We grow plants, communities and prosperity to end poverty.
To work collaboratively and be a catalyst for creating genuine economic opportunities, a better quality of life and restoring Nature’s ecology so our partner-communities become economically autonomous and socially empowered to build a lasting legacy.
OUR FOCUS – COMBAT POVERTY
- Working in Haiti with small-scale, subsistence farmers on improving their agricultural yields and quality; identifying domestic and export markets, selling farmers’ crops and increasing their income.
- Promoting entrepreneurship to diversify and strengthen the local economy.
- Create programs that support human development and communal and social services.
WHAT IS POVERTY
Poverty is not an identity, it is not who people are – which is why we refrain from referring to the people we work with as “the poor”; rather it is a situation in which people find themselves living in. Poverty is manmade. It is not an act of nature; it is human beings who create poverty in which others are forced to live in. And, since poverty is manmade – then it is up to us to undo it. Combatting poverty is our life’s work and passion.
WHAT WE DO: TALIA FARMS
Although there are many thriving enterprises in Haiti, they benefit only a small portion of the society. Most people, around 70%, live in poverty; and poverty is harshest in the rural areas. Thus, defeating poverty is Haiti’s most pressing challenge; and our overarching priority among the farming families and communities we work with.
Talia Farms is EWI’s comprehensive, vertically integrated socio-economic program for the development of the Lake Azueï region, which comprises five communes (counties), including Ganthier where we are established. Talia Farms’ role is to
- Spur economic development through organic agricultural production of organic vegetables for the domestic and export markets
- Promote entrepreneurship in multiple sectors to diversify and strengthen the local economy.
- Strengthen the community through access to vital human and social services
Given the recurring hurricanes and flash floods, integrate disaster relief readiness into regular EWI programs
WHY IT MATTERS
The Lake Azueï region starts about 20 miles east of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and goes all the way to the border with the Dominican Republic. It comprises five ‘communes’ (counties) : Croix-des-Bouquets, Ganthier, Thomazeau, Fonds Verrettes and Cornillon ; and has a population of 300,000. We are based in Ganthier but serve the region.
The “Cul-de-sac” plane in the Ganthier / Thomazeau area is one of the country’s “bread baskets”; it is surrounded by mountains. The differences in altitude result in different microclimates giving the region the ability to grow a rich array of crops.
The local border crossing (Malpasse) between Haiti’s capital and the Dominican Republic is the country’s shortest, which gives the area’s main thoroughfare a strategic role in these countries’ commerce and trade. This, in turn, results in the main road being always well maintained which gives us a competitive advantage for our shipping and delivery.
The daily flow of trucks, the beautiful Lake Azueï and other natural assets, as well as the closeness to the capital make this area ripe for a vigorous economic development. EcoWorks International focuses on driving this development.
Agriculture represents 25% of Haiti’s GDP and employs 60% of its workforce. Yet, more than 90% of farming families live in poverty or even below the poverty line, which is on $1.25, or less, per day. To combat poverty is to focus on the needs of farming families and communities and creating economic hubs in the rural areas, leading the much-needed decentralization movement.
OUR TIMELINE IN HAITI
EcoWorks International (EWI) is a nonprofit, 501(c)3, humanitarian aid and development organization working in Haiti. We focus on breaking the cycle of poverty through economic opportunities and social well-being. Established in 2008, we incorporated on January 1st, 2009.
We settled in the Lake Azueï region in the summer of 2009, and immediately focused on developing a long-term, holistic socio-economic development program to respond to the region’s prevalent agricultural production and poverty.
The January 2010 earthquake abruptly stopped everything, and being already on the ground, we organized within hours an emergency disaster response. It included working full time at the Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince, helping three orphanages; and addressing the needs of some of the 10,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) that found refuge in our region. To implement these programs, EWI received a large grant from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and funding from EWI’s Board of Directors, friends and generous donors.
We were hired by the Prince Charles Foundation for the Built Environment, UK, and Duany Plater-Zyberk the international urban planning and architectural firm based in Miami, to facilitate the successful completion of the urban development and reconstruction plan for Port-au-Prince and its port, commissioned by the Haitian government.
We resumed working on our long-term development initiative and completed the Talia Farms business plan in December 2015.
HAITI – AYITI: THE CONTEXT IN WHICH WE WORK
To better understand our work and what are the joys and challenges we and our partners face, it is important to have a sense of the country and context in which we work. That context includes Haiti’s complex history, rich culture, the beauty of its varied landscape, and examples of economic successes. These positive aspects of Haiti are rarely talked about, yet they are as important as the challenges the country faces.
The Story: The island known today as Hispaniola was inhabited first by the Taino, an Amerindian people who are part of the larger Arawak nation, the remnants of which still exist in several south American countries, albeit in small numbers. The Taino named the island Ayiti, “the mountainous land”, which remains the country’s name in Haitian Creole.
Haiti occupies one third of the island, the Dominican Republic occupies the other two thirds. Both countries have the same population of over 10 million people; obviously, Haiti is much more intensely populated.
It is impossible to summarize Haiti’s history in a short paragraph, but important to note that Haitians, like Americans and Israelis, perceive themselves as being an “exceptional” nation because they were the first to conduct a successful revolt entirely fought by slaves. They declared their independence January 1st, 1804.
Another important point is that, regrettably, since its independence Haiti has not known a sustained period of peace, inclusion and prosperity. When studying Haitian history one must consider not only the part Haitians and their leadership played and continue to play in this unfortunate state of affairs, but also the destructive role the United States and France have played and continue to play as well. For instance, the US invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934; and the embargo in the 90s destroyed the livelihood of a large segment of the middle class.
Given its proximity to the United States, Haiti is undeniably a strategic country for the US and its peace and security are vital for both countries. Since this is an immutable fact, it behooves the US to act in the best interest of Haiti so that the country can grow, prosper and achieve self-determination.
The Land: Haiti has three mountain ranges that roughly cover the country from west to east. The Pic de la Selle is the country’s highest mountain at 2,680 meters (8,793 feet), and is located in the Lake Azueï region where we work. Haiti’s topography impacts its economy because it reduces the quantity of arable land; and intensifies wind velocity during hurricanes which causes more severe destruction.
At the same time, the mountain ranges form a beautiful and majestic landscape which becomes spectacular when it drops into the sea, or hovers near the lakes. Agricultural land can be expanded if farmers adopt terrace farming.
Water: Water is the number one challenge for agricultural producers, especially the small-scale subsistence farmers we work with. Several studies indicate that there are numerous aquafers, especially in the Lake Azueï region. We’re sitting on water while crops die due to lack of irrigation and residents spend hours each day to carry water.
Lake Azueï is brackish, thus not suitable as a source for potable and irrigation water. Solutions to the water shortage exist, such as artesian wells and artificial lakes – but they are very expensive. EWI is exploring more affordable and intermediary solutions that can be more easily implemented. Finding a workable water solution would enable Talia Farms to have more than 600 hectares under agricultural production.
Power: EDH, the national energy agency performs way below par from all points of view. Electricity is available a few hours per day in some areas; not at all in others. In rural areas, entire regions are without power. Those who can afford it have diesel generators. Solar energy could power many rural homes, which would significantly improve the lives and incomes of the residents.
Languages: Haiti has two official languages: Creole and French. An estimated 20% of the population speaks French. English is becoming an increasingly important third language, and along the border, many Haitians speak Spanish given the proximity to the Dominican Republic.
The Culture: One of Haitian cultural jewels is literature, which often draws on myth, magical realism and powerful imagery to portray the harshness of politics and living conditions sometimes directly but more often obliquely or allegorically. It revels in the beauty of the French language and adds a distinct Haitian flavor. One of the classics is Jacques Roumain’s “Les Gouverneurs de la Rosée” (The Governors of the Dew), a profound, moving and poetic depiction of rural life in which characters’ struggles and hopes are imbued with dignity and pride. And, it takes place in our region which adds to the strong affinity we have for this work.
Among the many highly talented contemporary writers is the dean of Haitian literature, Frankétienne, who is also a poet, painter and intellectual. Dany Laferrière whose life’s work and unique style has earned him to be inducted into the French Academy, the world’s highest honor for Francophone writers. Yanick Lahens, Prix Fémina 2014, author of “Bain de Lune”; Gary Victor, especially his “Nuits Albinos” (Albino Nights), and Edwige Danticat who writes about intimate life stories that take place in Haiti and the Diaspora; she writes in English.
Music is so essential in Haitian life that it is considered as vital as the air we breathe. Haitian Konpa and Jazz are world renowned, but far lesser known is Haitian classical music. While its beginnings can be traced to the 1800’s, it found its own voice in the early 1900s when composers began to combine European, African and Taino musical traditions, including the music of Vodou ceremonies. Classical musical compositions continue today as in the works of Jean “Rudy” Perrault.
Folk painting, metal work and the painstakingly made beautiful tableaux and Vodou flags, sewn with tiny beads, are known the world over. A vibrant contemporary art community flourishes in Haiti, the United States and France. Some of the many prominent artists are Edouard Duval-Carrié who resides in the US, and Pascale Monin who lives in Haiti, Philippe Dodard; Barbara Prézeau-Stephenson, Frank Luissaint.
The Socio-Economic Overview: Haiti has a thriving economy that benefits a very small segment of the society. Though this is not a socially and economically sustainable situation, what it proves is that businesses can succeed despite the challenges. The list of what the country needs is long; in our view, what’s most needed is the creation of employment and an all-out support for entrepreneurship at every socio-economic level, with the clear objective of growing the middle class in both rural and urban settings. And, building an infrastructure that can support the creation of new enterprises.
Examples of very successful economic sectors and businesses in Haiti:
- Haiti is the world’s number one exporter of vetiver essential oil used in the high end global perfume industry. Its production is based in the greater Les Cayes area, in the southwest of the country.
- Giant Supermarkets, a mixture of Whole Foods and a general store, just opened its third store in the greater Port-au-Prince area;
- MSC + is the Haitian version of Home Depot (DYI chain)
- Panexus, is a high-quality engineering and construction company
- GB group is Haiti’s premier holding company with businesses in all sectors from steel to petrol, banking, etc.
- The cell phone companies Digicel and Natcom cover more than 96% of the territory.
- The world renowned Barbencourt rum
- Sa-ea, the South Korean textile company employs 8,000 today, and aims to hire many more.
- Five-star hotels such as: Karibe, Marriott, Best Western, Royal Oasis, Kinam;
Numerous restaurants of culinary excellence: La Souvenance; La Plantation; Papaye; Les Trois Tables (Port-Salut); Le Quartier Latin; Haiku (sushi) La Reserve; etc.
Coffee production is being revived, as is the once thriving tourism industry. A small middle class is made up of professionals and government and industry employees. This aspect of Haitian positive reality is rarely discussed in the international media, yet it is a crucial aspect of what has been achieved in Haiti, and what is possible.
Poverty: On the flip side, Haiti remains the poorest country in our hemisphere. The country’s infrastructure and basic services are hugely lacking and render daily life a herculean task; it also hampers economic development. Among the most egregious lacuna are the staggering unemployment rate, the lack of access to healthcare, education, potable and irrigation water, sewage collection and treatment, power – in short, everything we in the west take for granted.
This reality affects the remaining 70%-80% of the population who live mostly in the rural areas and urban shantytowns. For this segment of the society, life is a constant struggle for survival, dignity and hope.
For those of us who work with people who live in poverty, we observe an extraordinary ability and set of skills that show exceptional resourcefulness, know-how, perseverance, and an exemplary and indomitable spirit.
Here are a few statistics
Although Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world, it does not need to be so. In the not-so-distant past Haiti had lush vegetation, a well-developed agricultural sector which provided ample food for its own population, and for exports. But, these are the stark statistics:
- Out of a total population of over 10 million, 80% live in poverty, and among those, 54% live in extreme poverty which is on less than on $1.25 per day .
- Life expectancy is 57 years old; compared to the US where it is 78
- Infant mortality is alarmingly high at 62.33 per 1,000 live births; compared to 6.3 per 1,000 live births in the US
- HIV/AIDS affects 10% of the population, or between 800,000 and 900,000 individuals; this in addition to the cholera epidemic (10,000 deaths), malaria, chikungunya, dengue fever; Zika
- There is malnutrition among children and pregnant women
- Homeless population due to natural disasters and poverty: one million
- Literacy: 9%; compared to the US: 99% (rural areas 45%)
- Unemployment hovers around 75%-80%
- Devastating hurricanes have claimed 4,000 lives in the last four years; lack of planning and prevention persists; the 2010 earthquake claimed close to 300,000 lives These statistics are a call to action. The fact that in the past Haitians have known tremendous success in agriculture, manufacturing and international trade is an impetus to have faith in their abilities and determination to be productive partners in all enterprises.