Haiti: Green growth will help Haiti heal

from ACT Alliance, DanChurchAid
Published on 25 Jan 2011 View Original
By Malene Haakansson, DanChurchAid

In the rural Haiti, poverty is high and the rate of development too low.

Outspoken Haitian senator Jean Maxime Roumer knows how to get Haiti out of the chaos it's in. The experienced politician - once a member of President René Préval's party, Lespwa (Hope), but now an independent politician in opposition to the government, says the focus of the many NGOs that have come to Haiti need to turn to the countryside.

"We need to focus on decentralisation but it is challenging when people live where they work. Before people used to produce in the countryside, then they became traders and moved to Port-au-Prince. We have to support the people to produce again."

He's stating the obvious when he says the solution to Haiti's problems lies in the country's lack of development but reiterates that if the world really wants to solve Haiti's problems, it has to turn its attention directly to the causes of poverty.

"Before the earthquake there was a profound crisis in Haiti. Poverty was here but the earthquake brought the slums into the open in the public parks." Some people in the camps are now better off than before, having clean water, latrines and other services.

Tree nurseries will stop soil erosion

Several ACT Alliance members have moved outside the devastated capital to support the rural population with projects to improve people's incomes. Some 60km southwest of Port-au-Prince in the commune of Petit-Goave, the Lutheran World Federation is working in a village called Bino.

At first sight, the lush fields are heaven compared to the overcrowded slums of the capital. An irrigation system ensures rain water is well distributed. But beneath the surface, farmers are faced with many challenges.

Behind the fields, bare mountains rise. The trees that once held the soil in place are gone. Farmers cultivate the steep slopes causing soil erosion. When tropical storms hit the island annually, massive floods are the result. Abandoned houses lie half buried by mudslides. In collaboration with local farmers' organisations, the LWF has established tree nurseries, and demonstrates means of planting seedlings to conserve the topsoil, the LWF's livelihood officer Plancher Rolnick says.

Communities plant trees in a cash-for-work programme and later harvest the fruit. Those communities will later take over the responsibility for the nurseries and continue the tree planting.

Burden increased on host families

After the earthquake, up to 450,000 people sought refuge in rural areas, increasing the burden on poor farmers. The big influx was also felt in Bino, where farmers own small plots of land, just large enough to feed their families.

"The majority of the farmers have children and relatives living in Port-au-Prince so when they came here all the seeds that were saved for planting were eaten," explains Martinez Registre, a local farmer who is also a development agent for the municipality.

His sister and five children lived with him for four months before returning to the overcrowded capital. Too few jobs and educational opportunities in the countryside drove them away. To support the many host families, the LWF distributed seeds and tools to 300 poor households in the area so they wouldn't miss out on the coming planting season.

No work in the countryside

Aristhene Dieula also received seeds and tools which she gave to a landowner. They shared the harvest. After the earthquake, two of her eight children came to live with her from Port au-Prince but left in search of work. Dieula earns a little money selling cosmetics in the market. Soon, her 14-year-old daughter will follow in her siblings' footsteps.

Her daughter wants to finish secondary school then study nursing at university in Port-au-Prince. When she finishes, she will not come back to BIno. Not because she doesn't want to, but because it's hard to get a job here.

The LWF's country representative, Dr Louis Dorvilier, vehemently wishes more money could be spent on income-generating projects in the countryside in order to encourage people to stay - and maybe also attract people from overcrowded Port-au-Prince.

The LWF supports livelihood projects in the rural communes of Gressier, Leogane, Grande Goave and Petit-Goave with the support of DanChurchAid. The next phase of the project is focused on income generating activities like skills training and support to market access for agricultural products.