In October we watched as Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti, a country still mired in a years-long governance crisis that grew out of an earthquake in 2010. We were not optimistic about the outcome for Haiti’s most vulnerable populations, the poor and the rural poor. The storm destroyed much of southern Haiti and the northwestern peninsula, but spared the heart of the country, including the densely populated capital at Port au Prince.
In the immediate aftermath we turned to the Quixote Center network for funds, able to promise only that we would direct all resources to the emergency effort we were sure would follow the storm. The network responded, providing nearly $30,000 in emergency aid funds. We were humbled and encouraged by this outpouring.
When the sun broke through the clouds and Haiti came back online, we scheduled emergency meetings with our partners. We found that the region of Gros-Morne, home to our partner groups, was relatively unaffected. The prevailing notion there was to marshal resources and to help those most harmed by the storm.
One of the long-standing structural barriers to smallholder farmer development has been the lack of access to markets. Isolated farming families often have the land and the know-how (thanks to decades of education and outreach by the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center and the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne) to produce more food than they require. This surplus should provide the income that the families need in order to improve their lot in life and ensure greater opportunities for their children by investing in education and medical care. The problem is that many of these farmers have no access to buyers. Instead they are surrounded almost entirely by people in similar situations: cash-poor smallholder farmers.
In this way the hurricane presented an opportunity to provide incomes to the smallholders and direct aid to those affected by the storm. We at the Quixote Center would serve as the buyer, our partners would coordinate the purchase and shipment of seeds, trees, and supplies, and the hearty smallholder farmers would provide the raw materials from their fields. This system of aid also resolved another long-standing issue: an influx of foreign food and supplies can provide essential first-response aid, but over time can displace local production and causing a greater need for aid. This un-virtuous cycle is on full display in today’s Haiti.
We set about our work with a call to the local farmers: Bring your excess to the market and we will buy it. This request was music to the ears of people scraping by, and the system began to bear fruit immediately. By December we had purchased and shipped more than a ton of seeds and some two thousand young trees to the far northwestern reaches of the country. These areas, devastated by the hurricane and forgotten by most aid groups, were struggling.During the first phase of the program we decided to purchase goats to send as aid. This folded well with our existing goat training and distribution project, administered by the local Caritas development network. Soon after a relief truck which had 3,700 young trees, 900 plantain trees, and sacks of seeds (corn and beans) which weighed a total of 2,700 lbs was sent to the city of Jean Rabel. “After the beans and corn were loaded, dried guinea grass and fresh cut tree and shrub branches were added. Then 21 female goats, purchased in Gros Morne, were loaded. The relief truck was blessed and sent off to Jean Rabel in the Northwest where people were waiting at the parish for the trees, seeds and goats” (Brother Charles Wilson, Haiti program coordinator).
The progress we have made is significant, but the people continue to struggle. There is more to do, and we look forward to the positive impact of the Yielding Change program as it continues to feed families, support community growth, and stop the vicious cycle of international aid dependency.