Archive for November, 2010

Haiti cholera epidemic as of November 10. Map by UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Haiti cholera epidemic as of November 10. Map by UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

According to Haiti’s Ministry of Health, as of November 14 there have been 1,034 cholera related deaths and 16,799 infections. This is a fourfold increase in deaths and a fivefold increase in infections since our October 26 update. It is important to keep in mind that the Ministry of Health statistics include only reported cases. In all likelihood, the actual numbers are many times greater than the official numbers. By some estimates upwards of 50,000 Haitians are presently battling cholera.

Fortunately, thanks to quick action by Partnership for Local Development (PLD) and the peasant organizations it supports, no members of these organizations have died since the tragic deaths at the outset of the epidemic in late October and early November. Their hard work educating families about preventative sanitation measures and providing basic supplies (chlorine for water treatment) and knowledge (how to prepare homemade oral rehydration solution) has saved many lives! This is a clear example of why strengthening and empowering communities works. When there is strong, local leadership communities can marshal their own resources and strengths to respond during times of crisis. This capacity to organize is the foundation of a resilient community, and is the long-term goal of Groundswell partners everywhere.

Cholera, like the January 12 earthquake, will impact Haiti for many years, and will require a sustained effort to overcome. In the weeks ahead PLD and its partners will continue to support community health structures as they provide lifesaving information to people and invest in the community health committees to provide supplies for cholera prevention (chlorine) and treatment (oral rehydration therapy and antibiotics). As the situation stabilizes, resources will be dedicated to improving public health infrastructure – latrines and washing facilities – and further building the capacity of community health committees and local health promoters, which will lead systematic, community wide efforts to address this new challenge.

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In Mali, women play a key role in farming as well as other household responsibilities.

In Mali, women play a key role in farming as well as other household responsibilities.

Mali is facing a severe soil fertility crisis that must be met with major efforts to support farmers to develop farming methods that will significantly improve their soil fertility at little cost and without displacing their crops.  Population pressures have all but ended the traditional practice of fallowing land that had maintained soil fertility.  Chemical fertilizers are not a sustainable alternative because of cost, availability and because they don’t address the need to improve soil organic matter.

In September 2010, Groundswell launched a three-year program in partnership and with financial support from Oxfam America to work with 26,000 women in 200 villages to sustainably improve their agricultural production by introducing simple technologies to improve soil fertility (using nitrogen fixing trees and cover crops), seed quality (short cycle seeds), and water management.  Below are excerpts from program coordinator Roland Bunch’s first progress report covering August through October 2010.

Village Selection

We have selected 20 villages for the first year’s pilot work. They contain a total of 77 savings groups, for a total of about 2,000 women. I have visited most of these villages two or three times. All 20 villages chosen are generally very enthusiastic about working on their soil fertility.

Short-Cycle Seeds

The goal of distributing short-cycle cowpea seeds has been completed six months ahead of time.  Short-cycle cowpeas (which can be harvested 60 to 70 days after planting) have three extremely important advantages for smallholder farmers in the Sahel.  First, they can still produce a crop if unpredictable rains stop falling.  Second, the short-cycle cowpeas are ideal for intercropping with maize, millet or sorghum.  Third, the cowpeas can be harvested by early to mid-August, thereby providing fresh, high-protein food right in the middle of the Mali’s hunger season – which is precisely when women have to do the heaviest agricultural work.

It now looks like there is a very good chance that the cowpeas will be a major success.  I returned to both Kobana and Basabougou (Kolokani), two of the three villages where I first distributed the seed.  Some 15 to 20 women proudly showed me the 20- to 27-day-old cowpea plants in their gardens.  They are growing very well.

The Improvement of Water Management

We have started implementing water projects in five villages.  In Basabougou I made a demonstration of the system, but the women (rightfully) said they wanted bigger hoses and a bigger bucket. On a second visit, I set up another demonstration, using a bigger hose and a much larger bucket. The women have decided to experiment, with the idea that in the end, they will make the necessary decisions.

The Improvement of Soil Fertility

According to my interviews, the Gliricidia trees have been growing too large to be properly transplanted in June.  So we have decided to plant the tree nurseries in March 2011, rather than October 2010.  Except for this change in plans, the tree planting is ready to go.  Women in a good number of groups are asking for the seeds, and are anxious to get started.  I have bought 5 kg. of Gliricidia seed to do significant trial plots in all the villages (300 trees per village).  But with the women’s enthusiasm and demand rising, I have decided to buy even more seeds.  We are working to identify where to obtain the seeds.


We are working on a training manual to be used by animators in order to scale up the adoption of appropriate soil fertility improvement in Mali. We spent many an hour talking with farmers and learning from their rich and varied experiences.

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