The Right Kind of Food Activism For Haiti: An Event Announcement

October 26, 2011

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but… it was a mistake. I have to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” – Former Pres. Bill Clinton

The above quote speaks to a profoundly important shift in Haiti since the 1980s: the replacement of most locally grown rice with US imports. Although Haiti produced enough rice to feed itself just 35 years ago, that era has long since passed. Today, the USA Rice Federation brags that Haiti is one of the 5 largest export markets (PDF) for American rice.

In this quote, Bill Clinton admitted something that Haitians have long known. By destroying its rice production system, the US “imposed” upon Haiti decades of devastating hunger. One of the Haitians fighting to reverse this trend is a visionary agricultural activist named Lavarice Gaudin. The Haiti Justice Alliance is thrilled to announce that Lavarice will be joining us in Minnesota from Nov. 6-10.

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Visions of Urban Agriculture: Mark’s Micro-Garden

July 18, 2011

Recently, we critiqued USAID’s agriculture program in Haiti. Critique is important, but equally (or more) important is providing positive examples. This week, I’m pleased to introduce a post by Paul Miller, Executive Director of the Haiti Justice Alliance, focused on the kind of solution that works. Paul profiles an inspiring urban agriculture program we learned of recently. Connecting with efforts like this one through established partners, such as Réa Dol, is one of the great strengths of HJA’s collaborative model.

Mark (top) explains his micro-garden project to HJA delegate Nathan Yaffe (bottom).


During our May visit, our delegation saw organizations rising from the rubble due to their own fearless determination and their commitment in the face of daunting challenges to re-build Haiti. We would like to share one of their remarkable stories with you.

Mark’s Micro Garden Project / Madam Rea Dol

Mark Jacobs has initiated a micro-garden project focused on providing economic opportunities for Haiti’s ti machann (market women). Working with Réa Dol, an amazing community organizer, Mark has begun experimenting with growing rooftop vegables as a way to create micro-enterprises.  These will be run by the women’s groups already participating in Réa’s micro-lending program.

Starting an urban agriculture project in a tropical country with highly degraded topsoil poses many challenges.  However, because of his farming background in Guyana, Mark comes equipped with the knowledge to tackle these problems.  The pictures here testify to the success of his initial efforts.

Mark's micro-garden, flourishing with the help of shade netting.

The strength of Mark’s project is two-fold: he takes advantage of readily available resources, and his vision is informed by condition on the ground.  On the first topic, his planting containers come from shipping palates that are discarded in Cité Soleil.  On the second, his program is designed to directly address the economic constraints faced by the ti machann.

As the project develops, Mark will employ and train Haitian women to participate with his micro-gardening efforts.  He has already hired one Haitian woman who is tending to his plants while he travels to obtain materials for his project.

Entrepreneurial micro-solutions that work will be readily adopted by Haiti’s resourceful people.  Mark is working on a scale that will effectively allow his work to be transferred to others.  This means his model can create sustainable enterprises that provide food and economic opportunity.  With small steps and small successes will come larger steps and greater impacts.

As always, the hope in Haiti lies in the response from Haitians themselves, and from the organizations that trust the Haitian people to provide for their own well-being.

USAID’s Assault on Haitian Agriculture

June 21, 2011

The US Agency for International Development unveiled the “WINNER” Program¹ in October of 2009, 3 months before the earthquake. The plan was ecological in focus: WINNER would enhance watershed management and conservation, and promote reforestation.

The goals of WINNER shifted, however, in the post-earthquake contractor “gold rush.” With an agenda dominated by Monsanto and DC contractors, the revised WINNER program sold out Haiti’s agriculture. The new focus was on providing hybrid Monsanto seed to Haitian farmers to address a non-existent seed emergency. The following discussion highlights why WINNER is ill-conceived, poorly managed, and likely to hurt Haitian farmers.

WINNER’s Corporate Makeover: Wrong Contractor, Wrong Focus, Wrong Process

USAID hired the notorious firm Chemonics International to implement WINNER

By focusing on subsidized seeds, USAID acted irresponsibly, willfully ignored Haiti’s Needs

WINNER Bypassed Haitian Government

An Unhealthy, Unsustainable Program

Chemically-treated seeds are bad for farmers, environment

Ironically, Monsanto’s donation is setting the stage for a seed crisis in 4 years

  • WINNER will break Haitian seed distribution networks, leaving Haiti dependent long after the program ends. Here’s how:
    Farmers are enticed to buy Monsanto seeds because they’re offered at a 10% the market seed price. Yet, farmers can’t breed and save Monsanto’s hybrid seeds as they do with local varieties. Thus, WINNER disrupts local seed distribution networks as seed suppliers become Monsanto buyers. When WINNER expires in 4 years, Haitian farmers will no longer have subsidized hybrid seeds, but they also won’t have seeds saved up for local markets. The result? A genuine seed crisis.

Why is USAID doing this? Final word goes to ICTA’s head researcher, Louise Sperling: “humanitarian actors… see delivering seed aid as easy and they welcome the overhead [i.e. low administrative costs] – even if their actions may hurt poor farmers.

¹ The terribly cumbersome, seldom used full name is: Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources.


by Nathan Yaffe