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Archive for March, 2010

Cantave teaching farmers in Bayone

Cantave teaching farmers in rural Haiti.

Two months after the earthquake it is hard to imagine the future for Port-au-Prince.  About half of the structures have been reduced to rubble, and much of what remains standing needs to be rebuilt.  People are gathering rebar and scrap metal from the wreckage, piling it along the sides of street to create an informal market for resale.  Work crews of women and men in matching t-shirts are beginning to clear mountains of debris with brooms and shovels.  Tents fill sidewalks and lots.  One cannot help but wonder:  How will these people manage, what will they innovate, once the heavy rains soon bring torrents of water and refuse running down Port-au-Prince’s steep hillsides towards the ocean?  On the plane ride back to the U.S. I sat next to an orthopedic surgeon who had just finished a stint volunteering in a clinic.  He said that in many cases it was already too late to reset fractures; he had never seen a population with such fast healing bones.  Any ability to imagine the future arises mainly from the incredible, tenacious spirit of the people – working, selling their wares, laughing, playing soccer in streets, getting by or not getting by.

In the countryside, it is different.  After a week visiting the programs of Partnership for Local Development (PLD), Groundswell’s partner in Haiti, a positive future is easily imagined.  This is true even while rural communities face a history of grinding poverty, while the mountainsides are still scarred from landslides caused by hurricanes in 2004 and 2008, and as communities receive a flood of over 600,000 people who have fled the earthquake’s destruction in cities.  A number of Haitians have commented that the country has always been two countries – the “republic of Port-au-Prince” and the rest of “outside” Haiti.  Now there is an opportunity to create one functioning country.

Read Steve’s full report.

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Burkina Faso, West Africa

Burkina Faso, West Africa

During the last week of February, Groundswell’s Co-coordinators for West Africa, Fatou Batta and Peter Gubbels, facilitated a workshop with local organizations in eastern Burkina Faso to develop a three-year action plan. The plan focuses on working with peasant associations and women’s groups to promote and expand agroecological production, improve food security and strengthen local food systems. In addition Groundswell hopes to strengthen a network of local organizations to advocate for agroecology as an effective model to overcome poverty and as an alternative to approaches that promote costly dependence on high levels of external inputs (fertilizers, genetically modified seeds) and that focus on exports instead of local needs.

Eastern Burkina Faso has three distinct agroecological zones defined by INERA (Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles), an agricultural research institute, based on rainfall, dominant crops, soil and farming systems. Over the years, Fatou has worked extensively in Gnagna Province, which is in the first and northern most agro ecological zone, characterized by lower rainfall, higher rates of erosion and desertification, and lower levels of vegetative cover. Our program will likely be sited in the second agroecological zone between the much drier north and the more forested third agroecological zone in the south. Within this second agroecological zone we have identified a number of provinces and departments in which our potential partners have existing programs that merit documentation and expansion.

Women leaders in Burkina Faso

Women leaders in Burkina Faso

During Fatou’s and Peter’s village visits they learned that many families have migrated from the north (Gnagna Province) because of desertification and environmental degradation. As a result, we are confident that the agroecological innovations already being developed in the northern most agroecological zone can be adapted to the second agroecological zone, complementing the effective innovations already developed there by villagers and potential partner organizations. Similarly, there are more agroforestry and forest protection related innovations in the southern (third agro ecological zone), where some of our potential partners also work, that could be applied in the second zone.

Though we are still in a process of dialogue and planning, outlines of a program strategy are emerging. We will likely collaborate with three local NGOs, a number of peasant associations, and INERA.  Successful but small-scale examples of agroecological production currently exist in eastern Burkina Faso, but their adoption is limited. Groundswell hopes to support partners to spread these approaches widely across families and communities by providing support and strengthening a local network for learning and coordination.  Look for more details soon as we work to launch this program in 2010.

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Within three weeks of the January 12th earthquake that devastated Haiti, Groundswell’s partner organization, Partnership for Local Development (PLD), had carried out site visits and held planning meetings with the nine peasant organizations they support.  Their initial survey revealed that about 10,000 urban people had been displaced by the disaster to these rural areas. The number has grown since then.  PLD staff also held meetings with these people to understand their needs and plan support.

Haiti peasant organization planning

Peasant organizers planning their future

Before the earthquake, PLD’s key strategy was to strengthen these peasant organizations to increase their own production, mobilize their own resources, and manage their own development process.  The result has been more resilient communities and local organizations when faced with challenges.  Representatives of the peasant organizations informed PLD how they had been able to use their own scarce resources in the wake of the earthquake.  All nine organizations are hosting displaced people.  One used about $500 they had generated through their savings and loan fund to support affected people, while another was able to feed people with 200 pounds of stored corn and beans.  A third organization gave $520 to a committee of refugees that had formed in their community, while a fourth sent food and clothes to affected community members who were living in Port-au-Prince.  Yet another peasant organization organized a refugee camp for 150 people in a nearby town. Despite this incredible generosity, the limited resources were quickly depleted.

Fortunately, PLD and Groundswell were able to respond thanks to your generous donations and two grants received for the emergency.

Two Haitian farmers using agro-ecological techniques

Haitian farmers using agro-ecological techniques

By February 24th, PLD was able to set up one of the first cash-for-work programs in rural areas, providing people with cash for food and other essentials.  These funds allow payments for community members and displaced people to build soil conservation structures on farmers’ lands.  But these are not just work programs, they are sustainable agricultural programs.  The work is integrated with training and support for agro-ecological production.  As food production increases in the coming rainy season, the farmers will be able to see the benefits of conserving soil and improving their land – rather than letting these structures erode once payments end.

International Director Steve Brescia travels to Haiti on March 7 to work with PLD on a long-term earthquake recovery plan.  He will share reports as he is able.

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