Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, has often been synonymous with deforestation and environmental calamity. It is often said that its border with the Dominican Republic is visible from space, so marked is the difference between the lush forests to the east and the battered wasteland to the west.
“In nature, everything is linked to each other,” said Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, who in 1973 founded the Mouvement paysan de la papaye (MPP), which fights against deforestation and the climate crisis in the most vulnerable regions. poor people of Haiti. “To disturb someone is to disturb everyone. “
Haiti’s woes seem to worsen with each passing month. Widespread protests and gradual fuel shortages have marked the day for two years. In July of last year, the President of the Caribbean country, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his own home. The following month, its impoverished southern peninsula was struck by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, killing at least 2,200 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes. Then, in September, a wave of expulsions of Haitian nationals from the United States, amid an alarming increase in kidnappings, plunged Haiti into further instability.
But environmental injustice and food insecurity are at the root of much of the problems of this dynamic but besieged country, with 4.4 million people (out of a population of nearly 11 million) threatened with hunger. Widespread deforestation over the centuries, largely due to the colonial timber trade as well as the more recent logging for cooking fuel, has damaged fertile land and made it vulnerable to erosion, flooding and to drought. Seasonal hurricanes wreak havoc on homes and livelihoods and contribute to the degradation of agriculture every year.
Previous top-down international development projects have flooded Haitian markets with unsustainable staple foods, crippling attempts by local farmers to achieve food sovereignty.
MPP is a local organization that seeks to address the climate crisis and associated food insecurity by working with subsistence farmers across Haiti. With over 40 years of experience in Haiti’s rural central plateau, MPP works with 60,000 members to improve the deforested landscape so that the people who live there can eat, while increasing forest cover to help reduce levels. of carbon.
“The fight for food sovereignty is the fight against global warming,” said Chavannes. “All actions aimed at food sovereignty will have a direct impact on the climate crisis. “
MPP does its work directly with the local population, while trying to reduce the dependence of farmers on multinational organizations and charities, which have often mismanaged resources and contributed to Haiti’s challenges, said Jusléne Tyresias, director of the MPP program.
“A local approach is better because it creates direct jobs, values local knowledge, skills and resources,” she said, adding that large international NGOs often spend resources on expensive hotels and transport, rather than using local know-how. “The inhabitants of the territory will be more involved because they know the seriousness of the problem better than those who come from outside.
This grassroots approach has been hailed by its international donors, including the Clima Fund. Global Greengrants Fund UK, one of the four charitable partners of the Guardian and Observer’s 2021 Climate Justice Appeal, is a member of the Clima Fund and will use its share of the appeal’s donations for local projects such as MPP.
“The MPP is a fantastic example of the types of grassroots movements that the Clima Fund finances in over 160 countries around the world; they demonstrate the effectiveness of bottom-up building solutions – not just what’s built, but also how it’s built with who,Said Lindley Mease, director of the Clima fund. “They meet the material needs of a climate-ravaged island with abundant and culturally appropriate food, sustainable water harvesting systems and improved soil health, while maintaining an active workforce of 61,000 people led by a circle of women. As part of the 200 million members [international farmers’ movement] La Via Campesina, they show how a strategic and collective organization can cool the planet on a large scale.
Thanks to the work of the MPP, parts of the Central Plateau, once ravaged by deforestation, are now teeming with life. The MPP peasant network has planted tens of millions of trees, while organizers have installed water supply infrastructure for houses and crops while training Haitian women and youth in agroecology. . Solar panels have been installed on houses, reducing dependence on burning wood for fuel, and a radio station is broadcasting environmental training and advice.
“Regionally and internationally, the MPP is part of global efforts to strengthen grassroots feminist movements and is part of a global movement of smallholder farmers advancing food sovereignty with La Via Campesina,” said Sara Mersha, Director grant making and advocacy. at Grassroots International, after a visit to one of MPP’s projects.
“It’s this combination of strategies – focused on a powerful organization and a connection to the land – that makes me understand what it means when MPP and La Via Campesina say: ‘Small farmers are cooling the planet! “”
The MPP also used rapid response teams during Haiti’s frequent natural disasters, including the earthquake that hit the south of the country in August. Immediately after this tragedy, the MPP provided food, water and shelter, before introducing long-term resilience strategies, such as the distribution of seeds and the development of local infrastructure.
In 2010, when an earthquake razed much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and its surroundings, killing more than 220,000 people, the MPP set up eco-villages, in which survivors and victims have learned to live and cultivate sustainably.
Despite such a broad mandate, the founder of the MPP sees the work of the movement as founded on a central principle: sovereignty. “Sovereignty is nurtured as the right of each person to define food production policies that respect the environment,” said Chavannes. “Respect for human life; respect for the rights of peasant families over agricultural land; the rights of indigenous peoples in their territories; respect for women’s rights and respect for culture; and ways of feeding people.