Haiti: Partnering for Progress

With less than 10 days to go before the start of this year’s hurricane season, Rome-based Agencies WFP and FAO join forces to help Haitians protect their communities.

On the steep slopes of Baie d’Orange, in the south west of Haiti, the local community is working hard to secure stone walls before the beginning of this year’s hurricane season. At the bottom of the mountains, a huge ravine caused by soil erosion is snaking its way towards the main road and the village at the heart of this commune. 

Madame Pressoir, 52, is working hard in the women’s work group at the joint World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food assistance for assets projects, where members of the local community are paid 200 gourds in cash a day to build infrastructure. She is one of 730 women who are currently working on this project alongside other members of her community. “It has been a very difficult time for me”, she says, frowning into the sun. “My husband died recently and left me to manage a whole household and four children. On top of life’s uncertainties we know that any time there is a heavy rain our crops will suffer and so will our community. One of the things that gives us hope is that we are building something here. The money that I receive for working in this programme allows me to plan for weeks ahead, buy food at the local market and pay school fees.” 

The late spring showers turn the south east region of Haiti from a dry and barren brown to a light green; but there is more to this side of the island than first meets the eye. The first rains bring a relief to these communities after months of drought but an equally worrying threat lies just around the corner. Years of tree felling for charcoal production make this region highly vulnerable. Hurricanes and storms cause landslides and flooding that wash away crops, top-soil and livestock endangering the livelihoods and existence of vulnerable rural communities. This region was also hit the hardest by both Hurricane Sandy and Tropical storm Isaac in 2012. Many members of these communities are still recovering what they lost.

Partnerships for Progress

Today national and international organizations are working with communities to find ways to prepare for and respond to sudden disasters. 

More than half the workforce of the joint WFP and FAO project in Baie d’Orange are women from the community. This watershed management project employs 2730 workers to build 9500 cubic meters of dry stone walls and plant 20,000 linear meters of hedges on slopes and gullies in the two months leading up to the hurricane season. The project specifically targets the most vulnerable in the community- the people who work alongside Madame Pressoir face disabilities, are single mothers and widows supporting large families or are still recovering from the shocks of 2012. 

The projects build on WFP’s long standing relationships with the communities and expertise in cash transfer programmes with technical expertise brought by FAO.

“They are really the partner of choice for this activity, “says WFP Head of Jacmel Sub Office, Michael Cazeau, “FAO have a technical expertise in watershed management and are recognized by the government in this capacity. When you visit these joint projects you can really see the results of our cooperation. These activities have become a reference point for the communities as well as for government and international organizations seeking to replicate what we have done here. This partnership is extremely beneficial to these communities- we have the same objective to work on the ground and build resilience at family level through collaboration and exchange.”

Cascade Training for the Communities

Armand Saintnord, 40, has been working on the site for just over a month. He is one the participants of a community training programme linked to the project, “We are learning how to keep our ‘Ti Jaden’-little garden- from washing away”, he says. “If I do not have a garden then I am forced to leave my children and go and work in Port-au-Prince. I have no guarantee that I can make any money there. Perhaps now that I have this knowledge I can find some work closer to home”.

A crucial component of the FAO and WFP project are cascade trainings, designed to make sure that communities have the knowledge to build and maintain the stone wall barriers. Roland Maxime, the FAO agronomist working on the project, explains that 8 head trainers who are themselves workers on the project are sent to a specialised training center run by the ministry of agriculture in the Northern department to learn all the skills they need to build and maintain the walls. They in turn train members of the team so that all the workers have the knowledge they need to do their job and maintain the assets.   

Moving Forward

The top soil of these lands in Baie d’Orange will be trapped in between the stone walls and many crops and livelihoods will be saved. The community will be more resilient to upcoming disasters and will find some relief from hunger. 
With less than 10 days to go before the start of the hurricane season, many communities in Haiti just like this one are not protected from upcoming storms. 

WFP is working in partnership to harness expertise and funding to make sure that these communities are protected and that these programmes are integrated into community level planning. 

If a hurricane strikes, WFP and its partners must have funds available to kick start projects like this one that will provide much needed cash to buy food and start rehabilitating damaged infrastructure. 

To do this, WFP urgently needs US$ 5 million to implement cash transfers provided through Food assistance For Assets programmes to support 20,000 workers for the first three months following a disaster. 

To see more pictures of the project and WFP staff check out our Photo Gallery here.