For more than two years, an unprecedented and uninterrupted socio-political crisis has raged in Haiti. “Aba, Lavi chè”, “Aba grangu” – meaning “enough with costly life” and “enough with hunger” – are regularly chanted across the country by people who are exhausted. The government’s legitimacy is questioned, and corruption is noted.
Haiti has experienced periods of what is known as “Peyi lock” resulting in violent demonstrations, roadblocks, fuel shortages, economic paralysis, limited services, and high inflation rates. On average, the cost for a food basket has risen by nearly 30% since last year. Among the hardest-hit areas are those that are landlocked and isolated, such as the Low Northwest District, which has also suffered a series of shocks including drought.
This was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. While the virus appears to be contained in Haiti, the impact of the global economic slowdown and interruptions in trade have been devastating for an island country that depends heavily on imports. Many necessities are scarce, and prices for goods and food items have surged. Families who depend on agriculture, trade, and the informal economy to survive have experienced significant pressure and some have lost their income entirely.
According to a food security analysis from August, nearly 42% of the Haitian population – 4 million people – are experiencing acute hunger, and that number is expected to increase to 4.4 million in the coming months. With elections delayed and ongoing political and economic issues, 2021 promises to be particularly complex with a real risk of a food crisis with no end and an increase of the number of very young children suffering from acute malnutrition.
Jean Rabel, an area of Haiti with nearly 148,000 residents, is the largest and most populated commune in the Low Northwest District. Agriculture, livestock breeding, and trade are the main economic activities of the commune. Geographically isolated, located on a fault line, and exit point for cyclones and tropical storms, Jean Rabel is heavily impacted by climate shocks, including storms and drought. Agricultural productivity has dropped considerably due to these climatic conditions.
As Apelus Setout, a farmer in Kaletan, a village in Jean Rabel, explained earlier this year: “Our crops suffer from the lack of rainfall and livestock are dying due to lack of fodder, access to healthcare, and access to water,” he said. “The last planting seasons could not be completed due to insufficient of seeds that are available in other areas difficult to access because of the bad condition of road and the costs for travel.”
Many livestock breeders in the area have been forced to sell their livestock. Elison Dufreine, who leads a local association of farmers and women traders, told us that the “local economy is dying.”
With access and availability to food compromised, many families have been forced to turn to negative coping strategies, including selling their livestock, eating seeds, deforestation, and more, which continuously increases their vulnerability, especially women, children, elderly and people with disabilities.
To help struggling families, Action Against Hunger launched a one-year food security project in Jean Rabel funded from the Swedish Development and International Cooperation Agency (SIDA), in order to support the community. The program was designed with local authorities and community leaders to determine the type of support needed, to ensure buy-in from the community, and to reach the people most in need.
The project aims to address both emergency needs and to build resilience and capacity in the communities. It provides:
- Cash transfers (including food vouchers for local products) to 1,320 households who are most vulnerable to hunger including those without steady incomes or means of producing food at home.
- Seeds, tools, and adapted technical training for 35 small-scale farmers to help them deal with the consequences of climate change and to improve availability of local food in local markets.
- Capacity-building support for a local association in order to support and improve their capacity, strengthen local leadership, and inspire positive change.
- Agroecology education to children in eight schools, so children can learn farming and sustainable practices to foster a brighter future.
With this project, Action Against Hunger aims to give communities the tools they need to become more resilient in the face of recurrent shocks.
This article was written by Nelly Mitja, Field Coordinator for Action Against Hunger in Haiti.