When farmers go hungry

by Kristine Greenaway last modified Mar 16, 2017 09:41 AM
When farmers go hungry

© United Church of Canada

Mar 14, 2017

During the night of 3-4 October 2016, Hurricane Matthew tore through the southwest region of Haiti. Powerful winds and torrential rains washed away fields, livestock, and houses. The only bridge linking the region to the rest of the country was destroyed.  Suddenly farmers who had been exporting agricultural produce could no longer feed their families.

Members and partners of the World Council of Churches responded generously when ACT Alliance issued an appeal for emergency relief funding.  Funds from the United Church of Canada allowed ACT Alliance and the Methodist Church in Haiti to distribute water purification tablets for cholera prevention. United Church support also helped ACT rebuild 60 houses and repair roofs of homes, schools, churches and a community centre.

On a recent trip to Haiti, I visited three villages in the area around Les Cayes to see how donations had been used in the region that was hit hard by the massive storm.

I climbed steep slopes with farmers to see their reseeded fields and listened to them discuss the challenges they face. They are motivated to rebuild their lives but it is becoming more and more difficult to find the strength to continue. One farmer told me that normally at this time of year he would join others to plant the fields together. But this year he is not sure if he has either the moral or physical strength to take part. He can’t sleep, he says, kept awake by worry and the effects of poor nutrition.

Peasants struggling to re-establish their farms face enormous challenges: climate change has disrupted the pattern of rainy and dry seasons and seeds are often either burned by the sun or washed away by unseasonal rains; a caterpillar infestation is eating crops. They know what is needed: reforestation, irrigation, and a seed bank to allow more farmers to replant their fields. Above all they know that peasant networks throughout the country must unite to bring pressure to bear on government authorities to rebuild infrastructure although they have little faith in the promises of the newly elected president, Jovenel Moïse, to help the agricultural sector. Most peasant farmers with whom I spoke say they didn’t even vote.

“Politicians only come to see us to get our votes, collect taxes or repress us,” they say. Meanwhile, without food aid to cover the six months until the next harvest, farmers fear they may be too weak from hunger to plant and tend their fields.

Videos shot in the Cayes region will be available on the United Church You Tube channel in late spring. Watch for an announcement on www.egliseunie.ca