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2020 Seed Campaign: Update from Haiti

Although pandemic precautions have not permitted Quixote Center staff to visit our Haitian counterparts this year, we have kept in regular touch with our partners via virtual meetings twice a month. Because of those close connections, we were able to broadcast the need for increasing deposits in the seed bank and many of you truly delivered to meet this need. We received the report below yesterday and wanted to share some highlights with you. 

During the week of November 30, the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center visited the gardens of those who received seeds during the 2020 agricultural campaign. The campaign aimed at expanding support from the seed bank to farmers in advance of the planting season. There was, and remains, tremendous concern about food insecurity in the area due to climate change, and complicated by price fluctuations for inputs and transportation. The seed bank is able to bulk purchase seeds and provide them at a low, subsidized cost, to farmers. The program also includes training on preparing sweet potatoes for planting that are resistant to weevils – a pest that has destroyed harvests over the last three years. The team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation has led the way in adapting to this problem.

As part of the evaluation, everyone who planted sweet potatoes received a visit, plus 4 or 5 other planters in the zones of Ti David, Koraiy, Janpyè, Veney, and Ravin Olyadnn. One of the planters from Ravin Olyadnn is pictured below inspecting her plants.

The goal was to see how the planters are faring in the fight against the sweet potato weevil and to offer them encouragement and accompaniment for all of their garden activities. Aneus, who shares responsibility for the seed bank along with Songé, completed the garden visits and provided information for this report.

These notes are continued from an initial visit that was made to each of these gardens just after they had planted the seeds they received from the seed bank. From the time of the initial planting until now, the gardens look very green. For those who planted peas, they are growing well despite the fact that they received a lot of sun during their planting cycle. This is giving the pea planters hope, in the same way that the black bean planters have hope in certain areas.

In the four zones that were visited this week, we noticed the same thing, that people are managing to grow beans and peas in their gardens and have already started eating from the crop that they are producing. These planters have hope for the future, and they are already assured that they will have a portion of their garden harvest to feed their families.

Another thing we noted is that there are some areas, like Rivyè Blanch, where farmers are battling against new pests. In this area, cochineal insects are attacking the peas and the peanuts that the farmers planted. This is causing a lot of stress for the planters, because it puts the future of these crops, which are very important for the peasant farmers, in doubt. We have begun formations to teach the planters how they can fight against this pest, and also how to prevent the cochineal from attacking their future crops.

The beneficiaries report that they are satisfied overall with the accompaniment provided by the agronomy team. They are thankful that the support of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center has enabled them to plant more gardens.

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Gros Morne Update


Aneus (stripes) and Teligene (maroon) from the Grepen agronomy team show participants how to plant yams.

[Editor’s note: The update below comes  before the full scope of Tropical Storm Laura’s damage is known, though local impacts in the Gros Morne area were not severe. Nationally, La Nouvelliste reports 9 people have died and many are without power and/or have been left homeless in the wake of the storm. It is too early to know the longer-term impact of flooding on the upcoming harvest. We will have a further update as we learn more details.]

After more than 5 months at home, students began a staggered return to the classrooms of Gros Morne in mid-August. The latest academic calendar calls for about 50 days of instruction, to somehow cobble together what the students have missed after more than 100 days out of the classroom, and then final exams in mid-October. It is by no means a perfect, or even adequate, system, but people are managing as best they can in order to salvage the academic year. While the students were out of the classroom, Lekol Jezi-Mari and St Gabriel’s School in partnership with Mercy Beyond Borders kept students engaged by broadcasting lessons on local radio stations. The radio signal reaches into the mountains of the 8 communal sections of Gros Morne, so even students who were sent to stay with family members in the countryside could continue with their lessons, to some extent. 

These plans for a truncated academic year are happening against the backdrop of what is proving to be an active hurricane season. The first few storms to graze Gros Morne brought rain and strong winds, but thankfully no more serious damage than uprooted gardens so far. Hurricane Isaias uprooted avocado and plantain trees out in the communal sections, and Laura uprooted the corn crop in some areas of the Gros Morne region. Farmers lament the loss of their gardens so close to the big summer harvest, since for the majority of families in Gros Morne, “working remotely” means working in the countryside in their family gardens. A good harvest enables them to send their children to school and put food on the table. Without a harvest of any kind, their families will suffer from hunger and will remain stuck in the cycle of generational poverty with no way forward. But thanks to support from the agronomy team, farmers are able to have some hope for the next planting season with good quality subsidized seeds provided by the local seed bank. This is made possible by partners like Quixote Center and Mercy Focus on Haiti, which enabled the Grepen agronomy team to purchase seeds to assist farmers in all 8 of the communal sections throughout the spring and summer planting season. This vital support enabled farmers to have hope amidst all of the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, and now gives them hope again after the destruction of their gardens during the tropical storms. 

Public hand-washing stations remain well-utilized around Gros Morne, and schools that did not previously have hand-washing stations rigged up their own, in preparation for the return of students. People wear masks when required, in order to enter schools, banks, and churches, but mask-wearing in the local open air market and on the streets in general has been sporadic. Churches officially reopened in mid-July, but funerals have been held throughout the pandemic, with increasing frequency, it seems. Many people have had coronavirus symptoms, but testing capacity to confirm whether they actually have covid-19 is lacking. There is a natural tea which seems to provide relief from the symptoms of coronavirus, which is how the majority of people locally are coping with this illness. 

The borders of Haiti reopened at the end of July, but the exchange rate has ballooned to an abysmal 125 HTG to 1 USD. As salaries remain fixed, families struggle to respond to their decreasing purchasing power. Basic provisions of rice, beans, and oil for a family of 6 for the month now cost about the equivalent of $50 USD, which is unsustainable for the majority of families. Teachers in some departments have begun to strike as they demand a living wage, yet another legitimate concern and stumbling block for this plan to salvage the school year.  

The lack of economic activity is causing old grievances to explode in one communal section in particular. Out in the far reaches of the mountains of the Pendus area, houses have been burned and people shot, as an old feud heats up amidst the desperation and despair that so many are feeling as the pandemic continues to negatively impact economic opportunities. Many young people from Gros Morne who were working or studying at university or technical school in the larger cities of Gonaives, Port-de-Paix, and Port-au-Prince returned home to the countryside where things seemed more stable during the crisis point of the pandemic, and these students have slowly begun to return to the cities in search of a way forward as schools reopen. Young people returned in droves from the Dominican Republic as well, since coronavirus prevention measures blocked the majority of them from continuing to work or study there. Now they wait to see what opportunities will present themselves, but as coronavirus cases fluctuate and tropical storms blow, the winds of change haven’t yet come to relieve people from the grasp of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. 

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COVID-19 in Haiti: Update from Gros Morne

Interactive, updated map of COVID-19 cases in Haiti

Geri Lanham works with our partners based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepin, Haiti (just outside of Gros Morne). She offers an update below on the current situation in the area. Gros Morne has had one confirmed case as of June 11, 2020. The person, who was also diabetic, has died*. The community is nevertheless feeling the impact of the pandemic on everything from school schedules to food prices. Included are photos from our emergency seed distribution, ongoing as the rains have begun. Thanks to everyone who has supported these efforts – Tom Ricker

In Gros Morne we do not yet have a confirmed case of covid-19, but people are feeling the impact of the global pandemic. Community organizations created handwashing stations out of buckets and spigots, and placed them along the main streets in town. Local bank branches were some of the earliest adopters of covid prevention measures like washing hands and wearing facemasks, and they are now employing social distancing so that people can continue to utilize their vital services in this cash based society. Since many family members who went abroad now find themselves out of work, remittances are down for families back home in Haiti. Since the president officially closed the borders in a country where imports make up a large portion of the goods in the market, it has been more complicated to supply basic goods via the new guidelines of who and what can enter the territory. 

Many Haitians who entered the Dominican Republic for work in the past few months have made the decision to return to Haiti since the health crisis lockdown has been more severe across the border. Thousands of them have returned via irregular border crossings, which means that very few of them have gone into quarantine. Since there are over 10,000 confirmed cases in the Dominican Republic, this unregulated population of returnees poses a risk to the fragile healthcare system, especially since some of them are returning to the countryside to places like Gros Morne where healthcare resources are ill-equipped to manage an outbreak of covid-19. Thanks to community education campaigns, people here have tentatively begun to wear locally-made reusable cloth face masks, although practicing social distancing is practically impossible in the stressed parameters of the large local market and on public transport.  

As the exchange rate continues to rise north of 100 Haitian gourde to 1 US dollar, everyone is feeling the pressure of decreased purchasing power in the local markets. School teachers who have been out of work since 20 March are struggling to provide basic food for their families. Prices for basic goods like a bag of rice increase weekly, at a time when fewer and fewer families have the economic capacity to buy in bulk for a discounted price. Basic monthly provisions of rice, beans and oil now cost the equivalent of $50 USD. For teachers who were making about $100 USD per month, they now have to spend 50% of their income on basic food. and that does not include any spices or vegetables. 

Many families, especially in the countryside, rely at least partially upon income from their gardens to support their families. As a result of global climate change, the seasonal rains were slow to come this year. That means that the spring planting season was pushed back a few weeks in Gros Morne, which in turn increases the weeks of hunger that families will have to endure between planting and harvest. And this year the rains started and then promptly became irregular to the point that farmers who planted at the first rain lost some of their crop if they were not able to provide an alternate water source for irrigation of their fields. 

Schools have been closed for over 2 months. After the president announced that the schools and churches would remain closed until at least 20 July, the Ministry of Education presented a plan that would see schools opening at the beginning of August or the beginning of September, depending upon how the situation develops or deteriorates in the next few months. Due to a lack of access to regular electricity, it has been a challenge to support distance learning initiatives. Some schools have been able to take advantage of whatsapp, google classroom, and other technology to enable them to continue to provide classroom content for their students, but they are very much in the minority. 

In Gros Morne, we are launching a series of courses on the radio intended for secondary school students. The Ministry of Education maintains that once the students have returned to school, they will take official state exams after about 50 days of classroom instruction. Somehow during that time they are supposed to absorb, process, and comprehend the content that they were supposed to cover over the course of the more than 100 days of instruction they have missed this academic year between the locked country political debacle and now the coronavirus crisis. The math does not seem to add up, but the schools have to do something to salvage this academic year. Due to lack of electricity, it will be impossible to reach 100% of the students, but for those who are able to tune in this will at least provide a starting point as we start to look toward the future that will at some point involve classroom learning again. 

There is a sense of being in a holding pattern that involves suffering no matter what. People are trying to be responsible and take precautions to protect themselves and their families from contracting covid-19. But as they attempt to do this, they do not have much support, if any, from the state or other sources to enable them to provide the basics for their families. Students are suffering as they must sit and home and wait for the education structure to welcome them back to class, and parents are suffering as they must venture out to provide for their families while they know the risk and the lack of medical services if they do get sick. What little they are able to do still equals the current reality of families who are suffering from hunger and lack of resources in the midst of a pandemic.

  • This passage was updated since the article was originally published to reflect the one confirmed death in the area.
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What political crisis means in Gros Morne, Haiti

Entrance to Jean Marie Vincent Forest, Gros Morne

Over the last year there has been a recurring cycle of protest sparked by ongoing anger at the current government. The underlying causes are complex, touching on a number of themes, but central to the frustration is the increasing cost of living that is driving people into more and more desperate conditions. Alongside of the daily struggle, corruption has emerged as a specific target of frustration as it manifests the insular world of Haiti’s wealthy class which continues to dominate political institutions. The PetroCaribe scandal, where dozens of politicians and well connected friends were found to have syphoned off billions in subsidized oil revenue for projects never completed, or, in some cases, never started has become a focal point for demonstrations demanding the resignation of president Jovenal Moise.  

Below, Geri Lanham, who works with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne, discusses what the crisis has meant in Gros Morne and some of the hopeful ways the community has responded.

Gros Morne is known for being a calm place where people go about their daily business of trying to support their families without much fuss. This daily endeavor is not without hardship, and is made more difficult by the lack of transportation and electric infrastructure, but it is generally carried out in a manner of purposeful action where each person strives to manage his or her affairs to the extent that he or she is able. This all happens within the local network of the eight communal sections of Gros Morne, which are connected via local markets and businesses which try to keep up a trade to more or less enable those people who are engaged within the network to strive to make ends meet. Hunger still very much exists in the zone, but thanks to local efforts to support and expand agrarian activities and family connections abroad, there are genuine attempts to lessen this daily struggle to provide basic needs. Life is difficult here, without a doubt, but the people of Gros Morne are incredibly resilient in the face of hardship. 

The recent recurring episodes of insecurity in the country have negatively impacted Gros Morne and the capacity and network that people here have worked hard to create in order to support their families. When the roads to the south toward Port-au-Prince are barricaded with roadblocks due to political frustrations, this means that the merchants of Gros Morne cannot resupply. Prices rise when everyday goods like eggs and flour become scarce, and when the roads open again, these prices do not fall back to the level where they were originally. The real difficulty is when local salaries for professionals who work in education and healthcare do not rise in response to these increased prices, and so the purchasing power of this professional class decreases. The merchants then lose some of their regular clients who can no longer afford to buy at the same level at which they had before the scarcity, and their network shrinks. 

When gas is not resupplied regularly to the four gas stations in town, transportation costs rise. This impacts virtually everyone in town who use the moto taxis to get where they need to go on a daily basis. Profit margins fall for small merchants who need to transport items farther out into the countryside, as well as for moto drivers, who realize that they cannot raise their taxi prices more than what people are willing to reasonably pay even when gas purchased on the black market is more expensive. People who were able to “make it” previously now find themselves in a difficult situation of needing some other activity or connection to fill the gap caused by the price increases which are the result of these roadblocks. 

With the transportation disrupted, people in Gros Morne felt the impact of these national strikes. This led to the desire from some in town to join in the protest activities to show their own frustrations and commiserate with their country people who are all very frustrated by the current situation of the unsustainable high cost of living. This disgruntled feeling manifested itself in a day of general protests in Gros Morne, which involved a group of people marching down the main roads, erecting rock barricades along the national highway that passes through town, and generally voicing their discontent with the status quo. Then the next day, all was back to business as usual, as people went about the daily struggle to provide for their families, which is only becoming more difficult. 

One positive ongoing change to emerge from these national protests and the disruptions that they have caused is a local desire for people to become more self sufficient in their food sources. The local agronomy team in Gros Morne, along with various community organizations, is striving to teach people techniques for increasing their garden yields and introducing them to new crops in order to fortify the local capacity to supply the nutritional needs of the population. Local women’s groups are supporting one another in efforts to create small front yard gardens of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and okra, while community organizations are creating communal gardens to plant crops like corn, okra and sweet potatoes. Local farmers are receiving formation to plant a new variety of yams and are using land preparation techniques like double dug gardens to respond to the lack of rainfall in the zone. As families begin to identify the assets such as land, which they already have, they are then able to use what they learn from agronomy formations to put the land into use in an attempt to respond to the hardships facing their families. Coordination between leaders out in the communal sections means that different zones are planting different crops, so that they do not drive prices down when they bring their harvest to the central market in the town of Gros Morne. These small efforts are beginning to show results as everyone strives to go about living by finding creative ways to deal with the new normal. 

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  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

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6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

For public transportation: We are located near the Green Belt metro station (green line)