Kim Lamberty: Racism, Colonialism and Haiti

Below is the text version of a presentation by Quixote Center Executive Director Kim Lamberty, DMin upon receiving Pax Christi’s 14th Annual Peacemaker Award, November 7, 2021. A video of the presentation is below.

Thank you. I have worked with many of you for a long time and it is special to be recognized by one’s peers and communities.  Thanks also to each of you present this evening –I am feeling the love. 

Tonight I will look briefly at a history of racism and colonialism through the lens of Haiti and Haiti’s history.  The idea is in part to refocus on Haiti, given the current situation of extreme violence, food insecurity, vulnerability. In talking about Haiti I am also going to talk about the ways in which a racist, colonial economic system is still at play, and offer some thoughts about what we can be doing differently.

Brief narrative of Haiti’s history 

In 1492, Columbus landed on the island known as Haiti by the indigenous Taino population, and promptly renamed it Hispaniola.  He established the first Spanish settlement there, and after successive Spanish settlements, within 100 years the indigenous population had been destroyed. By the late 1600s, the half of the island that is known as Haiti had been ceded to the French, who turned it into a giant coffee and sugar plantation. At its peak, half of the Atlantic slave trade went to Haiti. This plantation economy depended on the deforestation of high-value trees, extreme violence toward the people who they had enslaved, and forced conversion to Catholicism. By the time of the Haitian revolution, the French side of the island was the world’s top producer of coffee and sugar and France’s most profitable colony. One out of every 8 people in France derived their living from this trade, which was entirely dependent on the enslavement of Africans.

Analogous stories happened in other European colonies. Haiti was one of the most profitable, but the other European countries also earned extraordinary profits through colonizing, pilfering, and enslaving Africans and indigenous. This is where European wealth came from, the same wealth that, for example, provided funding for religious orders and missionary work. 

The Haitian revolution began as a slave rebellion that ultimately defeated Napoleon’s army to form the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804.  Thomas Jefferson responded by imposing a trade embargo, and the United States refused to recognize Haiti until 1862. France cut off all trade until the Haitian government agreed to pay them reparations for lost  “human and territorial” property. Haitian went from one of the most profitable territories in the world to a situation of destitution from which it has not recovered. There is much more to the story, such as US occupation, US support for dictators, US interference in democratic elections, US treatment of migrants fleeing an untenable situation, that continued to oppress the people of Haiti over the ensuing decades and centuries.  This is not unlike our history in other Latin American countries, many of whom also have not recovered from what was done to them during the colonial period.

The Poverty-Industrial Complex

European colonialism was based in an ideology of white supremacy and an economic system that enriched some people at the expense of vast forced labor—because if they had to pay people, they would not have gotten nearly so rich. One can draw parallels to today…because paying substandard wages, or paying low prices for natural resources from vulnerable countries, still makes some people very rich and others very poor. So now let’s jump ahead to today, a situation where Haitians frequently refer to their own country as the Republic of NGOs. I call it the poverty-industrial complex.

Economically vulnerable countries, such as Haiti, are also home to many of the natural resources required to sustain the lifestyles of wealthier countries. Coffee is one of them, and hopefully by the end of this conversation, you will see why I got into the coffee business. Obviously there are many other commodities that one could focus on. 

The economic system that we are all functioning in is focused on maximizing shareholder wealth. Companies buy natural resources, or the labor it takes to produce their product, at the lowest possible amount they possibly can, and sell the finished product for the highest possible amount they can, keeping the profits from those sales for themselves, and their shareholders, which are often one and the same. They get cheap labor and resources from vulnerable communities and countries who are kept in a permanent state of need because they are never paid enough to live on. Consumers—that is you and me—are complicit in this system because we are conditioned to pay the lowest amount we possibly can for the goods that we consume, often without doing the work to understand the impact on labor, as well as on producers, in vulnerable countries. It also takes an environmental toll because resources are extracted in the cheapest manner possible without regard to impact on the planet.

Obviously there are exceptions, both on the industry side and on the consumption side. But by and large this is what we are dealing with in terms of how wealth is generated. From profits.

The NGOs come in to mop up the mess in poor countries and communities, trying to bridge the gap between what people are getting paid for goods and services, and what they actually need to live on. NGOs raise money from the exact same people—the wealthy—in other words, from many of the same people who are profiting off of poverty. There is a lot of money to be made off of poverty, which is why we still have it.

Let’s take the coffee industry. Coffee is a top export from economically vulnerable countries, so it is worth looking at. It impacts 25 million small scale growers, or around 100 million people total, although most coffee is grown on large plantations owned by wealthy landholders. The current international price for coffee is between 2 and 3 bucks per pound, which is actually quite high by historical standards. In most cases, that money goes to a plantation owner, who pays very low wages (or none at all) to hired labor for what is very difficult work. We also know that there is slave labor in the coffee supply chain, in particular in Brazil, which is the top global exporter of coffee. In some cases, when small farmers have formed cooperatives, they get a larger portion of that money, but a chunk of it still goes to the coop to pay for its own expenses and salaries. And how much do you pay for a pound of coffee? Studies have shown that the bulk of the income from coffee sales goes to large roasters, who are the ones making the profits.

The people making the profits give from their excess to NGOs, who then use a substantial amount of that money to pay their own salaries, and to create the infrastructure needed to deliver aid. This means paying for offices, trucks, warehouses, computers—etc., in addition to their own salaries, which are often very substantial.  It is really hard to find information about how much actual cash gets into the hands of people in need, because organizations include their own salaries and infrastructure in their reported “program costs.” What would happen if we just took all that money and gave it to people in need? People know what to do with it. Instead, we have developed a jobs-creation program for people such as myself. It is an industry that depends on poverty to survive, and a whole lot of jobs are at stake. Many of them are connected to churches.

I have heard numerous Haitians point this out: Money that gets raised for Haiti does not go to Haiti—it goes to aid workers. My question is, how is the poverty industrial complex that I am describing not still colonialism? 

The Cost of Colonialism

People kept in a permanent state of need will take action to support and protect themselves and their families. If they have the opportunity, they will migrate to a place where they think they have a better chance of making a living—and so we are seeing the huge cost of the poverty-industrial complex at our borders, and at borders around the globe. What’s happening at the US-Mexico border is minuscule compared to what is happening in Africa, home to the largest refugee camps in the world. 

Economically vulnerable people also join armed groups as a way to resolve their lives. In Colombia, I had conversations with people who simply said that young people are joining armed groups because they have no other economic opportunity. Studies have been done that confirm that this dynamic exists elsewhere: young people in particular will join armed groups if they think they do not have other options for making a living. This is just as true in the US as it is in Haiti, Colombia, Palestine, and Guatemala.

Many of our interventions into this dynamic take place in order to alleviate the damage done without addressing the root cause of the damage. We have the best of intentions when we work to change US immigration policy, or when we provide support for migrant camps, or we oppose the sale of weapons, or we do gang intervention work. And obviously, we have to do those things, and it’s not likely that these symptoms of a much larger problem are going away any time soon. 

According to the Gospel, “The poor you will always have with you.” (Matthew 26:11) The poor we will always have with us because there will always be natural disasters, or pandemics, or other catastrophes that befall us—it is the human condition. We live in a state of insecurity, and there will always be a need for a selfless response to those in need. So I’m not saying that all aid is bad, and during my time at CRS I saw some great examples of aid at work. But the conditions we see right now—extreme endemic poverty in places like Haiti, widespread food insecurity, violence, and a global migration crisis—these things do not always have to be with us. 

In order for those things to not always be with us, we need to get beyond addressing the symptoms, and get to the actual causes. If you want peace, work for justice! Paul VI was right—he just didn’t come up with the right or complete remedy. At the end of Populorum Progressio he advised everyone to contribute to the aid organizations!

Frequently, when we say we are addressing the root cause what we are actually doing is shoring up the poverty-industrial complex, rather than focusing on dismantling the systems and structures that will lead to significantly increased income generation for vulnerable families and communities. In other words, it’s not good enough to develop an industrial campus in northern Haiti—what the Clintons did—if the jobs don’t pay well enough to live on and local farmers are displaced. It’s not enough to develop a coffee program in a vulnerable community if all the growers get is a dollar or two dollars a pound—because that helps the roasters in the US but does not bring producers out of poverty. I don’t even like using the term “root cause” anymore, because it has been co-opted.

People are poor because they don’t have enough money, or assets to generate money. This is not rocket science. If society wanted to fix this, it would. The problem is that really fixing it would require economic sacrifice on the part of the wealthy. 

What Justice Looks Like

We started Just Haiti to address these economic justice issues. The organization is run by an all-volunteer team of 9 people. Each of us has another job, and each of us plays a significant role in Just Haiti operations.  We pay the highest price for green coffee in the industry, and all profits from sales go to the growers—because as we noted earlier, wealth is generated from profits. Our producers tell us that they use the profits to pay school fees for their kids, to cover unexpected medical expenses, to plant food crops, or to grow their coffee business. Our work is another level of ethics than what is practiced by most NGOs, even the most progressive ones.

People tell me it is unsustainable, and I say really? What is it actually and concretely going to take for us to reverse and dismantle a racist, colonial economic system? What we are doing at Just Haiti is at least part of what it is going to take, because what we are doing is actually dismantling it. What would happen if everyone did it? And a shout out to the Just Haiti board, a wonderful community of volunteers that it is my privilege to work with. They are making many personal sacrifices –it is a lot of work to run the organization and we do it together. Community is what makes this work fun as well as sustainable, and we have developed a fabulous community over the years. And by the way, you can buy our coffee at justhaiti.org.

The Quixote Center, where I just took over as executive director, is engaging in some similar cutting edge work in another part of Haiti which does not involve coffee or exports but does involve agricultural development. I just started as part of the Quixote Center community, but my expectation is that it will be just as much fun and sustaining.

I’m sure that many of you already buy fair trade products. Unfortunately, not all fair trade is alike. If your favorite fair trade company advertises that it is using its profits to install a water system in its producer communities, then they are also part of the poverty-industrial complex. Why aren’t they paying their growers enough so that the community can purchase and maintain its own water system? So buy fair trade—it is a huge step in the right direction—but buy it with a discerning eye and ask questions about how the proceeds are used. 

There are other things we can do that most of you already know about: support local farmers, purchase from black and brown-owned businesses, do business with registered B Corps. I invite each one of us has to be very intentional about this as an act of anti-racism, as violence prevention, and as a means to dismantle an unjust economic system. 

It’s not enough, unfortunately. The vast majority of CEOs are never going to give up their lucrative salaries for the sake of a better standard of living for workers and producers, whether in the US or elsewhere. It can, however, be addressed through the tax code. Right now, we have a tax system that favors the wealthy because of the low rates levied against high income and against capital gains, which come from stock sales. The incentive is to collect greater and greater income, especially through stock, because it isn’t taxed all that much. De-incentivize it through the tax code by increasing tax rates on the wealthy. Getting involved in advocacy on tax as well as wage issues is also a part of the solution. 

 There are lots of other ideas and suggestions that I am sure many of you could add. The point I want to leave you with is that I think the cutting-edge work right now is the economic system. While many folks in wealthy countries are doing well, the gap between rich and poor has gotten astronomical in the last few decades. And the point of talking about Just Haiti is to say that there are concrete things we can do to dismantle this system. 

Luann Mostello told me she hoped my presentation would spark interest in engagement with Haiti, and I hope that, too. And at the same time, as already noted, Haiti has way too many NGO actors from the United States already. My perspective on this is that instead of establishing more siloed projects, we do a better job in Haiti working in partnership, pooling our resources, to support cutting-edge work that dismantles an unjust, oppressive economic system. Through partnerships, Just Haiti has worked to replicate our model, with some great successes and some failures as well. We learn from our failures and do better the next time. I would really like to replicate the Quixote Center’s work in other communities as well. I have been the long-term consultant for a sisters of Notre Dame deNamur project in Les Cayes that established a local bakery—I would like to see that project replicated. Given the violence, insecurity, and vulnerability to natural disasters, Haiti remains a challenging place to work. And at the same time, given the history of racism, colonialism, and exploitation on the part of the US, it seems to me that Haiti is exactly where we belong.

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Haiti: Celebrating the Jean Marie Vincent Center in Gros Morne

We have been writing a great deal about the multiple crises in Haiti as well as the treatment of migrants from Haiti in Mexico and at the United States border. Sometimes it feels as though keeping up with these very important issues takes time away from celebrating the wonderful work that is also happening in Haiti, in particular with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne. So, today we want to update on the activity of the JMV Center and also discuss a little bit how the program is fairing in light of the political and economic challenges the country is facing.

As a quick overview, our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center began in 1999. At the time, we were called upon to support a community initiative to reforest a mountain slope on the edge of town. Erosion from the mountain was causing the river to silt up and led to mudslides during the rainy season. That mountain, Tet Mon, is now home to 200,000+ trees. It was an effort that launched the Center onto its current multifaceted programs to assist smallholder farmers and other families in the area. The programs all emerge in response to locally identified needs and strategies, though expertise on things like planting techniques to isolate pests infesting sweet potato harvests, or determining the optimal percentage of soy to put in chicken feed, is welcome from anywhere.

There are three broad areas of work, and multiple projects within each: Reforestation, material support and formations to small farmers throughout the communal sections of Gros Morne, and the gardens and facilities at the JMV Center itself. Despite the crisis impacting the country, which has been felt by everyone in Gros Morne in different ways, the program keeps going.

Reforestation

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Every year, the tree nursery at the JMV Center and related satellite nurseries distribute 50,000 to 60,000 trees. The number of seedlings that make it from the Center and into the ground varies due to weather conditions. Having young trees prepped and ready to get into the ground when the rains come is always the goal. Drought or flooding, however, can ruin the best-laid plans.

Yet, over the last 5 years, the team has given out nearly 260,000 trees. The trees are distributed through community organizations and schools, and the delivery of trees is always accompanied with training about how to take care of the trees. In addition to reforestation trees, there is an emphasis on the delivery of fruit-bearing trees that provide both food for families and a potential source of income.

A particularly innovative project the agronomy team from the JMV Center is engaged in is Project Lorax. This project provides trees to families for the purpose of sustainable charcoal harvesting. Cutting trees for charcoal is often listed as one of the chief causes of deforestation in Haiti. Yet, the practice is necessary for many families to earn an income. Project Lorax is an effort to engage that reality but in a sustainable way. Trees are planted in three year cycles.  Families that participate are offered incentives to care for the trees. At the end of the third year, the trees are ready for harvest. 40,000 sapling trees have been delivered over the past 3 years in Perou as a testing site.

Formations

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The team from the JMV Center engages in training on a variety of themes. In recent years, the topics that have led to the greatest number of workshops are planting techniques to minimize weevil infestation in local harvests, planting yard and patio gardens (alongside participation with JMV Center’s seed bank), and water preservation (workshops on drip irrigation as well as maintenance and use of water cisterns).

Several years ago, a weevil infestation was destroying sweet potato crops throughout the communal sections of Gros Morne. Sweet potatoes are a staple crop for families in the area, and losing 40-50% of the plants was devastating to small farmers. The agronomy team at the JMV Center immediately went into action, using the JMV garden as a test site to develop planting techniques using special “weevil traps.” Over the last several years 2,000 families have benefited from agronomy team workshops on these planting techniques. Not only has the weevil infestation been contained, but bringing farmers into the program, the team has been able to also share additional knowledge about soil and water preservation, crop rotation, double digging garden plots, and so on. The result is that yields have increased.

The agronomy team has also worked with 2,200 families participating in the seed bank program. The seed bank purchases vegetable seeds at bulk prices, often in the “off-season” when prices are lower. It is also used for bean and corn deposits, cuttings for sweet potatoes and yams, and other tubers. In preparation for the planting seasons, the agronomy team organizes workshops to help families prepare yard and patio gardens, as well as prepare fields for planting. The seed bank provides the service of storage, and encourages, through the resulting lower cost for seed purchases, participation in formations through which sustainable techniques are given to farmers.

Sustainable water use is probably the biggest challenge facing small farmers. Rainfall is unpredictable, and extended periods of drought conditions are not uncommon. Over the last year, the agronomy team from the JMV Center has been doing trainings on drip irrigation that are accompanied by the installation of water cisterns (the water cisterns were the result of a donation from the Sisters of Mercy Haiti program).

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The Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center

Father Jean Marie Vincent. Image: Haiti Information Project

The bulk of Quixote Center resources that go to support the work of the JMV Center is actually expended keeping the infrastructure in place. This means purchasing fuel, purchasing project inputs like seed bags and root trainers, and covering the salaries of agronomy team members. At the heart of this work is the Center itself. The JMV Center is hosted on land donated by the Monfortan Brothers in honor of the last Father Jean Marie Vincent, a staunch advocate for peasant farmers who was gunned down in Port au Prince in 1994 during the last months of the Cedras’ coup regime.

Father Vincent’s vision for Haiti’s smallholder farmers was tied to education and liberation. Father Vincent eschewed a charity model of church engagement. He wanted to see Haiti’s farmers have access to the tools they needed to sustain their livelihoods, and he was willing to challenge the country’s elite to create the space for this to happen.

This is a vision that still animates the work of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, and that of the Quixote Center.

If you like the work we are doing in Haiti, you can donate to support it here.

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Earthquake Update #2

It has now been seven days since an earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti, doing tremendous damage in the Sud, Nippes, and Grand Anse departments. According to the latest update from Haiti’s government, 2,189 people are confirmed dead, with another 12,268 injured. Some communities have yet to be reached by government officials and volunteers, and so this toll is likely to climb much higher. 

The damage is hard to fathom. Nearly 61,000 homes have been destroyed and 76,000 damaged. Nearly 75,000 families are without housing. The country was already facing a food security crisis, compounded by high fuel prices, and the closing of transportation corridors that connected the south to Port au Prince, which were closed off due to fighting in Martissant and surrounding areas. Emergency support efforts are thus compounded by the intersection of these other, pre-existing crises, draining resources and creating insecurity for the delivery of assistance. 

The government announced on Monday that there was a truce with gangs in Martissant. Several aid convoys were able to get through during that time. That truce seemed to be fraying by Thursday, as renewed fighting led to massive traffic jams coming in and out of Port au Prince. Two doctors were apparently kidnapped – one reportedly on his way to perform an emergency cesarean section. Unattended because of his kidnapping, the mother and child both died. Outside the main roads, however, it is not clear that the fighting in Martissant ever really stopped. A friend in the area wrote to me that people are risking their lives every day trying to get relief to the south.

The challenges are very real, to be sure. But it is also important to underscore that in the face of these challenges there has already been a significant response both within Haiti and among international actors. Within Haiti, official coordination is taking place through the National Centre for Emergency Operations (COUN) and Departmental Centres for Emergency Operations (COUD). Both the COUN and COUD meet regularly with local officials and organizations providing assistance in order to coordinate and prioritize aid. It is still in the early phases, and gaps in the delivery of assistance are clear. 

Les Cayes, for example, is still accessible by road and the airport is functioning. The response there has been significant. At the same time, Jeremie has been harder to reach, and the hospital is lacking in supplies. Smaller towns in Nippes are reportedly receiving little attention. 

Quixote Center response thus far

Thanks to the generosity of many of you, the Quixote Center raised funds this week, and will continue to reach out as the crisis evolves.  Our strategy for the use of funds includes short and medium term goals. In the short term we are supporting groups in Haiti that are delivering emergency supplies. Toward that end we have partnered with the Kolektif pou lakay.

The Kolektif pou Lakay is a new organization, and describes itself as, “a team of young professionals, mainly from the south of Haiti, the most heavily impacted area by the August 14, 2021, earthquake. Our objective is to ensure that the victims’ urgent needs are met. Your contribution will help us acquire and distribute, thanks to our team on the ground, drinking water, food, medical assistance, and hygiene kits directly to the victims. Additionally, we look to provide temporary housing to those in need. In the interest of transparency, a report will be drafted every two weeks on our social media platforms.”  

The Kolektif pou lakay is receiving donations from individuals through a Gofundme page – which you can access here to donate directly if you are able. We have worked with several members of the collective from Noupapdomi on other projects, and will continue to provide support in the weeks to come. 

The Quixote Center is also working in collaboration with the Haiti Response Coalition to establish mechanisms for need assessment and coordination of assistance. The Haiti Response Coalition is a network of mostly US based organizations that work in partnership with organizations in Haiti. The goal of our work with the HRC is to facilitate better coordination so that assistance is reaching some of the areas that might otherwise get looked over. HRC is in the process of investigating and doing some initial mapping of the area to get a better sense of what is needed and where. 

Go here to donate to the Quixote Center emergency response fund.

Longer term

The Quixote Center’s core relationship in Haiti remains the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne. We are reminded over and over again about the need to develop sustainable and equitable food systems. This is the work of the Formation Center and the primary outlet for our resources. Gros Morne was not impacted directly by either the earthquake or the recent tropical depression. Nevertheless, our work there is also an emergency response in many ways. 4.4 million people are impacted by food insecurity in Haiti – and that estimate is prior to the earthquake. Our commitment to the program, and the incredible ingenuity and creativity of the agronomy team is long term. Their work continues in these difficult times, and so does our support. We are keeping our emergency fundraising for the earthquake separate from our general efforts – this is just to let you know this other work continues.

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Yard gardens create food security one family at a time

A long-standing aspect of the training done through our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Haiti is work with families, typically women, to develop yard gardens or patio gardens.  These are small-scale projects, where family members learn to grow a surprisingly wide variety of vegetables in small spaces.

The current iteration of the yard garden project enrolled 375 new families during the first quarter of the year, with support from the seed bank and training from the agronomy team. Some highlights below:

Songé (red hat) with formation participants in Kalabat. The packets they are holding include starter seeds for their gardens.


Songé (center) demonstrates a planting technique to use with drip irrigation in Ti Davi.


A planter & her child in Ti Davi. They created their garden plots out of found materials


Bucket gardens in Siten


Yard gardens can be placed anywhere, even when people do not have actual land.

 

 

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Amidst the political turmoil, life goes on Gros Morne

Throughout February, as Haiti was facing an ongoing political crisis that has kept much of the country on edge, work continued. For the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center this meant visiting community organizations, presenting workshops, checking in with people and their livestock with the mobile clinic, and talking to farmers about the quality of the recent sweet potato harvest. I capture some of these activities below, with updates from the team. 



In the top-left photo above, participants in the goat program bring their goats to a mobile vet clinic led by Songé; in the top-right photo, Songé speaks with a young man who has brought a chicken in for a check-up. The goat program is built around the concept of “paying it forward.” Community groups receive training on the program and care for the goats, and then “cohorts” are formed including 10 female goats and one billy goat. When the goats have kids, they are shared with other members of the community. The chicken program works in a similar fashion, with community organizations involved in the distribution of chickens, which provide another source of food as well as eggs that can be sold in local markets.

On the bottom left, Aneus, a member of the agronomy team, holds a community meeting with people who are using a cistern to water their yard gardens in Bigue. The cistern project has been a major undertaking (funded by Focus on Haiti, a project of the Sisters of Mercy). More on this below. In the bottom right photo, Teligene, another member of the agronomy team, shows workshop participants how to prepare a smoked fish.

In this photo, Teligene & Songé hold a formation about land preparation before the spring planting in Baden. The spring planting is the primary one for the year (there is another in the fall). These kinds of trainings are one of the benefits for participants in the seed bank, through which farmers can purchase seeds at subsidized rates and hold them “in deposit” at the bank until preparations for planting are complete. The timing and success of plantings is highly contingent on rainfall, which has become increasingly unpredictable. 


Above is a map of program sites where the agronomy team is involved in training and other support for farming communities. You can see the various places where the goat and chicken programs have been launched, where work is being done with planting gardens, and in training on the planting of weevil free sweet potatoes. 

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Grepen Center Update

Aneus (striped shirt) & Teligene (black shirt) discuss the weevil free sweet potato program in Atrell

The Quixote Center supports the work of the Jean Marie Vinent Formation Center located in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne, Haiti. Most know of our work in relation to reforestation efforts which have led to 2 million trees planted in the area since 1999. Accompanying the tree planting, however, is work with local farmers. The agronomy team at the Grepen center, travels throughout the region, working side by side with the parish’s Karitas network, and grassroots organizations such as the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne to identify problems, and work with small farmers to find solutions. We periodically report on some of this activity.

Seed Bank

The Grepen center has organized and supports a seed bank for local farmers. The seed bank allows for bulk purchases of seeds, often “off-season” when seeds are cheaper. Farmers are able to purchase the seeds at a discounted rate and deposit them with the seed bank until needed. During the spring we launched an emergency appeal to raise funds for the seed bank to ensure that there were plenty of supplies available to farmers for the summer planting season. We also received additional funds in mid-summer from Alternative Gifts International to further support the seed bank. The following is a report from the agronomy team on use of the funds:

From August until December, local planters usually plant a lot of beans, especially black beans, and vegetables in their gardens. This year the situation facing the planters was complicated. The year began with the locked country political debacle, and then descended into the coronavirus crisis. Ongoing political instability has increased market prices, and a drought during the last spring planting season, which is the largest of the year, caused a lot of problems. The sun destroyed many gardens without the relief of periodic rain. 

All of these things put the farmers in a difficult economic situation. This created difficulties for them to be able to plant on time in the spring, and farming is their principal economic activity.  With the support of Quixote Center, our seed bank at Grepen was able to help the farmers respond to these difficulties and move forward with their gardens. We provided seeds and technical support for the farmers in order to save the spring planting season and change their lives for the better.  

For this planting campaign, we were able to support 61 farmers in the zones that were ready to plant. These farmers all have gardens near Twa Rivye, which we consider to be the boundary that separates our diverse agricultural zones. Of the seeds that we distributed to the farmers, they will have to return a certain quantity to the seed bank after they harvest their crop. This is how we are always going to have good quality seeds available after each harvest.

Goat Program and mobile veterinary clinic

Three years ago the agronomy team launched a program to distribute goats. The program involved first doing training with “cohorts” of roughly 10 families, who would then receive a female goat for each family and one billy goat for the cohort. If the female goat has a kid, the family agrees to pass the kid on to a new family. Maintaining the health of the goats is an important part of the program. Integrated into the program is a mobile vet clinic, run by Roseline. She visits the cohorts on a regular basis. Here the clinic is visiting Perou.

Yam harvest in Grepen

Food insecurity is obviously a huge issue for all of Haiti, and addressing this is the primary goal of the program at the Grepen center. Toward this end, the agronomy team works with local farmers on techniques for growing cassava, yams, and, in the past several years, planting sweet potatoes that are resistant to weevils (which have destroyed many harvests in recent years). Below Teligene and Songé  show off some healthy yams grown in gardens in the community of Grepen.

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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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Updates from the agronomy team in Gros Morne

Several years ago a breed of weevil began infesting sweet potato crops in the area around Gros Morne, ruining many harvests. In response, the team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center went to work developing a weevil resistance strain of sweet potatoes, and have been introducing this to farmers. Below are some photos from a project site in Perou, a satellite nursery for sweet potatoes, Aneus (red shirt) and Teligene (white shirt) check on sweet potatoes. 

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Another program run by the agronomy team based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is a mobile vet clinic. Here Songé performs a wellness check & vaccine campaign for chickens in the Family Enterprise Program, which provides trainings to families about how to treat their activities – such as courtyard gardens & raising chickens – as intentional income generating activities.

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To get a sense of where all of these activities take place, check out the project map below.

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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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Food Insecurity and Emergency Fund for Gros Morne

Source: World Food Program Global Report 2020, pg. 104

The world is facing a global hunger crisis of “biblical” proportions, at least that was the headline for CNN’s report on the looming impact of coronavirus on food supply chains and health systems around the world. Does biblical mean really bad? Or huge? Or end of times? Not clear. But certainly the point was global hunger was about to spike. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the world was facing a crisis of maybe pre-biblical proportions – or more Hebrew Scriptures than Revelations-level stuff. The World Food Program’s report for the coming year initially identified nearly 130 million people facing a crisis level or worse for insecurity around the globe – meaning they either did not have enough food, or could only eat by foregoing other necessities. These pre-COVID numbers were modified upwards as borders began to shut and economies slowed. The World Food Program in essence, doubled its estimate of people facing crisis level food shortages, with the risk of perhaps 36 countries seeing famine for some of their people. Currently there are 10 countries in the world where more than a million people are at crisis levels of food insecurity, and thus on the brink of falling into widespread famine.

Haiti is one of them.

The World Food Program tracks crises across different levels of food insecurity. From Phase 1 (None, or minimal) to Phase 5 (Famine). As the map above shows, almost all of Haiti’s departments are at Phase 3 (Crisis). As noted, this means there is either not enough food, or people can only eat enough if they forego other necessities. Across the country 2.6 million people are at this level. Another 1.1 million people are facing Phase 4, or emergency levels of food insecurity, meaning there are large gaps in meeting daily requirements that are reflected in wide spread malnutrition. In total, then 3.7 million people are at crisis level of higher.

Another 3.2 million people are at Phase 2 – or stressed, meaning households are barely finding enough to eat. The households at Phase 2 are at high risk of sliding into Phase 3 as the economy slows and food prices increase.

All of which means, in Haiti, 35% of households are currently facing crisis levels of food insecurity, or worse and the prospect of that number reaching 65% amidst the economic contraction associated with COVID-19 is very high. This would, of course, also mean that people currently facing more extreme shortages will see their situation worsen. Famine is a very real possibility in parts of the country.

The roots of this crisis run deep. It is widely understood that the current food crisis in Haiti rests on historical factors, from the re-engineering of Haiti’s economy as an agro-export platform under the U.S. occupation 100 years ago, to the dismantling of protections for domestic food production in the late 1990s, to the recent collapse of their currency, the Haitian gourde, and spikes in fuel prices. Another collapse, that of the rural economy in Haiti, contributed to the movement of people to increasingly crowded and under serviced cities, thus magnifying the tragedy of the earthquake in 2010 and other disasters. The point is that these deep structural changes have reshaped Haiti and will not be transformed any time soon. Though, perhaps, as the current crisis unveils the global forces undermining food security, world leaders will take it more seriously in Haiti and elsewhere. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the primary countervailing force has been the organization of people in rural areas seeking to find sustainable pathways out of the crisis. The combined efforts of peasant associations, rural workers, reforestation initiatives and youth organizing are laying the foundation for a different kind of rural ecology. 

Our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is one small part of this nationwide effort. You can explore the map below to get a sense of the scope of the program.

In the coming week we are making a special appeal to support an emergency fund that will support the purchase of seeds to disseminate to small farmers in the region. The program already runs a seed bank. Our goal is to boost supplies for the seed bank so that the team can expand efforts to deliver seeds for low or no cost as soon as the spring rains begin. Planting now, means more food in three months. You can join in this effort by making a donation here

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Contact Us

  • 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

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