Haitian Farmers Speak Out About the Crisis and the Future

With coverage of the current national lockdown in Haiti focused mainly on cities, I wanted to share the viewpoint of three farmers and two agronomy students regarding the crisis and what they think about the future. Four of the five were interviewed within the last few days by agronomists from the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), while the fifth draws on a previous interview because her cellphone has not been answering (and may well not be charged because of the lack of regular power throughout the country). All five of those interviewed are affiliated with the SFA and our partners.

Jules Marcelus (mid-70s) farms with his wife and they live with their seven children near the village of Morancy, not far from Gonaives. At the moment this is one of the cities most severely affected by the lockdown, with the level of violence having escalated in recent weeks due to the introduction of military-grade guns that have been given to gangs that operate freely in several communities near Gonaives.
Although Morancy is not directly affected by these gangs, Jules explained that, “Some food vendors in my area are making big profits with black market prices, and every kind of supply and service is now more expensive.” He also shared that SFA agronomists are not always able to get to his community on their regular schedule to oversee the tree nurseries and conduct agricultural training, and this is because at various times they can’t cross the fires set as roadblocks or take the chance of being hit by bullets.

When asked about how he is coping with this situation, Jules explained, “Every time an SFA agronomist can’t make it through because of peyi lòk,” which means “operation lockdown” and is how many refer to the current crisis, “I take over as best I can because being better farmers is how we will survive.”

Jeansius Morancy(49) and his wife and six children live on a small farm near the rural community of Leger. He also has a part-time job managing an SFA tree nursery. “The best thing I can do right now is to make sure these trees are growing well,” said Jeansius as he took a break from his immaculately tended nursery, “so when things become normal again, we can transplant the trees.” He went on to explain that for the last month SFA agronomists have sometimes not been able to make site visits, but proudly noted, “All the farmers who volunteer in the nursery have not missed even one day to peyi lòk.”

When asked about the future, Jeansius did not stop to think in answering, “Agriculture is the future. We are planting these trees to help the environment, and that will help the soil.”
Enest Pelistin (72) farms with his two adult children near Sarrazin, a very small community where the SFA opened a new branch of its agroforestry program in August of this year. Since the program began, Enest has been assisting the SFA agronomists when they come to conduct training sessions helping farmers to improve their farming techniques.
He explained that the SFA team has had to cancel several visits since late September, but when they are not able to make it he is in touch with them by cellphone and carries on in their absence and checks each day that the tree nursery is well looked after.
When asked about the impact of the lockdown, Enest said, “The protests have put Haiti back some decades, but our community does not go back that far because we are learning how to farm better and grow more food.” He did add that, “We worry now because everything is more expensive, but we worry a little less because we work together like a big family.”
Desilus Osner (26) from Leger and Vannia Laurent (24) from the farming community of Medor are voices of a younger generation.

Earlier this year Desilus earned a degree in agronomy from a university in Port-au-Prince, and a few months ago returned to serve as an SFA intern in his home community. “I am excited to help the SFA agronomists train the farmers to improve their agriculture and get higher yields,” he said, “and even though we are cut off now in Leger, it is much worse for my school friends back in Port-au-Prince.”

Asked about the future, Desilus commented, “I think it is very important to hear the voices of local people and give them a practical way to be part of a better approach to development. This is the best strategy for Haiti.”
While not available for comment, Vannia’s example is perhaps her best message. She comes from a community so remote that for much of the year it is only accessible by hiking on foot or riding a donkey. Vannia is currently studying agronomy, and is the first in her entire extended family ever to attend university. She comes from a farming family, and it was her father who

taught her to love the land. He died young, and Vannia explained that the science of “making things grow” helps her to cope with losing him. After she graduates next year, Vannia is returning to Medor to work with local farmers. Her ultimate goal is to increase the nutritional health of her community.
Having given voice to the farmers and students, I want to add a note about how the SFA came to work with them. With the exception of the first farmer, Jules, the other four are connected with “community twinning partnerships” that we feel represents an important model to build on and expand once Haiti is back on track. This approach involves integrating the SFA tree currency model (farmers planting trees to earn credits for seed, tools and training in order to increase yields and income) with broader programs focused on community development and education.
Smallholder farmer Jeansius and university graduate Desilus are both from Leger, where the SFA has been partnering with the St. Mary Catholic Church in Huntley, IL since mid-2018.
Two other voices, smallholder Enest from Sarrazin and university student Vannia from Medor, are connected with two community partnerships involving the Raising Haiti Foundation. The recently launched Sarrazin project represents a community-wide integration of the SFA model with Raising Haiti’s focus on grassroots organization, education and small business development. The SFA’s Medor program began in 2015 as a partnership with Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington, VA, and has more recently been folded into the SFA partnership with Raising Haiti.

Let me end with this thought. Once you leave the cities, Haiti is a country of smallholder farmers and their fate is inextricably linked with the fate of the nation.

Hugh Locke

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