Food insecurity & the silent crisis in Haiti

Quietly, a crisis is brewing in Haiti.  You likely have not heard about it.  It rarely makes headlines or even surfaces in mainstream media.  It currently affects 6.7 million people, or about two thirds of the country’s population.  And it is getting worse.

fastfoodAt the center of this crisis is one of humanity’s most basic needs—food.  In Haiti, as of March of this year, 6.7 million people face food insecurity.  Simply put, food insecurity refers to a limited supply of food and the inability to access it.  This means families in Haiti, already stretched financially, are forced to make hard decisions.  Where will we get food today?  How much food can we afford?  Will we eat two meals, one, or even none today?  Can I afford my children’s school fees when there are more pressing needs?  These are questions no one should have to ask and wrestle with on a daily basis.

Why is Haiti on the verge of a food crisis?  Like many things in Haiti, there is not one answer.  However a series of brutal storms and droughts in the past year has been a big player.  There is a brilliant infographic published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that provides an overview of the natural disasters Haiti has faced since May 2012 and how these events have exacerbated the food situation.

The destruction Tropical Storm Isaac and ‘Superstorm Sandy’ left behind in 2012 meant combined agricultural losses totaling $174 Haiti-hurricane-sandy---Webmillion.  This is an incredible amount of money when you consider that the average Haitian only earns $700 per year.  There is no safety net in Haiti, aside from the support one has from their family and others in the community.  Though Haitian culture is very communal and it is almost expected that you will help out someone when they are in trouble, there is only so much support that can be given.

For poor farmers, the most valuable thing they have is the land they work.  Their entire income may be dependent upon a successful harvest.  Following Hurricane Sandy, 70% of Haiti’s crops were destroyed.  This means a loss of income for many farmers and less food available on the market, which drives up prices.  These two outcomes, due to a rough year of consecutive natural disasters, are why so many people are currently facing food insecurity.

Even in normal conditions, Haitians spend a huge portion of their income on food.  Rural households spend almost 60% of their income on food and the poorest groups spend more than 70%.  Compare that to the average American who spends 11% of their income on food.  It doesn’t take much to imagine how drastically different your life would be if it took the majority of your income just to feed yourself.

The cost of living here in Haiti is actually quite high and is not something widely known.  It has definitely surprised my wife and I since we moved here to work with World Concern.  To put things in perspective, currently our monthly food budget is the same as it was in Seattle (and we’re not buying imported wines and cheeses).  We often eat rice twice a day because it is cheap, a good filler, and we like it.  We have the resources to feed ourselves even if the cost steadily rises.  Unfortunately, this is not true for many in Haiti especially as food insecurity worsens.

So what can be done?

A priority must be to get farmers producing again.  Productive farmers mean increased income for families and also a needed boost to local production.  This is why supporting farmers and helping them become successful is important and positively impacts both farmers and consumers alike.

World Concern’s food security project is one way we are attempting to support rural farmers.  In 2013 alone, this project aims to improve food security for 2,000 people.  This is a really cool project and one that I am happy to share about.  World Concern leases three hectares of land in three different departments and uses the space as an outdoor classroom.  Here, local smallholder farmers are taught how to produce high quality seed that they can use season after season.  Other trainings geared towards youth interns, the next generation of farmers, teach best practices.  Another important piece of this project is the introduction of mechanized equipment to local farmers.  Many farmers in Haiti work the land manually which is tedious and difficult work.  The project uses small tractors to help farmers increase productivity.

Row of okra at World Concern's agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.
Row of okra at World Concern’s agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.
Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.
Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.
ag training
A training about how to protect the soil and prevent erosion.
Getting some hands on experience.
Getting some hands on experience.
One of the project's tractors hard at work. The tractors are used to help local farmers during planting.
One of the project’s tractors hard at work. The tractors are used to help local farmers during planting.

 

Food insecurity remains a real threat to families in Haiti.  This is a big issue and cannot be dealt with quickly.  However it is exciting to see World Concern take important steps to support rural farmers and strengthen their capacity to become productive.

This is definitely a silent crisis.  My goal is to, at the very least; make people aware of the current situation and how it is affecting millions of people in Haiti.  So please check out the links you see throughout this post and become informed.  Even do a little research on your own if you feel compelled.  In order to effectively engage we must understand what is going on and why.

Microcredit in Haiti Part 3 – How our program is unique

This is part three in a three part blog series exploring World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  If you missed part one and two you can read them here and here respectively.  Thank you for reading!

As we have seen throughout this blog series, microcredit is a tool that can provide opportunity to the poor who often lack access to the resources needed to succeed.  In Haiti microcredit has exploded over the years and currently there are an estimated 116,000 borrowers throughout the country.  With this many microcredit clients in Haiti and many other groups serving poor small business owners, what makes World Concern’s program unique?

“Our clients say to us that our interest rate is low, our training helps them in their business, and since we are a Christian organization they feel comfortable with us,” said Vilbert Douilly, World Concern’s microcredit program director in Haiti.

In part two of this blog series we discussed how World Concern includes Biblical values into its’ training for each new client.  World Concern staff is able to use text from the Bible to share about the importance of having integrity both in personal life and business life.  Our desire is to transform individuals and communities both physically and spiritually.  It is encouraging to see how microcredit can be used to accomplish this goal.

World Concern has been providing microcredit to small business owners in Haiti since 1990.  We hope to use our experience and expertise in this area to continue to empower and support people in the future.

“I want to see our microcredit program become an institution of reference for others.  We want to continue to be involved in microcredit in Haiti.  We wish to serve more clients and reach the most vulnerable in our country,” shared Mr. Douilly.

Together we can see this vision of continuing to serve the most vulnerable come to life.

Small business owners in Haiti often lack the ability to access credit and therefore lack opportunity.  Access to credit at traditional banks is reserved for those who are more privileged and have assets.  Although the poor desire to be productive and provide for their families, there are little to no options for them to expand their business and earn a livable wage.  Microcredit aims to address this injustice.  It is one tool that World Concern has found useful in equipping and supporting the poor.

Please consider partnering with us as we support small business owners in Haiti.  Your investment not only impacts the individual client but their family and community!

Here are a few of the 5,000 exceptional people we are blessed to work with in Haiti.

Meet Damas - With his loan he was able to purchase a larger refrigerator for his shop.  Now he has a larger inventory and is doing well.
Meet Damas – A loan allowed him to purchase a larger refrigerator for his store. Now he can keep more inventory and is doing well.

 

Meet Bellia - This mother of two sells clothing, shoes, and purses.  With her loan she was able to purchase products her customers were asking for.
Meet Bellia – This mother of two sells clothing, shoes, and purses. With her loan she was able to purchase products her customers were asking for.

 

Meet Elmè - One of her six children are pictured with her here.  Her business is near a school where she sells sweets and beverages to students.  A loan allowed her to buy more products and grow her business.
Meet Elmè – One of her six children is pictured with her here. Her business is near a school where she sells sweets and beverages to students. A loan allowed her to buy more products and continue to provide for her family.

 

Meet Lizette - Each day of the week, Lizette cooks delicious food and sells it.  After seven years in business, she realized a loan could help her grow her business.  With the loan she was able to purchase other products and expand her small enterprise.  She has two children and both are able to attend school.
Meet Lizette – Each day of the week, Lizette cooks delicious food and sells it to loyal customers.  With the loan she was able to purchase new products and expand her small enterprise.  She has two children and both are able to attend school.

 

 

Microcredit in Haiti Part 2 – How microcredit works (‘the nuts & bolts’)

This is part two in a three part blog series exploring World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  If you missed part one, you can read it here.  Please keep visiting the World Concern blog in the coming days for part three.     

The majority of Haitians earn their livelihoods by operating a small enterprise but are left without an equitable option for receiving access to credit in order to grow their business.  These enterprises are operated by people like Bellia, whom we met in part one of this blog series, and many other low-income and hardworking individuals.

Mr. Douilly visiting a project in southern Haiti.
Mr. Douilly inspecting a project in southern Haiti.

“People get loans at the bank.  But certainly the bank is not accessible to everyone.  At the bank there are a lot of difficulties in giving a loan to someone.  They will ask you what other bank loans you have and if you have a house,” explained Vilbert Douilly, World Concern’s microcredit program director in Haiti.  These requirements mean the poor are denied the opportunity to access and utilize credit.  This is why microcredit remains an important poverty reduction tool in Haiti.

World Concern in Haiti has been using microcredit to empower and strengthen the poor working in the informal sector since 1990. With the support of donors, 31 staff members are currently able to serve 5,000 clients in five departments throughout the country.

This is no small task.  It requires a sound training program, an effective model, and a strong network of local partners.  If you have ever wondered what the process of implementing a microcredit program looks like, then you should enjoy this next bit.

How Microcredit Works

Identifying new clients

World Concern’s new microcredit clients in Haiti must meet the following criteria:

  • Possess a high level of need
  • Unable to qualify for a loan from a traditional bank
  • Currently operate an income generating activity (examples include selling food, household items, or clothes)

Since our goal is to reach those small business owners at the bottom of the economic ladder, it is important to take each of these three criteria into account when deciding whether or not to accept a new client.  There is no rubric or measurement tool used when determining whether or not a person is in great need.  These decisions are made on a situational basis and with the help of our local church and association partners and World Concern staff working in each community who know the individuals well.

Training

We want our clients to be encouraged and given all the resources they need to succeed.  While a small loan can certainly help develop someone’s business, a high quality training can help develop the individual.  This is an important investment and one that World Concern takes seriously.  After all, we are interested in the transformation of the entire person not just their economic situation.

Each new client participates in three training sessions.  The first is about nutrition and developing a balanced diet, the second teaches business skills, and the third focuses on using Biblical values in the marketplace.  The training sessions provide our clients with practical skills they can use to improve their lives and businesses.

“The values we teach them include integrity because we are going to give them a loan,” said Mr. Douilly.  “We can take verses and texts from the Bible to talk about the importance of integrity and morality.”

We have found that Biblical values can play an important role in improving clients understanding of scripture as well as how these values can help them operate a successful business.

Microcredit model

There is more than one way to implement a microcredit program.  Each context has unique challenges that need to be considered.  World Concern has developed three methods for providing loans to clients that are effective in Haiti.  These methods are Individual, Solidarity groups, and Village Bank groups.

Microcredit Models Infographic2

Although World Concern does offer loans to individuals, many of our clients join one of two groups; a Solidarity Group or a Village Bank Group.  These group methods have been a part of the World Concern microcredit program since the beginning.  A group receives one large loan and the loan is then divided among each client – sort of like a mini credit union.

Aside from simply sharing a loan, group members have the opportunity to support and encourage each other.  The Solidarity and Village Bank groups help provide clients with a sense of community, which is important when trying to run your own small business.

“We meet every Thursday to share ideas and give advice,” said Bellia, a mother of two and member of a Solidarity Group.

Interest Rates

You can see from the infographic that interest rates are kept low enough that clients can afford to pay them, while still allowing the program to continue.  The traditional banking system is simply not an option for the poor in Haiti who lack assets.  Aside from banks, another form of accessing credit is through local loan sharks.  But interest rates through a loan shark are astronomical and also not a viable option for the poor.

According to Jean Rico Louissaint, World Concern’s Microcredit Coordinator for the northwest department in Haiti, loan sharks charge borrowers at least five times the interest rate World Concern offers.  High interest rates such as this only trap people in poverty and are hardly fair.  Our program aims to provide a different solution; one that actually works for the poor, not against them.

Local Partners

Essential to our microcredit program is our network of local partners.  These include churches and local associations.  “The associations and local churches help us identify new clients, especially those that are vulnerable in the community,” explains Mr. Douilly.  “The church knows that we give loans so they often ask us to present the microcredit program to their congregation.  After this presentation they send us a list of people who are doing business in the church and are interested in receiving a loan.”

Many clients who come to World Concern through a local partner form a Village Bank group.  The infographic above highlights this.  This allows small business owners in the same area to take out a joint loan together and support each other.

Collaboration is an important aspect of any development program.  We are very thankful for our local partners and their assistance in providing opportunity to small business owners throughout Haiti.

It is exciting to see how microcredit can help provide opportunity to people operating a small enterprise and otherwise have no feasible credit option.

In part three of this blog series we will look at what makes World Concern’s microcredit program unique and our vision for the future.

 

Microcredit in Haiti Part 1 – How microcredit can create opportunity

This is part one in a three part blog series exploring World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  Consider this a little ‘behind the scenes’ look at how your generosity is used to provide real opportunities for Haitian small business owners.  The aim of this series is to provide you with a deeper understanding of how microcredit actually works in this context.  I will share about our history with microcredit in Haiti, describe the model we use to implement this program, and introduce you to some special people along the way.  I hope you will be encouraged and learn something new!  Please keep visiting the World Concern blog in the coming days for part two and three.    

Economist Muhammad Yunus, the ‘father’ of microcredit, is quoted as saying, “But we have created a society that does not allow opportunities for those people to take care of themselves because we have denied them those opportunities.”

One thing I have seen even in my short time in Haiti thus far is that people want to take care of themselves.  If you ask someone what they hope for their future a common response is, “I want to earn an income so that I can provide for my family and live a better life.”  I have heard this both in Port-au-Prince and in the countryside.

The idea that the poor are content with waiting around for the next handout is inaccurate.  Although I do not hear this specific word used in discussions with Haitians, the generally vibe is that people just want an opportunity.  A fair shot.  A lack of opportunity is a particularly harsh form of poverty because it acts as a trap.

Microcredit is one development tool that aims to offer an equitable solution to this injustice.  What is microcredit?  According to the Virtual Library on Microcredit, the definition of microcredit (adopted at the 1997 Microcredit Summit) says microcredit programs “extend small loans to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, allowing them to care for themselves and their families.”

Here in Haiti, World Concern has been using microcredit to help people care for themselves since 1990.  Over the past 23 years our microcredit program has experienced lots of growth.  Currently a local staff of 31 serves 5,000 clients in five Departments across the country.

Mr. Douilly sharing about microcredit and his experiences with World Concern.
Mr. Douilly sharing about microcredit and his experiences with World Concern.

“Our goal is to see clients work with us and then become independent.  They are independent when they can come to us and explain their situation and show how their business has grown.  They also need to show that they can work with the stock of merchandise they have,” explains Vilbert Douilly, World Concern’s microcredit Director in Haiti.

 

Bellia is one microcredit client that is working on building her business.  Since 1997 Bellia has been selling clothing and accessories at the market in Saint Louis du Nord in North West Haiti.  She said, “I use the loans to buy more products and grow my business.”

With the income Bellia earns she is able to provide for her family.  She has two children who are both in school.  Bellia proudly shared about another important purchase she recently made.  “I was able to buy land.  I want to build a house on it so I don’t have to pay high rent.”

Bellia next to her stand at the market.  What a wonderful woman!
Bellia next to her stand at the market.  What a lovely woman!

There are many other vendors at the market in Saint Louis du Nord, some who are also selling clothing and accessories.  When asked how she has stayed competitive over the years she said, “With my wisdom.  I smile and offer a good price.”  With a smile like this, how can she go wrong?

In Haiti, World Concern’s microcredit clients are primarily women, like Bellia.  Why is this?  Mr. Douilly explains that “Women often care more about their activity.  When they come and take a loan they want to pay it back more than men.”

Also, women are generally more likely to be engaged in a small income generating activity.  If you were to visit a market in Haiti, you would see that the majority of vendors are women.

Bellia serves an example of how microcredit can provide opportunity.  She is one of 5,000 people currently being empowered through our program.

In part two of this blog series we will look at more of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of World Concern’s microcredit program in Haiti.  What does the process look like?  What trainings are new clients given?  So stay tuned!

Clean water that will last – even through storms

Girls filling buckets of water.
Young girls collect water from a public source in Grand Gosier, Haiti. Those who don’t live nearby will have to carry these buckets of water home.

World Concern makes providing clean water to communities that lack this life-saving resource a top priority. Recently, we visited the Southeast Department of Haiti and saw the direct link between disasters and the need for clean water.

We joined Bunet, World Concern’s Disaster Risk Reduction Coordinator, on this trip to Grand Gosier to see how we are providing clean water and preparing communities for future disasters.

Grand Gosier is a rather isolated commune (cluster of communities), near the sea and the Dominican Republic border. One reason it is so isolated is because of the poor condition of the road that leads to it. From Jacmel, the big city in Southeast Haiti, you must travel approximately 84 kilometers east to reach Grand Gosier.

Those 84 kilometers took us over four hours.

While crawling at a snail’s pace can be exhausting, the views are stunning. This is one contrast I noticed on the trip–poor infrastructure yet stunning natural beauty.

Once we arrived in Grand Gosier, we caught up with Pierre, the coordinator for the project in this commune.  He explained that the water system for the area had been damaged by a storm in 2007.  Since then, those not fortunate to live close to the water source have been forced to spend a lot of time and energy walking to reach water.  Even while we were visiting with Pierre, children and women walked past us carrying water.  All kinds of jugs, bottles, and containers are used to transport water.

Replacing old PVC pipe.
Women and girls carry water on their heads while workers replace the old PVC pipe to the community’s water source.

Occasionally we saw someone guiding a donkey, loaded down with water, but the majority of people were walking.  It was early afternoon, and limited cloud cover meant it was a hot and dusty journey for them.

Soon, those long journeys will not be necessary.  Once finished, the project will provide nine water collection points throughout the commune which will shorten the walk to water for many.

As we were listening to Pierre speak about the project, I wondered what precautions were being taken to ensure that this time the water system will be more resilient to withstand the next storm.  Hurricanes and heavy storms are all too common in Southeast Haiti.  Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012 are the most recent reminders of the devastation such storms can cause.  Combined, these two storms killed 87 and affected 205,623 people.  We cannot stop the rains and winds from coming, however we can be sure that communities are prepared as best as possible.

New metal pipe.
The new metal pipe, which you can see here, will ensure clean, safe water reaches families in this community, even when storms come.

Pierre explained that the prior water system had used PVC for the piping, but his team is working to replace all the PVC with metal pipes.  Though a seemingly small step, using metal will be a huge step towards increasing the system’s – and the community’s – resiliency.

When the repairs and construction are completed, this water system will provide clean water to people, whatever storms come their way.

You can help protect families and their resources from future disasters. Donate today.