 2009 rare and irregular rainfall severely limited the production of staple crops such as corn, sorghum and beans and left family and community granaries almost empty.

Haitian family working in organic garden.

Haitian family working in garden applying agro-ecological techniques learned through the PLD program.

In hopes of easing the decline in agricultural production, the Haitian Agriculture Ministry has decided to invest in repairing irrigation canals and purchasing machinery. Unfortunately, those investments are limited in scope and will only benefit the minority of farmers occupying flat areas.  “The majority of the farmers in the country work the steep slopes of the Haiti’s mountainous terrain,” said Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of Partnership for Local Development (PLD), a member of the Groundswell network.  “Tractors and other mechanized production are mostly useless in these communities.  And government programs rarely reach them because of their isolation and the bad roads.”

Contrary to the Haitian government’s approach, PLD is focusing on restoring and increasing local production by training small farmers in simple yet effective agro ecological practices and increasing their confidence in their own capacities to change their situation. While PLD’s programs are in their first year, the program team has decades’ worth of experience using these strategies to significantly increase and improve local production in spite of resource limitations and other obstacles.

Staff from PLD Haiti.

PLD staff. Front row (from left): Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Solange Marc Saint Hilaire, and Antoinius Cadet. Back row: Rochel Sylvain, Nicole Romain, Josu/ Desrosiers Allen.

During the first half of 2010, PLD’s immediate strategies include:

  • Widespread training for farmers in basic agriculture principles: PLD will train approximately 1,000 small-scale farmers in soil and water conservation, management of organic matter, seed selection and crop association to diversify and increase production. At least 100 of these farmers will benefit from more advanced training in order to become promoters who can spread successful techniques to other farmers in need.
  • Increase crop diversification: PLD will use participatory techniques to help farmers analyze their farming and land use strategies and assess which crops are most appropriate for local conditions. More emphasis will be put on root crops (cassava, sweet potato, yam) that are more drought resistant. Farmers will also experiment with shorter cycle varieties of corn and sorghum, which can produce harvests more quickly and are therefore less exposed to disasters like drought or floods.
  • Rain harvesting and efficient use of water: Farmers will work to identify sources of water for the dry season and innovate ways it can be harvested, stored, and used efficiently to produce vegetables. Through creative water harvesting using locally developed technologies made from locally available materials, farmers can mediate rainfall variations during the wet season, in particular the growing dry spells between events, as well as effectively extend crop production into the dry season.
  • Community managed seed banks: In the wake of the hurricanes and drought, access to quality seed is among the most limiting factors to the resumption of agricultural production. The problem manifests itself in three ways: availability, quality and purchasing power. Seed banks are a solution that addresses all three aspects of the problem. Therefore, seed banks are the farmer’s best guarantee that he/she will have high quality (because the farmer selects the best ones) seed when needed. Not only is crop production improved, but knowing where seed stock will come from allows the farmer to focus more attention on livestock husbanding and other income generating activities.

Cantave Jean-Baptiste added, “Our approach has proven its effectiveness time and again. The peasant organizations we are supporting are eager to work to improve the food security of their families and communities.  We hope other organizations will increasingly take notice and adopt this way of working. The food crisis continues to affect us in Haiti, and PLD staff and local partners affirm our desire and commitment to build a global network, to collaborate with our partners around the world in Groundswell, to learn from each other, and to work together towards building a better future for ourselves and our children.”

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