I’m writing this update to remind us all of what we do and why we do it. No better way to do that than share with you our current activity in one poor farm community.
It is a little village far off the paved road, landmarked by a bright blue, wood plank two-room schoolhouse, packed with children in plaid shirts. Little mud and block houses with tin and palm thatched roofs dot the roadside nearby. Behind them a steep, treeless hillside runs up to a knife-edged ridge 500 feet above. Spread across it are small fields like puzzle pieces - some green with a new crop, some brown with exposed dirt, some black with char. They are little farms and they are the economic basis of life here. They are also the center of community life. Every day, families hike up to them to plant, hoe, and harvest depending on the season. Here babies are nurtured, meals prepared and eaten together. Children who go to school come at noon to do their part to help.
There is much to be admired in the fabric of this scene - the hum of families working together, the satisfaction of farming, the sheer beauty of the vistas. But it is a thin fabric and it is easily torn. There is a constant worry of not having enough to eat and a fear of what happens when something goes wrong — a crop fails, a child gets sick, a parent dies. Everybody knows these things up close and too often. With incomes of about $150 every six months, when crops are harvested, families have little resiliency to adversity.
This kind of poverty does not exist because of governmental corruption or personal failure. It’s way more structural than that. It evolved over generations with family after family after family simply doing what is necessary to survive and inadvertently destroying the economic foundation of their survival, which is the land. It is a destructive cycle of cause and effect, where poverty leads to environmental collapse, which leads to greater poverty. It’s a disaster happening in the midst of everyday life. Desperate families farm desperately, which degrades the land, which diminishes crop yields, which reduces income, which increases hunger and fear, which leads to desperate farming.
There’s no shortage of intellect in this community and people can understand the ramifications of deforestation and soil loss, but they simply cannot risk failure in an eﬀort to change. They have to stick with the devil they know. When I pointed out to a farmer that his peanut crop was causing massive soil loss on his steep land, he said he had no choice — growing peanuts was how he paid for his kids to go to school and he knows how to grow them. The suggestion of an alternative crop was met with a “yes but” — a good idea but he did not have the money to change and he could not afford the risk that there would be no crop to sell in six months. Bottomline, having no money to shift to a new crop and no time to transition keeps rational people from making the changes they agree would be in their long-term interest. This is where JP has stepped in. It is giving people in this community enough ‘slack in the rope’ for them to change how they farm to improve their income and conserve their land.
JP is currently working with ten farm families (125-150 men, women, children, seniors) planting trees and changing crops and cultivation practices. Our Haitian agronomists work with each family to make a plan specific to their land, needs and preferences. It then helps launch their plan by providing trees, seeds, supplies, and supervision.
Two families are currently planting yams, another two are planting pineapple. JP provides the tubers and the pineapple plugs, which cost more than these families make in a year. In return each family will pass on planting stock to their neighbors in growing seasons to come. Six families are planting woodlots on their land and establishing contour conservation belts to prevent erosion. Several families are hatching a plan to produce guava juice after talking to us about the economic benefit of adding value to their crop before it goes to market.
All together, these activities are helping this very poor community break out of the cycle of poverty and environmental collapse, which has dragged it down for generations. We are convinced of the soundness of this method and the sustainability of its results. While nobody will be getting rich from these little farms that are so ubiquitous in Haiti, they can enable families to step out of poverty to live simply but with health, dignity and a sense of possibility.
While macro-economic factors like governmental corruption and currency exchange rates are beyond JP, it is well within our power to tangibly reduce poverty and improve the lives of real people in the countryside, where more than half of Haiti lives. That is what we are doing.
Thanks for your interest and support.