We would like to end the year with four stories from the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) in Haiti that offer hope and suggest possibility from a country under siege. A story of homes rebuilt in the midst of chaos. The story of a loan repaid from beyond the grave. How one tree planted was a stand-in for 11 million others. And the story of a priceless agricultural gift given to the world.
Rebuilding Against All the Odds
In August of 2021 a severe earthquake caused extensive damage in a southern region of Haiti, and particularly near the quake’s epicenter in Laborde. This farming community is where the SFA has a branch operation, and hundreds of our members were affected. After providing short-term emergency assistance, we partnered with Habitat for Humanity Haiti, with support from the Raising Haiti Foundation, to rebuild 15 farm homes as part of a long-term recovery effort.
From the outset the home rebuilding project turned into an epic saga. Initially there were delays because gangs in Port-au-Prince blocked major road access to the south, making it difficult for trucks to get though with building supplies. Then a national shortage sent the price of fuel skyrocketing just as the trucks were finally able to get through the blockades. This coincided with an overall inflation rate of more than 50%, making it necessary for Habitat to very kindly step forward to absorb the additional cost of building supplies.
Soon after construction began in May of 2022, riots and demonstrations had erupted in the nearby city of Les Cayes where Habitat staff were staying, raising concerns for their safety. SFA farmers and their neighbors who still had homes in good condition in the Laborde area responded by hosting the Habitat staff for several months.
By April of this year all 15 homes were completed. Each house is designed to be earthquake and hurricane resistant, each has a dry pit toilet and a rainwater harvesting system, and each family received one sheep along with tomato and leek seeds to establish a backyard garden. In every case the occupants were trained and involved in the home’s construction and are now able to help others in their community.
Homes rebuilt with owner participation and training is reason for hope.
A Loan Repaid From Beyond the Grave
In 2011 a delegation of SFA women farmers asked if it would be possible for the organization to provide them with low-interest loans. Within months the SFA’s microcredit program was inaugurated. We now provide hundreds of loans of between US$50 to $500 (in equivalent local currency) each year to women farmers to make improvements to their farms or to fund small businesses that supplement their farm incomes. Since its inception there has not been a single default in the loan program. Until this past year… almost.
Early in the year we received the sad news that a loan recipient in the Gonaives area had died. Her loan had not yet been fully repaid and we were preparing to make a note in the accounts to explain the reason for a default. Then came word that the loan had been repaid in full, which did not make sense. We inquired and discovered that the other women farmers who were all part of the same local microcredit support circle had repaid their deceased member’s loan. Upon further inquiry it became clear these women wanted to show respect for their friend and to ensure the program was not harmed in any way by her default.
That several thousand loans have been repaid in full over 12 years of the microcredit program is significant in itself. But to have this particular loan repaid after the farmer’s passing reflects the degree to which this kind of women-led-and-managed operation has become integrated into the cultural DNA of rural Haiti.
A loan repaid is reason for hope.
One Great and Noble Tree
At some point during this month of December we estimate that the 11 millionth tree was planted by a farmer-member of the SFA in Haiti. Given the significance having planted this many trees since we launched in 2010, we might have invited a celebrity or public figure to do the honors. But it was down to a smallholder farmer to do the job because it is smallholders who deserve all the credit.
We do not know exactly where this tree was planted or by which smallholder farmer. It could have been grown in any one of 33 nurseries and transplanted by any one of our 7,200 members in any one of seven different parts of the country where we operate.
It could have been planted in a reforestation project, along a river to stabilize its banks, or next to a field to create a living fence. It may have been planted to help establish an orchard, provide shade in a community pasture, or any number of other purposes that were determined by the farmers involved.
What we do know for sure is that this tree, regardless of where and for what purpose it was grown and transplanted, directly benefited the farmers who managed the nursery and the farmer who actually transplanted it. They all earned seed, tools, training and other agricultural services (including access to microcredit loans for women farmers) through their work in the nursery and through the noble effort of the one farmer who placed it in the ground at its final destination.
We also know for sure that tree planting has become an accepted core practice for SFA smallholder farmers and their communities.
And so it is that one tree planted is reason for hope.
An Agricultural Gift to the World
The SFA, with support from Timberland and the VF Foundation, reintroduced cotton in 2019 as an organic crop in Haiti. Last year we transitioned from organic to a new holistic system called regenerative agriculture, and inJanuary we harvested one of the world’s first verified regenerative cotton crops.
Our experience in transitioning from organic to regenerative farming played an important role in both inspiring and informing a groundbreaking series of seven reports, sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation, which explore the definition, implementation, verification and scaling of regenerative agriculture as this new movement continues to be shaped at a global level.
The regenerative system of farming is a radical approach that centers on replenishing soil nutrients, helping to clean waterways and air, capturing carbon, and creating biodiverse farming systems that function holistically and support the well-being of all forms of life within its boundaries and beyond. It is rooted in indigenous and ancestral agroecological traditions, while at the same time drawing on decades of scientific and applied research by the international communities of organic farming, agroecology, holistic grazing, and agroforestry.
Regenerative agriculture is reason for hope for Haiti and the world.
Hugh Locke, President, SFA
Timote Georges, Executive Director, SFA