A letter from our publisher.
MIREBALAIS, Haiti— Things were just starting to turn around for the better in Haiti when the earthquake hit in 2010. It had been a couple of years since the new government had improved security and had put an end to a lot of the gang violence and kidnappings.
The devastation and loss of life caused by the earthquake were unimaginable. More than two million cubic meters of ruble were left behind after 50 percent of buildings in affected areas were damaged or destroyed, and 250,000 people died. President Bill Clinton and I visited shortly after the earthquake, and I pledged to help in some sustainable way after seeing the level of destruction. It was not easy and our initial attempts at improving lives by investing in small businesses was a dismal failure. There were complex reasons for the failure, including the fact that Haiti’s legal structure and business culture weren’t conducive to our more formal approach to investment.
But we never gave up. Our organization, Acceso (formerly the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership), has been in Haiti since 2014, working with 7,400 peanut farmers—much in the same way we work with farmers in El Salvador. Accesso provides training to farmers and helps connect them to the formal market, increasing their incomes by two or three times. We constantly look for ways to add value to local farmers’ products. Our team came up with a brilliant plan to introduce high value crops that smallholder farmers could harvest in between peanut seasons in Haiti, improving both soil quality and production. We came up with three crops that were in demand—limes, mangos and moringa—and we built a seedling nursery in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for these crops.
An organization called Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), which was founded by actor Sean Penn, was in Haiti within days after the 2010 earthquake. By 2015, CORE decided to create a reforestation program to try to end the soil erosion that seemed to plague Haiti. CORE has been run by its current CEO, Ann Lee, since 2016. Lee lived in Haiti before the earthquake hit the island, working in a development capacity. She witnessed a gradual improvement in Haitians’ quality of life up until disaster struck.
The CORE and Acceso teams agreed that together, we could achieve our goals and a lot more. A reforestation initiative could plant trees based on existing market demand that would also create income for the local population.
Ann and I visited our seedling nursery yesterday on a trip to Haiti, and met Patrick, the operations manager from our local Acceso team. We also met some of the local peanut farmers that are benefiting from our seedling initiative. We have delivered 1.4 million seedlings to date, which is impressive. But what is more impressive is how much individual farmer incomes have increased as a result of these additional crops. A typical farmer in the area has a plot of around one third of a hectare, and could make an income of $350 per year if he or she only produced peanuts. By adding the three crops, this income can increase to more than $1,000 per year. These may seem like insignificant sums in North America, but in Haiti it makes a world of difference to these families.
I had an opportunity to sit down with several farmers, called Salomon, Saintania, Prophete, and Berjoute. I asked them a lot of questions, including if they could think of anything we could be doing differently to support their farms. The final question I asked was “how are you intending to spend the extra money you will make from the additional crops?” Some said building a home, or buying a goat or a cow (they saw this like a savings account, knowing they can sell the animal if needed). But most often, they said they put the money towards their children’s education. I have found this to be a consistent theme in poor communities around the world. Salomon smiled and said “I want to invest in my kids’ heads.” I smiled too. That answer was worth making this trip to Haiti.