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Posts Tagged ‘2010 food crisis’

Madamm Fransura, of a village near Bahon, Haiti, showing maize seed her community organization saved from the last harvest.

Madamm Fransura, of a village near Bahon, Haiti, showing maize seed her community organization saved from the last harvest.

This is the final post in an eight-part series about how we can transform the roles of non-governmental organizations like Groundswell to make food sovereignty a reality. Read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh posts.

Transforming NGO roles to help make food sovereignty a reality

Haiti’s earthquake occurred in a just a few minutes, but caused a scale of destruction and death that shocked the world.  The global food earthquake has been playing out over a longer time frame and it impacts each context in different ways.  Tremors like food price increases periodically expose the scale of the devastation around the world to those who may not be living it daily.  The Haitian and the global tragedies have similar roots – centuries of marginalization and exploitation of rural people via economic and political systems that don’t serve their interests.  This has weakened the very building blocks upon which any strong society must be built – producing healthy food and communities, regenerating the land and environment, and allowing people to participate democratically in shaping their future.

In Haiti, as well as in Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Ghana and around the world, people are working to rebuild a healthy foundation from the bottom up.  There is a great need and opportunity for people to come together to continue to build on these efforts and to meet the challenges of the moment.  Along with family farmers; rural, indigenous and urban people’s organizations; governments and donors; technicians and political activists; people in the global South and North – NGOs also have an important contribution to make.  Yet NGOs must continue to challenge ourselves to focus on people-led development and to promote practical strategies that work: support for local innovation and sustainable, appropriate farming; strengthening the capacities of local leaders and organizations to manage their own change processes; strengthening local food economies; spreading successful alternatives via farmer-to-farmer and community-to-community sharing; and creating alliances with wider social movements to influence policy.  We all need to find ways to contribute to reconnecting healthy farming, healthy eating and healthy democracy.  This is the shared task of building food sovereignty together.

— This final segment and the rest of the article was a collaborative effort by Steve Brescia (Groundswell’s International Director), Fatou Batta (Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa), Peter Gubbels (Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa), Cantave Jean-Baptiste (Executive Director of Partnership for Local Development), Steve Sherwood (Specialist in Rural Innovation at EkoRural), and Bern Guri (Director of the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development).

Later this year the full text of the article will appear in a book titled “Food Movements Unite!”, which is a collection of essays by food movement leaders from around the world that all seek to answer the perennial political question: What is to be done? It will provide a sector by sector road map for bringing the tremendous transformative potential of the world’s food movements together into a powerful transnational force capable of ending the injustices that cause hunger. “Food Movements Unite!” is being edited by Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First, and Annie Shattuck, a PhD candidate at the University of California at Berkeley.

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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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