What do Miguel Marin of Nicaragua and Marcel Garçon of Haiti have in common? They may be from different countries, cultures, and languages, but both are leaders in their respective communities working to promote local, sustainable, and more just agricultural practices.
Miguel and Marcel formed the panel “An Ecology of Liberation: Communities Practicing Sustainable Agriculture Right Now,” sponsored by the Quixote Center and part of the Latin America and Caribbean track coordinated by the Latin America Working Group at Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2013. The eleventh annual conference, held April 5-8, 2013, gathered over 700 members and supporters of the ecumenical Christian community from around the U.S. and world. This year’s theme of food justice sparked dialogue on ending hunger, improving nutrition, creating fair and sustainable food systems, and conserving the environment. The conference culminated in a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill for a full, multi-year reauthorization of a farm bill that would support hunger assistance, local food, and conservation programs in the U.S. and abroad. In their panel, Miguel and Marcel provided examples of invaluable local farming initiatives that benefit from such international support to get started in places where hunger is a daily battle.
Miguel Marin is the president of Fedicamp (Federación para el Desarrollo Integral para Campesinos y Campesinas), an organization of about 285 families in 18 campesino communities in northern Nicaragua. In an area suffering the effects of climate change and where families are accustomed to surviving primarily on beans and corn, Fedicamp´s goals are food sustainability, food security, and better nutrition. As Miguel said, for these communities, “There is no food in Nicaragua. There is a need to produce food.” Fedicamp trains community leaders, who will train others, in soil and water conservation, reforestation, water retention, family gardens, crop diversification, permaculture, and forming local seed banks. They teach the use of local non-genetically modified (non-GMO) seeds and natural fertilizers, not because organic food is trendy, but because it is less costly and more sustainable for campesinos who cannot afford to buy seeds and fertilizer every year. Colorful family gardens and forest plots in place of formerly damaged soil evidence Fedicamp’s results of the last five years.
Marcel Garçon works as a community organizer for sustainable agriculture in Gros Morne, Haiti. Rural Haiti has suffered deforestation, climate destruction, and complete political marginalization. As Marcel said, “In Haiti, food is a luxury.” Campesinos grow the food that is sold to the cities and are left with nothing to eat. Meanwhile, as he put it, the government does not consider the problems of the campesinos to be its own. In community groups, the 2000 members of Marcel´s organization present a local organic alternative approach to agriculture, protect and reforest the environment, and raise small livestock. By growing courtyard gardens women have been able to grow food for their family and sell the surplus. The organization has planted 60,000 trees per year, with the goal of reaching 100,000 per year. Since farming relies on an unpredictable climate, the group has created goat and chicken programs to provide families with backup economic insurance.
As EAD participants reflected on U.S. and world hunger and the harm committed by corporate agribusiness policies, Miguel and Marcel’s leadership and strides toward justice in their communities provided seeds of hope for better practices in the future.
Three years after the most devastating natural disaster in Haitian history, the earthquake that killed over 300,000 people on January 12th, 2010, Haitians are still struggling to rebuild a semblance of normalcy in their daily lives. Despite the $6.34 billion in humanitarian and recovery funding from the international community that supposedly has already been disbursed in Haiti, reconstruction efforts still appear painfully slow in the eyes of many Haitians. President of the Catholic NGO Caritas Haiti, Pierre André Dumas, called upon all sectors of the country to unite in this time of disillusionment with shortcomings of reconstruction efforts:
"The momentum that followed the earthquake has faded. Much of the promises have not been kept. There is a sense of disappointment among the people: a large part of the population still lives in tents ... We need greater political will, national dialogue and love for this country. We must put aside individual interests."
Back in October I was lucky enough to see Sonia Pierre, a longtime activist for Dominicans of Haitian descent, speak at what would be one of her last public events before her death the following month. Like the people she spent her life defending, Sonia was born on a batey to Haitian parents who migrated to the Dominican Republic in search of better jobs. Bateys are Dominican sugar plantations where Haitian migrant workers and their offspring face appalling working conditions and live in poverty, marginalized from the rest of Dominican society.
"As Haitians prepare for the first anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million people are reportedly still displaced. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed," concludes Oxfam in a hard-hitting report on the world’s response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
On October 6, nearly 10 months after the devastating earthquake tore through Haiti, Refugees International (RI) released the report “Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase” detailing the continuing crisis. “Action is urgently needed to protect the basic human rights of people displaced by the earthquake,” RI reported. “Living in squalid, overcrowded and spontaneous camps for a prolonged period has led to aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living.”
It has now been six months since Haiti’s devastating earthquake. In
this time, international governments, aid organizations and concerned
individuals have donated vast amounts of money and countless hours to
the relief effort. But, there are still real concerns about recovery
efforts. Last week, TransAfrica
Forum hosted a congressional briefing,“Haiti Six Months Later:
Reports from the Ground,” to share the
devastating news: “what has emerged in the six month period since the
quake is a confusing mix of good intentions gone awry.”
by Salvador Sarmiento, RFK Center for Justice and Human Rightson April 28, 2010
Take a look at a quality analysis by Salvador Sarmiento of the Robert F.
Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights of the road to travel
between an apparently successful donors conference and the actual
delivery of well-targeted aid, published on the Center for International
Policy’s Americas Program blog.
We charitably termed the Obama Administration’s first year of Latin
America policy a “false start.” After the year was kicked off with a
promising beginning with a rousing speech at the Summit of the
Americas, a promise to close Guantanamo, the lifting of the ban on
travel to Cuba for Cuban Americans, and some principled words on human
rights to Colombian President Uribe, we had some hope for a new, less
ideological, more people-centered approach to the region. As the year
progressed, those hopes were dashed. But now we dare to hope again.
The Haitian earthquake that occurred on January 12th has left the poorest nation in our hemisphere in an even worse position. However, the international community has made a remarkable humanitarian effort to contribute to the relief of the Haitian people. Even nations that are typically at odds have joined together to help.
As we give from our own pockets and encourage our government to fund relief and reconstruction in earthquake-devastated Haiti, we can’t let skepticism about the past success of aid efforts dissuade us from responding. But at the same time, we can’t ignore real concerns. Groups involved in human rights and health related work in Haiti issued a call for Haiti relief and reconstruction efforts to respect the following principles: