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Environment and Food and Haiti: Two Crises, One Solution
In part II of an interview, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste discusses the role that agriculture can play in Haiti in addressing both th
The solutions Jean-Baptiste and many other Haitians propose reside in part in one set of policies and programs which can restore land and other riches of nature, and another set which can protect small-scale,
Jean-Baptiste gave this interview from Papay, where the MPP has created ecological demonstrati
This interview predated the news that Monsanto has donated 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds to Haiti. For Jean-Baptiste's and the MPP's response, see "Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Seeds."
"In contrast to the destruction that the industrial sector is causing around the world, Vía Campesina and other groups such as Friends of Nature have done studies that show that peasant and family agriculture can combat climate change. I'm in a Vía Campesina commission on climate change, and there we're clear: to impact climate change, we have to change the mode of agricultural production. Peasants around the world are very vigilant about this. In Haiti we have an advantage, which is that the majority of peasants grow only organically.
"We see the development of Haiti through the production of local, organic food; the conservation of that food; and its transformation into products for the cities. The peasants have said, ‘Let's talk about storage and transformation and commercialization in local and national markets. Let's develop an economy where peasants have control.' This could really develop the riches of the country while bringing Haiti back environmentally.
"We see reforestation as extremely important. Haiti has less than 2% tree cover. Two years ago we asked for each rural section to plant 10,000 trees each, or 56,000 trees each year. That would allow us to cover the country.
"Also, if we could plant fruit orchard plantations, that would have three objectives. It would protect the environment. It would give peasants income so that wouldn't have to cut down tress to make wood charcoal. It would also mean that we wouldn't have to depend any more on the Dominican Republic for the lemons, the coconuts, the oranges and other food we consume.
"I talked with an exporter who told me that 200,000 cases of Haitian [Madame] Françique mangos are sold in five square kilometers in Manhattan. That means that there is an enormous market for mangoes in the U.S., which could also help us combat deforestation.
"One thing we need for that to happen is integrated water management systems. Now because of deforestation, when it rains, we get floods. Maybe an earthquake comes every 50 or 100 years, but floods are each year, and hurricanes almost every year. Houses get washed away, animals get washed away, land gets washed away, people get washed away. I was talking with a peasant who said we used to have two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season. Now we have two seasons: the dry season and the flood season.
"With good irrigation systems we could produce a lot of food and we could help the environment. In Haiti, we have 300,000 hectares of land that could be irrigated, but we have maybe 30,000 or 40,000 that have a good irrigation system now.
"We're developing different irrigation systems with wells that you pump with solar panels. You can use cisterns that catch water on the roof. We've had great experiences with one or two families capturing 15,000 liters of water that have carried them through the dry season. We have other, more advanced systems of mountaintop catchment lakes, which let you to hold rain in lakes that you make with bulldozers or abundant peasant labor, so that when the dry season comes you can have water and you can still grow food. You can also treat gray water, like in the MPP center; we treat the water that comes from the shower and kitchen with a series of lakes with gravel, sand, and charcoal.
"One of the things we're doing is creating solar energy, because peasants should have electricity. One member of MPP has two lightbulbs run from a solar panel. He can play his radio, charge his telephone, even watch television.
"All our public positions are clearly against genetically modified seeds and against agro-fuels.
We're in a heated battle against the introduction of GM [genetically modified] seeds and against jatropha plantations.
"We in Haiti are committed to staying a county where organic, biological agriculture dominates.
We know that Clinton and the multinationals, the IMF and the WTO, have another plan for us - one based on the import of GM seeds and food aid, one based on making us grow for export, including growing for agro-diesel. But we're putting on pressure to say: no, that's not what Haiti needs, here is what popular Haitian organizations want, here is our agenda."