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Presbyterian Hunger Program
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Jessica Maudlin
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Haiti

FONDAMA (Fondasyon Men-lan-men Ayiti)

Our Vision

A woman holding cabbages

Yzméne Elias, from the rural community of Seramo, with cabbages she grew using the old tire system that she learned from a workshop held in Bassin Zim. Photo by Mark Hare.

The FONDAMA network intends to “restore the Haitian environment toward food sovereignty and sustainability.” FONDAMA wants to secure food sovereignty through the promotion of family and cooperative agriculture. An agriculture that is organic and respectful of the environment so that the rights of future generations may be protected.

Our organization

The Peasant Movement of Papay and Service Chretien d’Haiti organized two consultations in the first half of 2009 that resulted in the constitution of a Joining Hands network for a new approach to anti-hunger ministry in Haiti. In June 2009, the network was formalized under the name of FONDAMA for “Fondasyon Men-lan-Men Ayiti” or “Foundation Hands in Hands Haiti.”

Our campaign

Some of the tires in Moccène’s home garden, filled with an abundance of Amaranth, or tropical spinach. Photo by Mark Hare.

FONDAMA has decided to engage in a campaign against the use of agricultural land in Haiti for the production of agrofuels or more specifically jatropha. The cultivation of jatropha for agrofuel could heighten the dependency of Haiti on food imports and increase hunger among the unemployed or underemployed sectors of the population that do not have enough money to buy their food. Haiti has very little agricultural land available for food production, and jatropha is being cultivated on agricultural land to produce agrofuel for vehicles and machines, while current food production in Haiti is not even enough to satisfy the basic needs of the population. The theme of the campaign is “Agriculture for Food Production — Not for Agro Fuel.”

Our Objectives

  • To inform all peasant organizations and peasants in general of the dangers of the false promises made by promoters of jatropha in the country.
  • To sensitize peasants and Haitian society as a whole on the dangers of agrofuels in the country.
  • To block the land grab process for jatropha plantations.
  • To bring awareness to all peasants of the need to protect the environment in order to guarantee medium- and long term-food sovereignty in Haiti .

Our U.S. partner network

In the United States we have established an informal network that is nongeographical and not tied to the middle governing body structures of the Presbyterian Church. This is a network of churches, individuals and organizations who are coming together to accompany FONDAMA in its campaigns. The U.S. network is coordinated by the Rev. Skye Murray of Louisville Covenant Community Church and includes Pix Mahler, PC(USA) liaison for Haiti, the Rev. Roy Howard of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Maryland, Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions, the Rev. Peter Reynen of South Dakota, Mr. Bazelais Jean Baptiste of Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP), Mr. Van Smith from the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Mark Mueller from Huntsville, Alabama.

In the aftermath of the earthquake

Given the recent devastating effects of the earthquake on Haiti and the Haitian people, the FONDAMA network will be looking to adapt their long-term development strategies to the new realities of more intensified poverty and hunger in the aftermath of the earthquake.

More on jatropha

Jatropha is well known in Haiti under the name of “medsiyen.” It is a wild shrub or small tree that is planted in rural fences all over the country. It is also indigenous to the land. Numerous varieties of it exist and it has various uses in traditional medicine. It is very hardy and will be found often as the greenest plant where most other vegetation is brown because of drought or poor soil conditions. So, what is the big deal about jatropha?

Since the 1980s, some scientific research has concluded that jatropha produces a seed that is very rich in oil, and that oil can be used with a minimum of filtration as fuel in diesel engines without requiring any special modifications to the engine or the oil. In the craze of the recent fuel price crisis, jatropha has emerged as a strong contender in the race to produce agrofuels, together with ethanol producing crops. Some say that it is better than other agrofuel crops because it would not be in competition with corn or sugar cane since it is not fit for human consumption. Apparently, the seeds of jatropha can fetch about $600 per hectare harvested in the Haitian market.

In recent months there has been quite a flurry of promotion of jatropha cultivation as a cash crop in Haiti. Businesses from the United States, from Brazil and even from Europe have initiated ventures with Haitian businessmen to establish plantations and/or to purchase and process seeds into oil for export. On the Web, one can find a number of articles extolling the virtues of jatropha and the opportunity it represents for Haiti. The country is known for its abundance of marginal land otherwise not appropriate for food crops production. The Haitian government itself has opened up the country’s gates to foreign investors interested in the production of jatropha. USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank are promoting jatropha and providing funding for Jatropha “projects.” Even churches in Haiti as well as in the United States have embarked on the promotion of jatropha and are actively pursuing production and marketing ventures with the aim of raising funds to help impoverished rural communities.

None of these would really be causes for concern if it weren’t for the following:

    1. Jatropha is a poisonous plant with significant levels of HCN (Hydrogen Cyanide) in all its parts: leaves, stems, fruits and seed. It has been documented that while up to two seeds might be a laxative, five seeds will kill an adult person. The leaves have a milky sap that burns the skin. Even the press cake residue from mechanized oil processing has high levels of HCN which makes it unfit for human or animal consumption. It is well known that goats will not consume jatropha because of its toxicity. According to an August 2008 report by Ted Mendoza, Oscar Zamora and Joven Lales at the Faculty of Crop Science College of Agriculture, University of the Philippines at Los Banos, “Jatropha produces a toxic substance called curcin. Will this substance not have allelopathic effects on its companion crops? The planting of Jatropha was banned in Northern Australia due to this toxin.” While there exist up to 120 varieties of jatropha with various degrees of toxicity, Jatropha curcas is not the least toxic, yet is the most promoted for biofuel cultivation. There are legitimate concerns about the potential damages that commercial production of these poisonous seeds can cause among a population not sufficiently equipped to protect themselves against it, especially children. Anyone who has seen how corn, beans and other crops are spread on drying floors in front of rural houses would understand the risks that jatropha presents to children’s health.

 

    1. One of the strongest arguments for the cultivation of jatropha in Haiti is the fact that most of the hillsides are depleted of productive soil and that the rural population is desperately poor. Jatropha would be an enticing source of supplemental income while making use of land that is not much good for anything else. However, much as we know of other commodities that came before it: indigo, coffee, sugar cane, etc., once it is established that there is money in commercial jatropha, there is no reason to believe that Haitian farmers will only use degraded land for its cultivation. We can reasonably fear that it will displace food crops from good land and further decrease food production in the country. Furthermore, the concept of land that is “marginal” and “unfit for agriculture” is very relative. In Haiti, different from South America and Africa, except for what is known as government land, all land belongs to the people and is farmed on, even with the knowledge that yields will be poor. Whatever harvest is obtained helps a rural family to survive. The Haitian Joining Hands network is concerned about what it sees as a process that will deepen the dependency of rural populations on food imports, instead of one to help them rebuild their food production. Already some companies are promoting community farming of jatropha intercropped with Moringa trees. Their plans include production of moringa leaf powder to be used as food supplement for undernourished Haitian children. Whether that is enough to mitigate the concerns mentioned above is doubtful.

 

  1. The prospects of commercial production of jatropha as a cash crop, especially the prospect of having large tracts of lands in intensive toxic monoculture, is a serious cause for concern. There will be environmental impacts and a probable impact on the already scarce remaining Haitian fauna. There is a sense that because of the business investments, there is much attention on jatropha at this time. Yet, investment in food production is sorely needed; but neither the Haitian government nor local businessmen are taking steps to help rebuild the Haitian food production systems. What we have instead is further erosion of Haitian farmers’ production capacity and the loss of Haiti’s sovereignty and food security.
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