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Posts Tagged ‘agro-ecological farming’

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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Steve Brescia, Groundswell’s International Coordinator, recently returned from a three-week trip to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali. He visited our programs there and met with key local partners and many West African farmers. This slide show captures some of what he learned.

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The Ikidia Saving for Change group holds a weekly meeting in Domba, Mali.

The Ikidia Saving for Change group holds a weekly meeting in Domba, Mali. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam America.

In August 2010, Groundswell launched a three year program – Saving for Change Plus Agriculture (SfC Plus Ag) – in partnership with Oxfam America. It responds to requests for agriculture training by many of the 350,000 women in Oxfam’s Saving for Change community finance groups across Mali. They wanted to learn how to solve their other most pressing problems: low agricultural production (caused mostly by rapidly deteriorating soils) and water scarcity (both for domestic use and agriculture). Through SfC Plus Ag, 26,000 women living 200 rural villages in Mali are learning 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 Groundswell’s Mali program coordinator’s, Roland Bunch, second progress report covering November 2010 through April 2011.

“The domestic water problem is basically caused by the fact that the water tables in central Mali are sinking at the rate of something like a meter every year, meaning that old wells and pumps no longer reach the water.  All too often, when the villagers try to dig the wells deeper, they encounter a layer of impenetrable rock, meaning that they have to find some other place to sink a well.  In time, of course, the water table (except within a few kilometers’ distance from the major rivers) will sink so low that hand-dug wells and hand pumps will no longer be feasible.  Then a truly serious water crisis will grip the nation.

Replenishing water tables is fairly easy, especially if it is done by adding organic matter to the people’s fields.  This process will soften the soil, make the surface rougher, and prevent crusting, thereby allowing perhaps 50% of the area’s rainwater to percolate through the soil, rather than about 15%, as is the case now.  This increase in infiltration would go a long way toward stopping the constant sinking of the water table.

But adding organic matter to the soil is also the key to raising Mali’s agricultural productivity.  For centuries, if not millennia, African farmers maintained the continent’s soil fertility by fallowing the land—that is, allowing the land to “rest,” so that the forest would grow back and drop its leaves on the soil surface, thereby dramatically increasing the organic matter in the soil.  Because of population growth and the resulting decrease in land per family, farmers all over Mali, in the last two decades, have been forced to quit fallowing the land in order to have enough food to eat.  As fallow periods were  gradually reduced from the traditional ten to fifteen years to eight years, to five years, and now most recently, to zero to two years (with most farmers having abandoned fallowing all together), the soils have been mined of their organic matter, and productivity is dropping by ten to fifteen percent a year.  Widespread famine will be the inevitable result, unless we act fast.

The action to be taken is the use of green manure/cover crops (gm/ccs, which are basically any plants, including trees, that fertilize the soil).  These species of plants can be grown in farmers’ fields as the farmers plant their crops.  Thus, in effect, instead of having one area of land in crops, and another being fallowed, farmers can have fallow species right in their fields.  That is, they can produce crops and fallow their land at the same time.  We call this technology “simultaneous fallowing.”

Thus, fortunately, the easiest and most efficient way of maintaining rural Malians’ access to water over the long haul, as well as the easiest and most efficient way of maintaining their soil’s productivity, is to increase the soil’s organic matter content.

This is, of course, a simplified description of all the myriad factors involved, but the basic truth is nevertheless accurate: both the water and food production problems of Malian women will largely be solved through one and the same action: adding organic matter to the soil.”

Read excerpts of the rest of the report, which is organized according to the program’s main measurable objectives: introduction of appropriate short-cycle seeds, improved water management, improved soil fertility, and capacity building.

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This is the fourth 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 and third posts.

Expanding territory for agroecology

Women processing vegetables grown on agro-ecological village farms in eastern Burkina Faso.

Women processing vegetables grown on agro-ecological village farms in eastern Burkina Faso.

Bern Guri says that in Ghana, “isolated examples of small scale farmer agro-ecological production exist, but the government of Ghana doesn’t see what small farmers are doing as relevant, because they are focused on larger farmers. They see small scale farmers as holding back production. We need to shine a light on the successful examples, but also create a market. To do this we identify capacities that farmers already have for agroecological farming and strengthen them and spread them. We work to document and disseminate the good work already happening so people know that alternatives exist.”

A common critique of agroecological practices is that they always appear to work for a small number of farmers but are never widely adopted. Why is this often the case? There are a few possible reasons: a) farmers are not aware of agro-ecological alternatives; b) they are aware of them, but aren’t convinced that they work, or believe that something else works better; c) incentives (economic, environmental, social or psychological) push them towards ways of farming. NGOs must work together and with farmers to overcome these constraints and develop more effective strategies to scale agro-ecological practices across communities and regions—to expand the territory for agroecology and healthy local food economies.

The question of whether or not agro-ecological farming works for small-scale farmers in the developing world is perhaps the easiest to address. As noted above, broad experience along with a growing body of research and evidence demonstrates that it works for them on multiple levels. Even proponents of industrialized agriculture usually accept agroecology’s success on a small scale, but argue it is not viable on a larger one. Yet many farmers in the developing world are already adopting and practicing agro-ecological farming, and the only incentive they have to do so is that it brings them benefits—more food, less cost, an improved environment, healthier families and communities, greater resilience to shocks and so on. While there are a powerful set of actors with a major economic self-interest in promoting the sale of their agricultural inputs and technologies, the same is not true of agro-ecology. The only incentives for external actors to promote agroecology are social—reducing poverty and creating a more inhabitable planet.

So how can we spread awareness of agroecological farming among rural communities? What strategies can make these practices more effective, and how can we create incentives for using them, so that the territory for agroecological farming and local food economies is expanded?

Farmer-to-farmer and Community-to-Community – Nothing convinces farmers like showing them how they themselves can increase production on their own farms. Visiting farmers who have succeeded in the same conditions is a powerful motivator for them to learn as well. We have long employed these farmer-to-farmer strategies to reach a critical mass (30-40%) of innovative farmers in a community. Once such a critical mass is reached, successful practices tend to spread to others over time. The same strategy can be applied between communities. Cantave Jean-Baptiste notes that “we can also facilitate communities to visit and learn from each other, and to develop plans for action together.”

Capacity Strengthening – Managing, sustaining and further scaling these farming methods inescapably requires strong local organizations and networks of rural people. For NGOs, this implies some combination of working with existing community based organizations and strengthening their capacities for self-management. While NGOs often get stuck in a cycle of delivering services, some have developed strategies for strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations. In Haiti, Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) has created a highly effective approach to strengthening local peasant organizations (which typically group 15-30 villages). The foundation of these inter-village associations are gwoupman, solidarity groups of 8-15 people who work, learn and apply agro-ecological practices together, pool savings for loan funds, and create and manage both seeds banks and tools banks. Representatives are elected from the gwoupman to form committees that coordinate activities within and across communities. This allows them to take on challenges individual farmers can’t manage on their own (e.g. controlling free-grazing animals) and increase their ability to access markets and advocate for health services and schools. In this way, PDL is strengthening the social infrastructure needed to scale sustainable farming and build local economies (they are currently working with 9 local peasant organizations representing over 148,000 people). Cantave Jean-Baptiste adds, “We are now working to create networks of these local peasant organizations so that they can work together and support each other. As an NGO, we need to facilitate communities and local organizations to learn from each other, work together and lead their own process of development.”

Action-Learning networks:  In eastern Burkina Faso, isolated examples of successful agroecological approaches exist, even under the very difficult Sahelian conditions that are currently being exacerbated by growing population pressure. But the spread of these “islands of success” through a wider adoption of agroecological practices is constrained by a lack of sharing and coordination among the local NGOs and community-based organizations responsible for the work. And there is no significant effort by the government or major donors to promote, invest in or spread these alternatives. In response, a new network of local organizations is emerging in the region to facilitate the sharing of knowledge of successful strategies and define action plans to replicate them.

Peter Gubbels believes that “we should invest strongly in farmer to farmer and community to community learning and exchange, particularly within agro-ecological zones where the climatic conditions, crops and farming systems are similar. Without practical examples of how successful agro-ecological methods can be taken to a much wider scale, it will be difficult to make a compelling case to other NGOs, the Ghanaian public and policy makers that this is a viable alternative to the industrial, export-oriented, Green Revolution approach to agriculture.”

– Part 5 will be posted on May 24.

This 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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Farmers in eastern Burkina Faso learning to make zai holes using horses.

Farmers in eastern Burkina Faso learning to make zai holes using horses.

This is the third post in an eight-part series about how we can transform the roles of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Groundswell to make food sovereignty a reality. Read the first and second posts.

Promoting Farmer Innovation and Agroecological Production

For NGOs sincerely intent on transforming rural communities, the starting point must be the people – not a technology, a particular crop, or even a specific sector per se (agriculture, health, microfinance, etc.) The question must be: how can we support rural people in generating wellbeing and overcoming poverty? We’ve learned much from decades of collective experience and trial and error in thousands of villages in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The key lessons are that authentic, community-led development is always holistic and based on strong local capacity, and that agroecological farming is a vital means for rural people to improve their lives. An increasing number of evaluations and studies are affirming similar conclusions (IAASTD, UNCTAD, various reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, etc.)[i]

Why is agroecological farming important for small-scale farmers? The primary reason is that it works. Farmers own the process – managing, adapting and creating it. It improves their lives– often reversing declines while doubling or even tripling production. The majority of small-scale farming work is now globally done by women, and as Fatou Batta says “women are often leaders in adopting agro-ecological practices because it is accessible, meets their needs and can lessen their workload. And in addition to farming, women are also the real link connecting improved production to better family consumption and nutrition.” Agro-ecological farming is economically, environmentally and culturally sustainable. It strengthens communities, local leadership (including  women) and local organizations. It improves the natural resource base that people depend on. Agro-ecological farming is an economic strategy for the poorest people to overcome hunger – to produce and eat a diverse and adequate amount of food and generate income.

In contrast, over the last 50 years we’ve seen countless programs focused on high-external input agriculture do the opposite. I am reminded of some farmers I visited in Guatemala’s highlands a couple of years ago. They had become contract farmers producing broccoli for “a company,” renting land each season and buying seeds, fertilizer and pesticides as prescribed. As we stood in their plot, our feet planted on soil devoid of organic matter, looking at broccoli plants dwarfed by a disease they did not understand, one farmer said, “At first it was a miracle, but now we are enslaved by this system. We make less money every year, and we have to calculate each year if we should plant again, or migrate. We are trapped. I would tell other farmers to farm another way.”

NGOs working to combat this trap created by many aid programs implement a strategy that supports small-scale farmers, local organizations and wider movements to learn about, innovate and expand the use of agro-ecological farming as a practical alternative to improve their lives. “We can’t transform the global food system unless farmers are able to expand the practice of sustainable farming and increase their control over how they farm,” says Peter Gubbels.

Agro-ecological farming means more than continuing the old ways or simply training men and women through a new package of sustainable practices and technologies. Some farmers practice both traditional techniques that are sustainable (seed saving, crop diversity, etc) and those that are no longer sustainable (slash and burn). Others adopt elements of industrial agriculture and reliance on external inputs. Farmers do what they think works for them, and we’ve seen both types benefit from transitions to more agro-ecological farming methods that are appropriate to their conditions: small plots, marginal and barely farmable land, fragile ecosystems, degraded soils, and isolation from services and markets.

What have we found are the most effective strategies for promoting farmer innovation and agro-ecological farming? In our experience, successful strategies revolve around allowing farmers to discover what works for them and spreading these alternatives through their social networks. Key methodologies NGOs can employ include:

  • farmer experimentation and innovation – on their own farms;
  • farmers identifying key limiting factors and testing a small number of alternatives to see what works;
  • strengthening farmer-to-farmer networks to spread successful practices;
  • focusing on seeds, soils, and water – managing, improving and making the best use of these local resources.
  • cultivating diverse, integrated farms

While specific technologies of necessity will evolve with local conditions and opportunity costs, as our colleague Roland Bunch has written, farmers’ capacity to innovate must remain a constant theme.[ii] This means people engaging in the creative, evolving act of farming and avoiding dependence on external inputs which uproot that capacity.

“In Burkina Faso, industrialized agriculture is expanding and being promoted by some political leaders,” notes Fatou Batta.“Village level farmers are not aware that when they sell land or give production rights for jatropha for biofuels, they and their children and grandchildren lose access. We’ve seen the importance of supporting people to learn what works locally, supporting agro-ecological approaches and resisting the pressure of some donors to promote a high external input approach, a quick fix, instead of listening to local people. Our evaluations have shown that the zai technique for water and soil conservation, nitrogen fixing trees, and short cycle seeds result in 50-120% increases in production. It is very high risk for farmers to depend on external inputs and distant markets, and drives them into poverty and off the land.”

In Ecuador, as in many countries, the majority of those managing family farms are women. Organizations like EkoRural are helping them strengthen local seeds systems through farmer field schools. Through discovery-based learning processes, they are supporting farmers in adapting to the effects of climate change that include depleted groundwater and altered rainfall patterns. Farmers measure the value of rainwater lost from their roofs and fields, and “harvest” it in simple storage tanks for future use and, most importantly, in their fields – as increasing organic matter in the soil allows for more water to be stored in it. The result is a positive cycle of increased productivity and innovation and significant improvements in family wellbeing, nutrition and income. Steve Sherwood says that in Carchi, a potato producing region heavily dependent on dangerous and highly toxic pesticides, “farmers have learned to maintain and increase their production using agro-ecological practices while reducing or eliminating the use of expensive and dangerous pesticides.”

– Part 4 will be posted on May 10.

This 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.

[i] The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), 2009; UNCTAD (February 2009).  Policy Brief No. 6 – Sustaining African Agriculture: Organic Production. See also: UNCTAD–UNEP (2008). Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. (UNCTAD/DITC/TED/2007/15);“The Contribution of Agroecological Approaches to meet 2050 Global Food needs,” International Seminar, Brussels, June 21-22 2010.  Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

 [ii] Roland Bunch and Gabino Lopez, COSECHA, “Soil Recuperation in Central America: Measuring the Impact Four to Forty Years After Intervention,” http://rolandbunch.com.

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Woman watering field in village in Burkina Faso.

This field in Burkina Faso is flourishing thanks to agroecological farming methods.

This is the first post in an eight-part series about how we can transform the roles of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Groundswell to make food sovereignty a reality. It 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.

TRANSFORMING NGO ROLES TO HELP MAKE FOOD SOVEREIGNTY A REALITY

Ecuadorian farmers harvesting traditional potato varieties in Carchi, Ecuador.

Farmers harvesting ancestral, native potatoes in Carchi, Ecuador.

We know that agroecological farming works for family farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and that they represent the great majority of the world’s people who face extreme poverty and lack adequate food. We know farmers need net beneficial relationships to markets, and that it is necessary to create policies that support rather than undercut the wellbeing of rural communities.

 

How can NGOs best contribute to making food sovereignty a reality? We will attempt to answer such questions through drawing from our practical experience with prominent food movements in Haiti, Ecuador, Burkina Faso and Ghana.

Food sovereignty is unquestionably a powerful framework for organizing responses to the dysfunctional global agrifoods system. Linking local, democratic control and decision making to the foundational economic activity of all societies—producing and eating food—is a powerful agent of change on many levels. But what does the concept mean to a farmer watching for rain while planting seeds on an inaccessible mountainside in Haiti; a peasant organization in Burkina Faso looking for strategies to shorten the hungry season; or potato farmers in Ecuador trying to escape their dependence on expensive fertilizers and toxic pesticides? Bern Guri of Ghana says food sovereignty in his country means “people having access to sufficient food and nutrition, but also being able to have control over their own food system, producing what they eat and eating what the produce.” If NGOs are to play a useful role in these people’s lives, they must develop practical strategies to help them achieve their personal goals.

Peter Gubbels provides some broader analysis:  “For many years, Ghana has been seen as a model country, because it has been greatly influenced by the policies of the World Bank and other proponents of the neo-liberal economic paradigm. As a result, Ghana largely neglected its own food security. There is an alarming trend toward large scale export crops such as exotic fresh vegetables, pineapple, agro-fuel, and mangoes, and corporate control of resources for production. It is well documented that Ghana’s policies provide insufficient protection against imports from countries with generous subsidy regimes, resulting in Ghana importing a significant proportion of its staple rice and basic grains. This left the Ghanaian population – particularly the poor, most of whom are rural people – highly exposed to the spiral in world prices during 2008. The food crisis did finally stimulate the Ghanaian government to abandon its non-interventionist position and start investing in agriculture. Unfortunately, Ghana’s response is to modernize agriculture and increase productivity based mostly on a ‘green revolution’ approach, which has been tried many times in Ghana and never succeeded.” In this context, Gubbels believes that “working for food sovereignty in Ghana means promoting agroecological methods of production, enhancing biodiversity and local control of seeds, ensuring fair prices for small scale farmers, strengthening markets and processing links between peasant producers of healthy local food and urban consumers. It also means organizing and advocating for an alternative to green revolution approaches based on the principle of ‘African solutions to African problems’.”

So what are some practical strategies that NGOs can use to achieve these goals?

  1. Transform the role of NGOs in the intended participants’ lives
  2. Promote farmer innovation and agroecological production
  3. Expand territory for agroecology
  4. Build productive alliances with farmers’ movements and strengthen their base
  5. Advocate  policy reform without neglecting crucial practices
  6. Take advantage of new opportunities (health, urban-rural linkages, and climate change)

None of these strategies speak to the quick-fix mentality of many donor agencies, multi-national corporations and politicians. To thrive they must be rooted in local contexts and led by local people.

… look for part 2 on April 12.

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Seed storage in Bailly, Haiti.

Seed storage in Bailly, Haiti.

Even before Haiti’s earthquake, Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) and Groundswell International were working to strengthen peasant organizations to regenerate rural areas as the foundation for Haiti’s future.  Since the earthquake, we have redoubled our efforts.  Our recent visit to the rural communities where PDL is working reinforced again two essential ingredients to lasting change in Haiti:  sustainable agriculture and strong local peasant organizations.

PDL began supporting the community of Bailly, in the Northeast Department, in October 2009.  Two months after the earthquake I visited Bailly (March 2010).  At that time, PDL had supported local people to form about 80 gwoupman (solidarity groups of 10-15 women and men), and we witnessed the gwoupman open Bailly’s first community-managed savings and credit fund.  Some 110 people deposited 3,500 gourdes (US$89) on that day – about 82 cents per person.  They established their own interest rates at around 27% a year- far below the rates of 250% and above normally charged by money lenders.  When I returned to Bailly a couple of weeks ago (February 2011), this same savings and credit cooperative had grown to 329 members with 78,000 gourdes (US$1,934) worth of savings.

Even in a year that saw an earthquake, a cholera epidemic, and upheaval around elections, the people of Bailly are making progress.  We met with community members who described their advances, reading from notebooks where they keep data on their activities.  After the earthquake we supported the people of Bailly to replenish their seed stocks – which were depleted in feeding people who had fled the destruction.  By using sustainable agricultural techniques, farmers increased their production. They then formed seed banks and repaid the seed borrowed, with interest. As the rainy season now approaches again, they have 19% more seed stored than when they started.  Here is a summary:

Type of seed Number of beneficiaries Seeds (April 2010) Interest generated Seeds (Feb 2011)
Beans 661 664 cans* 92 cans 756 cans
Pigeon peas 288 298 cans 41 cans 339 cans
Peanuts 103 1,021 cans 255 cans 1,276 cans
Corn 76 76 cans 10 cans 86 cans
Black eyed beans 70 50 cans 7 cans 57 cans
Beans (another variety) 70 50 cans 7 cans 57 cans
Total 1,268 2,159 cans 412 cans 2,571 cans

* a local measurement, approximately 1 lb.

The gwoupman have organized coordination committees in nine villages, and in March 2011 these committees will hold an assembly to elect leaders, make plans and formally establish the Union of Peasant Gwoupman of Bailly (IPGB in Creole).  The goal of PDL and Groundswell is to strengthen organizations like IPGB so that they can continue to improve life, grow enough food and generate prosperity. That means linking organizational strengthening and community leadership to practical activities like soil conservation, seed selection, grain storage, and community health promotion.  The UN reports that at least 3 million of Haiti’s people will require food aid in April and May.  PDL and Groundswell are working with rural communities to change that. Haiti’s farmers can feed themselves and the rest of the people of Haiti. They have done it before, and with a little help, they will be able to do it again.

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