Ecoworks International’s purpose is to reduce poverty and eliminate hunger in the Lake Azuei rural region of Haiti. Located directly east of the capital, the region borders the Dominican Republic.
In Haiti, 95% of food producers are farmers who live in deeply entrenched poverty and experience malnutrition and recurring hunger. Their whole family lives on $2 per day. Since Haiti is deforested at 98%, seasonal flooding destroys the topsoil and with it, much too often, the farmers’ entire production, further acerbating their poverty.
The farmers we partner with work on very small plots of land, on average one to five acres, with no governmental nation-wide support programs common the world over. Such ‘extension programs’ help farmers improve their capacity and productivity. Haitian farmers are left to fend for themselves, with sporadic interventions not always adapted to their needs.
Helping these smallholder farmers to become autonomous, self-sufficient and sustainable is at the heart of what we do.
What We Do____________________________________________________________
To palliate this egregious lack of support, Haitian farmers have a wonderful, long-standing tradition of organizing a ‘combit’, a getting together to help each other during planting and harvesting seasons.
After exploring with them their needs and aspirations, we decided to build on their ‘combit’ tradition, and help create five regional agricultural cooperatives which are at the center of Talia Farms, our regional, long-term socioeconomic development plan for this area of 120,000 residents.
Talia Farms’ six-year socioeconomic development program comprise four components:
- Economic Advancement and Agricultural Production
- Environmental Remediation and Stewardship
- Community-Based Social Services
- Social Justice
These components form an ecosystem – a complex network of interactive parts – that reinforce each other to build a solid foundation for increasingly more complex programs, and for managing a sustainable growth.
The region’s proximity to the capital and to the Dominican Republic, offer propitious opportunities for creating an important regional agricultural production hub, expanding markets and exports, increasing farmers’ income, and improving their quality of life.
Due to Haiti’s continuously changing social, political, and economic landscape, this is a challenging, yet exciting and worthwhile journey we have embarked on together. Seeing farmers grow, organize themselves into cooperatives, eager to take on leadership roles, and believing in Haitian-led progress are our greatest rewards.
ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT AND AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
- Opening CAMA, the Marre-Roseau Agricultural Cooperative, Commune of Ganthier, September 2019. _______________________________________________
A cooperative is a business that is owned and managed by its members. Through the process of establishing a cooperative from the ground up, farmers learn how to work together, make important decisions for the good of all members, how to adapt and open new markets, diversify their crops, grow profits, be transparent, and share resources. Although none of them ever heard of a cooperative, they understood the basic concept as it echoes their tradition of a ‘combit’.
From the start, farmers expressed their need to have continuous training and support. They also made clear that they wanted to remain independent agricultural producers.
After one year of training, farmers who never heard of a cooperative when the conversation first started, today own one and are learning to manage it. As they progress, they take on increasingly more managerial responsibilities.
Our training includes a myriad of different subjects and evolves according to farmers’ changing needs: the importance of adopting sustainable agricultural methods, such as permaculture and regenerative agriculture, of building an ‘esprit de corps’ within the group, embracing new technologies, and planning for the long-term.
Owning a cooperative increases farmers’ ability to build capital make decisions that benefit all; they remain independent producers while having the ability to aggregate their production to attract bigger clients; expand their markets, plan for exports; and diversify their crops. Owning a cooperative is also building their legacy asset.
EWI’s Talia Farms program plans to open five agricultural cooperatives in the Lake Azuei region, each of 100 members. When co-op management becomes more experienced, each co-op can double and triple their membership.
Two other cooperatives were scheduled to open in 2020, but the pandemic, social unrest, and the terrorizing gang wars have made it impossible to work in other areas of the region.
Training will continue through the next three years. It addresses the following
- Cooperative formation, management, growth, and vision
- Transform training sessions into the CAMA manual
- Continue to promote sustainable agricultural methods, such as permaculture and regenerative agriculture
- Promote environmental remediation and stewardship in all aspect of community life
- Organic production and the socioeconomic benefits
- The importance of diversifying crops
- Work with farmers to modernize farms and adopting new technologies
- Reinforce women’s equity and youth integration and retention
- Explore the concepts of personal assets, legacy assets, creating wealth
- The Women’s Goat Project_______________________________________
To celebrate the formation of CAMA, its members chose the Women’s Goat Project as their first cooperative project. Women’s equity is one of EWI main criteria. The choice of choosing a project benefiting women reflects CAMA members’ understanding that women’s equity is crucial to the community’s economic success.
In most developing countries, a goat is a four-legged savings account for people who live in poverty and cannot open a bank account. Owning a goat gives the family financial security; when there is a need for a large amount of cash – an upcoming wedding, or a serious illness – the family can sell a goat. Since women are responsible for animal husbandry, the more goats the more women’s power over financial decisions grows.
All EWI-CAMA projects require participants to pay something. How much is up to them. Farmers decided to pay 20% of the goat’s purchase price. EWI agreed. They paid their part, EWI paid the rest.
Specifically for the goat project, participants were also required to give their first kid (baby goat) to another family, and that family must do the same, and so on. Each recipient of a goat must pay the 20% of the current purchase price, which goes to the cooperative’s coffers to start building its capital. This process also enables the community to exponentially grow their local herd, thus their wealth.
Results of the Goat Project
1. Farmers paid something for the goats, which gives them pride in their ownership, helps to wean them from learned dependency and gain a greater agency. They are now stakeholder in the overall regional development program.
2. Women gain equity.
3. The Project reinforces the advantage of owning and managing a cooperative.
4. In five years, Marre-Roseau farmers who started with 18 families owning one goat, will grow to 350 families owning between 1 and 5 goats each, which will give them a more solid financial footing.
EWI will offer the possibility to each new co-op to celebrate its founding with a goat project.
- Coffee and Cacao Production___________________________
EWI and CAMA are moving Talia Farms into the next phase of economic advancement.
Being at a high altitude, the location is ideal for growing high quality coffee and cacao. This will diversify the crops and create a new revenues stream. It will also introduce a crop that will be exported.
For this project, CAMA will adopt a new technology enabling producers to verify the plants’ DNA, and provide traceability capabilities, a must when exporting food.
ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION AND STEWARDSHIP
Environmental remediation and stewardship is integrated in all EWI projects.
Currently working on seasonal floods’ mitigation, redirecting the water towards the farmland to irrigate; regenerating the topsoil to improve the quality and quantity of produce; and create access to water.
Marre-Roseau has no water sources, except the rain. Many of the local children are responsible for going down to the ravine to fill containers with water and then climb back with filled containers – a journey that takes between 3 to 5 hours. It means that these children cannot attend school. Finding a solution to capture rainwater will them from this chore and instead enroll in school to improve their lives though education.
In 2021, EWI will be installing individual roof rainwater harvesting systems, and looking into broader solutions.
Being deforested at 98%, Haiti is prone to destructive floods. EWI and CAMA will use the coffee and cacao trees as an agroforestry project to reforest that part of the region’s watershed.
COMMUNITY STRENGTHENING INITIATIVES
- The Patrice Lumumba School____________________
For the past ten years, EWI has been supporting the Patrice Lumumba School in Ganthier. This community-based primary, middle, and junior high school provides quality education to all children, regardless of their ability to pay. The school also accept students who have aged out of the educational system but want a second chance at education.
EWI has provided financial and practical resources to construct the school’s building, later, helped to build the wall around it to keep the children safe; and regularly provides books in Creole for children learning how to read.
- Civics Course________________________________
EWI’s Executive Director and the Patrice Lumumba school’s Director collaborated on a civics course to teach children how to be responsible citizens, what is a democratic form of governance, and how to make their voices heard, without ever resorting to violence. Students conduct elections, learn how to disagree while respecting others’ points of view; and how to better understand their form of government. All participants receive a Certificate of Completion. The course is now taught in three local schools and, once security is restored, it will be taught in schools beyond Ganthier.
- School Lunches_______________________________
Due to terrorizing violence, social unrest, the pandemic, and poor governance, the Haitian economy is in tatters. For the first time since the school’s inception, children came to school hungry. Parents simply didn’t have enough money to feed them. Thanks to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) War on Hunger Group, Paris France, EWI received funding to establish an emergency lunch program. As of January 2021, the program feeds each day 180 children and the school’s staff.
EWI provided a literacy course based on the Alfalit method to 40 rural women. The ages ranged from 20 to 70 years old. All completed the course and wrote beautiful thank you note, which we treasure. One fifty-year old participating woman said that “learning how to read and write is like moving from imprisoning darkness into the light”.
EWI will repeat this course, this time with both men and women participating. Men have complained about being excluded. EWI conducted an open discussion with them to ask how it felt to have been excluded. The general consensus was that it was not fair or pleasant. From then on, the women’s equity rule has been much easier to implement.
Turning compassion into action is our foundational value
- Social Justice____________________________________
Like with the principle of environmental remediation and stewardship, the concept of social justice permeates all EWI activities. The issues of fairness, equality vs equity, inclusion, the necessity to express ones’ frustration and, at times, anger against discrimination and lopsided policies is vital, but needs to be constructive and nonviolent to be effective long-term.
- Civics Education and Non-violence____________________
As in the United States, civics education has been abandoned in Haiti and this is one of the reasons that violence appears to many as the only way to resist abuse and disrespect from governmental policies and from “well connected” people who steal land. Teaching civics and non-violence became a necessity which EWI had to address.
- Poverty and Hunger____________________________________
Ecoworks International’s purpose of reducing poverty and eradicating hunger is part of the social justice principle. Poverty is manmade, and if we made it, we must undo it. This is a moral and compassionate principle of our common humanity.