Today, in a first for Haiti, one group of farmers sponsored food aid for another group of farmers in need.

Terre des Negres food distribution.
Jean-Robert Castin, representing farmers in Gonaives, giving rice, beans and cooking oil to Ametide Estimable,
a farmer in Terre des Nègres.

Today, in a first for Haiti, one group of farmers sponsored food aid for another group of farmers
in need.

In July, community leaders from the small and remote farming community of Terre des Nègres, in Northern Haiti, wrote very polite letters to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government of Haiti requesting emergency food relief. “We have never before had to ask for help like this,” the letters explained, “but we have never faced a situation where our own people are going hungry.”

“We respectfully request rice, beans and oil so that our children, our pregnant women and our mothers who are still breastfeeding their babies do not suffer,” the leaders wrote, adding that, “We do not want to report the first death from starvation, but without your help we are very afraid that report will be coming soon.”

Official estimates are that 1.5 million Haitians face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems because of poor harvests and rising food prices, so WFP and the Government understandably have their hands full and were not able to respond to   the letters.

However, a group of farmers from Gonaives decided to take matters into their own hands and today provided emergency food assistance directly to the farmers of Terre des Nègres.

The entire community of Terre des
Nègres turned out for today’s food
relief distribution.

Jean-Robert Castin, a farmer and member of the board of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) Cooperative in Gonaives, said, “We could not stand by while our fellow farmers and their families in Terre des Nègres are suffering. For this reason, we are using cooperative funds to purchase food and sell it to them at a discounted rate.” He explained that SFA policy is not to provide handouts, even for our own members following emergencies, but rather to respect people’s dignity by having them pay what they can afford.

The 200 members of the SFA
Cooperative in Terre des Nègres have established a small tree nursery with
around 10,000 seedlings ready
to be transplanted.

Earlier this year SFA began working with 200 farmers in Terre des Nègres to plant trees and improve their agricultural practices. Referring to this in their letters, the community leaders noted, “This program will make a big difference in the long term and is giving us hope, but we still need food now.”

The principle means of taking the food home was by donkey. The only problem with the distribution was congestion caused by around 40 donkeys leaving at the same time.
SFA invests in Haiti’s farmers to feed and reforest the nation. With the backing of Timberland and support from the Clinton Foundation, SFA has embarked on an experiment using charitable funds to transform small-scale (or “smallholder”) Haitian farmers into self-financing and self-managed social businesses with a triple bottom line: planting trees, increasing food production and improving farm livelihoods. There are currently 2,000 farmer members in the SFA Cooperative in Gonaives.


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Hugh Locke

Co-founder and President, Smallholder Farmers Alliance; author of The Haiti Experiment

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