Context of Haiti Rural Development Program
While Haiti was once one of the most fertile and productive places in the Western Hemisphere, today the United Nations ranks it as the worst off country in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one of the poorest in the world.
Few places face greater challenges to rural development than Haiti, yet nearly 60% of the country’s population still lives in rural areas and is dependent on small-scale agriculture. There are many interconnected reasons why Haiti’s farm families struggle to make a living. Many of the obstacles to rural development stretch back into the country’s tumultuous past, and many more are modern in origin but no less burdensome. Many decades of ineffective and exploitative government have contributed to unsustainable farming and land management practices, leading to dramatic soil erosion, declining soil fertility and the unavailability of water and seeds. These essential elements of agricultural systems have come under increasing stress in recent years, and in most of Haiti farmers have not received adequate support to strengthen their knowledge and management of sustainable farming systems. And then of course, there are the two recent shocks, the January 12, 2010 earthquake and the cholera pandemic, which will impact Haiti for generations.
January 12, 2010 Earthquake in Haiti
Just a few months after Groundswell International began supporting the work of our Haitian partner organization, Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL), the January 12 earthquake devastated Haiti; the Haitian government estimates that 316,000 people died and at least another 300,000 were injured, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 2.1 million Haitians, over 20% of the country’s total population, were displaced – hundreds of thousands are still homeless.
While most of the media attention focused on Port-au-Prince and other urban centers, Haiti’s rural areas also suffered tremendously from the January 12 earthquake because they absorbed nearly 600,000 of the 2.1 million displaced people. This was true throughout the areas where Groundswell and PDL work – villages took in thousands of family members and friends, and the additional mouths to feed quickly depleted their food stores, seed stocks, medical supplies, etc., increasing the vulnerability of these people to the cholera outbreak that would sweep through their villages less than a year later.
Years have now passed since the earthquake, and Haiti is still waiting for the implementation of a comprehensive reconstruction plan. Thousands of families are living under tents or in makeshift homes without any basic services and on land that is at-risk from flooding, landslides, etc. The economic infrastructure destroyed by the earthquake has not been adequately rebuilt and the national economy depends mostly on international aid. While the foundation of recovery plans should be the regeneration of a prosperous and sustainable rural family farming sector, this has not been the focus in spite of the rhetoric in some government documents. Rural communities are highly vulnerable as a result of the continuous degradation of the environment and climate change contributing to more frequent droughts and flooding.
Haiti’s Cholera Pandemic
Before earthquake reconstruction had even begun and when things seemed they could not get worse, in October 2010, just 10 months after the earthquake and one year into Groundswell’s support of PDL’s program, one of the largest cholera epidemics in modern history swept across Haiti. As of July 25, 2012, 580,947 cases of cholera had been reported, over 300,000 people had been hospitalized, and the disease had killed 7,442 people.
The cholera outbreak originated in Artibonite, and quickly spread to Centre, North and West departments, where Groundswell and PDL also supports communities and community organizations, and eventually to the entire country. Despite the rapid response of PDL health staff (which reacted well before the authorities mounted any response) dozens died and many thousands fell ill in the areas where we work.
The situation stabilized for a time, but at the end of 2012 the number of cases was again on the rise in the Artibonite, Nord-Ouest, Nord-Est, and Ouest Departments, in the island of Gonave, as well as in displaced camps in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and surrounding communities. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent in Haiti warned, “There is a significant probability of a major cholera emergency in Haiti in the coming months but resources have been severely diminished”. For example, the temporary treatment centers set up in many rural areas to respond to the cholera outbreak are no longer operational and the Haitian government has made virtually no effort to create long-term local structures or build the capacities of rural families to face this challenge.
Government Inaction vs. Community-Led Development
The absence of government support for rural areas is not only evident in its failure to include them in the national earthquake reconstruction plan and its inability or unwillingness to continue combatting the cholera epidemic in rural areas, but also in its failure to follow through with any concrete action on its other expressed priorities: rule of law, environment, education, economy. This is also true for agriculture and building local economies, which are often talked about by government officials, but not followed up on with any concrete plan or immediate measures to turn the rhetoric into action. As a result, people across the nation fear the administration of President Martelli will fail like so many before it.
The community-based organizations that Groundswell and PDL support are filling the void left by the government, pushing ahead with practical programs that are improving the standard of living and health of rural Haitians and giving them hope for a better future. The progress made so far is a testament to the power of community-led development and local governance. The 12 local organization we support have proven that Haitians can overcome even these massive obstacles to begin to build a prosperous, sustainable rural Haiti.
Groundswell’s Response in Rural Haiti
Developing effective responses to help Haiti recover from the myriad disasters it has faced and to build a viable future should be understood within the context of the historical patterns and reality described above. Both the short and long-term solutions for Haiti must include a major focus on supporting rural communities to strengthen their resilience and overcome rural poverty and environmental degradation. While this has long been a needed strategy, it is even more vital after the earthquake’s destruction of urban centers and the ever present threat of new cholera outbreaks. The most effective way to create this resilience and sustainable rural development is by strengthening peasant organizations’ capacity to lead it themselves.
Groundswell and PDL enable communities and peasant organizations to become the lead actors in improving their own lives – not to depend on external projects that come and go. Specifically, we work to build the capacity of communities and peasant organizations in Haiti to sustainably improve their food security, resilience to disasters, health, livelihoods, and natural resources management. Haiti’s future must be built on a foundation of strong, productive and healthy rural communities. Organized rural communities can grow enough food for the country, allow all citizens to participate in decentralized development, generate employment for Haiti’s majority that depends on agriculture, and restore the environment while building resilience to disasters.
With the support of many generous institutions and individuals, in 2009 Groundswell International and Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) launched an ambitious holistic rural development program with three community-based organizations – in Saint Michel, Maissade, and Bailly – to improve the lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable Haitians. Our capacity building process with local peasant organizations, from start up to phase out of direct support, generally takes six years. Since 2009 Groundswell and PDL have worked diligently to sustain our work with these partners, to expand our programs to support to six emerging farmers’ organizations in rural areas of Sans Souci in North East Department and Savannette, Montagne Noire, Bois Pins, Mathurin, and San Yago in North Department, and to maintain our collaboration with three mature peasant organizations in Artibonite, North and West Departments. In all, we are now working to strengthen the capacity of 12 peasant organizations, representing 210,000 people.
Haiti Approach and Program Strategies
Below are some of the key strategies we will pursue with our partners during the period from September 2012 and October 2015:
Capacity Building/Local Governance
- Support the formation of new gwoupman, or small solidarity groups of 8-15 community members, by providing training to village leaders and gwoupman members.
- Consolidate the governance structures of the communal sections and villages in the regions where we work.
- Strengthen appropriate decentralized community organization structures within each organization.
- Assist community organizations to obtain legal status.
- Strengthen the two regional networks of the local peasant organizations (ROPLA and ROPNES).
- Train local leaders on a variety of topics to enable them to develop and manage community development projects.
- Provide training to continue to improve agricultural production in a manner that also conserves natural resources and helps regenerate the local ecosystem.
- Further develop a strong community-managed seed programs, including a training regime and infrastructure (seed banks) to meet farmers’ need for timely, high quality seed.
- Experiment with adding livestock (poultry and goats) to agricultural systems on participants’ farms. This will include basic training in veterinary care.
- Promote the development of family and community-led micro enterprises.
- Assess and experiment with opportunities to support peasant organizations to establish value added processing of some farm products, like fruits and vegetables, and connect to local markets – thus developing models to strengthen Haiti’s local food system. Strengthen micro finance systems to mobilize local savings, and attract external funds to finance community and family micro enterprises.
- Develop community stores to market agriculture products and other common goods.
- Strengthen a sound and effective sanitation program that includes continued building of latrines, providing clean water (water treatment and facilitating access to clean water sources), and hygiene and sanitation education.
- Promote new and strengthen existing community health committees to prevent the spread of cholera and other diseases and respond to outbreaks.
- Educate women of childbearing age about maternal/child health and nutrition and family planning.
- Train community-based disaster risk reduction committees in new program areas, and provide ongoing technical assistance to strengthen disaster risk reduction committees that are already established.
Natural Resource Regeneration
- Deepen and broaden the training of farmers in soil and water conservation techniques to regenerate their farms and improve their productivity.
- Promote effective local committees to manage natural resources and help reduce the risk of disaster.
- Support community organizations and farmers to produce and plant trees through community-managed tree nurseries and reforestation initiatives.
 CBC News. Haiti raises quake death toll on anniversary. January 12, 2011. http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2011/01/12/haiti-anniversary-memorials.html.
 United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Cholera cumulative cases and fatality rates since November 2010. July 25, 2012. http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/hti_cholera_cases_23072012.pdf
 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent in Haiti. The looming threat: Advocacy report on cholera. June 19, 2012.