Ecoworks International

OUR MISSION

To grow plants, communities and prosperity to end poverty and protect our planet.

OUR VISION

Combating poverty is our life’s work and passion. To do so, we focus on three sectors: the economy, community and the environment. We ensure that women and youth are well integrated in our initiatives.

Working collaboratively with our rural partner-communities we aim to create solid economic opportunities, access to education and healthcare and use innovation, technology, business acumen and concern for the environment to integrate these three sectors and together build a thriving socio-economic center in a rural setting. Decentralization is key for a resilient development of Haiti.

WHAT IS POVERTY

Poverty does not grow on trees or spawn in the sea. Poverty is man made. It is human beings who create poverty in which others are forced to live in. And, since poverty is man made – then it is up to us to undo it.

WHAT WE DO: TALIA FARMS

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 vegetables for the domestic and export markets
  • Provide training, test farms and other means to improve the practice of sustainable agriculture.
  • Promote public / private partnership to add business acumen in the fight against poverty.
  • Promote entrepreneurship in multiple sectors to diversify and strengthen the local economy.
  • Strengthen the community through access to vital human and social services healthcare education, women and child specialized services; get young people engaged in building their own future and forego illegal and dangerous activities because of lack of opportunities and choices..
  • Integrate disaster relief into long-term development programs, given the recurring hurricanes and flash floods.

WHY IT MATTERS

Agriculture represents 25% of Haiti’s GDP and employs more than 60% of its workforce. More than 95% of farmers are small-holders who live in poverty (on $1.25 per day) or even below the poverty line. These farmers are the heart and soul of the agricultural sector and they should be at the center of attention when designing policies and fiscal priorities.

Yet, this has not been the case so far. Support and training programs are woefully insufficient, and the governmental trend has been to push the creation of large, industrial farms which, in our opinion, transforms farmers into day laborers with low incomes and permanent job insecurity.  This further aggravates the existing poverty in rural communities.

EWI focuses on the small-holder farmer training him/her to gain skills and better understand market demand. Our aim is to organize the farmers into well designed and well-structured cooperatives so they can become self-directed and self-reliant. Being part of a large cooperative will give them a much-needed voice to participate in policy-making and a fair share of financial support.

This approach will also help create economic hubs in rural areas, leading the much-needed decentralization movement.

WHERE WE WORK

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 close to 300,000 inhabitants. Ecoworks is based in Ganthier but we 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 mountain ranges in the south and north. The differences in altitude result in different microclimates giving the region the ability to grow a rich array of crops. Water is the number one challenge for a successful agricultural production.

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’ cross border trade. This, in turn, results in the main road being always well maintained, 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.

 Thomond, Commune of Ganthier, Plateau in the Mountain range area. © 2009 Henryka Manès

Thomond, Commune of Ganthier, Plateau in the Mountain range area. © 2009 Henryka Manès

OUR TIMELINE IN HAITI

EcoWorks International (EWI) is a nonprofit, 501(c)3, humanitarian aid and development organization working in Haiti since February 2009. We focus on breaking the cycle of poverty through economic opportunities and social well-being. Established in 2008, we became 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’s history, geography and politics which form the context in which we work. That context also includes Haiti’s 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.

Lake Azueï with the five communes indicated: Ganthier, Thomazeau, Fond Verrettes, Cornillon and Croix-des-Bouquets.
Lake Azueï with the five communes indicated: Ganthier, Thomazeau, Fond Verrettes, Cornillon and Croix-des-Bouquets.

To summarize Haiti’s history in a few paragraphs is impossible. But, here are a few salient points that relate to our work. Like Americans and Israelis, Haitian perceive themselves as being an “exceptional” people because they were the first to conduct a successful revolt entirely fought by slaves. They declared independence January 1st, 1804.

The Haitian side: since gaining independence, the country has been fraught with abusive, corrupt and, at times, despotic rule, social and economic instability, dysfunctional institutions and violence. This, coupled with repeated foreign interference and recurring natural disasters, results in Haitians not having known a time of sustained peace and prosperity.  One exception is the short period between 1945 and 1950 under President Dumarsais Estimé who is recognized as having had the best interest of the nation at heart. He was toppled by a military coup.

Among the most notorious foreign interventions are:

  • The French colonized Haiti and brought slaves from Africa for several generations.
  • The French government force the young Haitian independent nation to pay reparations to the ousted French colons – an unprecedented, scandalous act considering that the French took by force land that was not theirs and enslaved Africans to build their wealth. Instead paying reparation to the former slaves, they force the former slaves to pay reparation to the colonizers. This debt was a heavy burden on the economic development of the new nation and took several generations to pay.
  • The United States occupies Haiti between 1915 until 1934. During that time, the US takes over the national banking system, politics and policies. It forces some Haitians to work, without being paid, to build infrastructure such as roads and canals; in fact, enforcing a form of slavery.
  • The US imposes an embargo in 1990s which devastates the country’s middle class and those living in poverty.

Given Haiti’s proximity to the United States, the reality is that Haiti is 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 it can prosper and achieve self-reliance.

Ganthier, Haiti
Ganthier, Haiti

Kenskoff, Haiti
Kenskoff, Haiti

Planted plot with natural irrigation rows, Gasnthier
Planted plot with natural irrigation rows, Gasnthier

Precious stream, Haiti
Precious stream, Haiti

The Land: Haiti has three mountain ranges that roughly cover the country from west to east. The Pic de la Selle, the country’s highest at 2,680 meters (8,793 feet), 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 impacts. The country is 98% deforested.

This same wind corridors could be used for wind power and the sun for solar energy.  Recently, President Jovenel Moïse announced a country-wide renewable energy program.

The mountain ranges offer a spectacular landscape when they drop into the sea, or hover near the lakes. The beaches are beautiful and hotels are available to welcome tourists. 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 our 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 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.

Languages: Haiti has two official languages: Creole and French. An estimated 25% 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 its literature, which often draws on myth, magical realism and powerful imagery to portray the harshness of politics and daily 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 origianl 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, author of “Nuits Albinos” (Albino Nights), and Edwige Danticat whose intimate life stories take place in Haiti and the Diaspora; she resides in Miami and writes in English.

Music is an essential part of Haitian life; it’s 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 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, and Frank Luissaint.

“La Traversée” 1996, by Edouard Duval-Carrié (lives in the US)
“La Traversée” 1996, by Edouard Duval-Carrié (lives in the US)

A beaded flag representing a Vodou deity (Lwa).
A beaded flag representing a Vodou deity (Lwa).

The Socio-Economic Overview: Haiti has a thriving economy that benefits only a very small segment of the society. On the one hand, it proves that businesses can succeed despite enormous challenges – but this is not a socially and economically sustainable situation. 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. Decentralization is key. 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; clearly there are more to come.
  • MSC + is the Haitian version of Home Depot
  • 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: Montana, Karibe, Marriott, Best Western, Royal Oasis, Kinam; La Reserve.
  • Fine restaurants : La Souvenance; La Plantation; Papaye; Les Trois Tables (Port-Salut); Le Quartier Latin; Haiku (sushi).
Msc Plus
Msc Plus

Inside MSC+, Tabarre, Haiti
Inside MSC+, Tabarre, Haiti

Karibe Hotel, Petionville, Haiti
Karibe Hotel, Petionville, Haiti

Karibe Hotel, Petionville, Haiti
Karibe Hotel, Petionville, Haiti

Inside the Iron Market, Port-au-Prince, 2011
Inside the Iron Market, Port-au-Prince, 2011

Coffee production is being revived, as is the once thriving tourism industry. A small middle class is emerging 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 reflection of what has been achieved so far in Haiti, and what is possible in the near future.

The first high technology fair took place in June 2017 with participating companies such as Apple and Google,

Poverty: However, so far, 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 society, life is a constant struggle for survival, dignity and hope.

For those of us who work with Haitians 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.

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. Today, however, 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 $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.