The first tiny green shoots of cabbage leaves caused quite a stir in Bois Joli, a rural farming community in the mountains of central Haiti.
“People are used to eating cabbage and buying it in the market, but they aren’t used to growing it themselves,” explained Stenio Louis-Jeune, an agronomist with Zanmi Agrikol (ZA), the agricultural arm of PIH’s Haitian sister project Zanmi Lasante. Following the January earthquake, Stenio and his colleagues quickly began a program to help local farmers produce more food to help feed earthquake-affected communities at risk of malnutrition.
Today, the program supports over two dozen kombits—groups of roughly 50 local families working together to farm land—by supplying seeds, tools, technical assistance, and training. About 1,000 families are currently involved. “The biggest result we’ve had is getting people to work together,” said Stenio. “It’s showing everyone how to work together at a community level to fight poverty and malnutrition.”
As the tropical climate of Haiti allows for year-round farming, the kombits learn techniques for cultivating crops ranging from corn to beans to cabbage, based on the time of year most favorable to each crop. In December, the fields in the mountainous areas of Boucan Carre are blooming with nutritious vegetables, such as cabbage and broccoli. In nearby Corporant in the Central Plateau of Haiti, farmers are now planting beans.
Although these crops are flourishing, many have never before been grown in this area. Even the "meat of the peasants”--the inexpensive yet nutritious cabbage--has never been harvested by the peasant families who eat it in Bois Joli. Upon seeing the first leaves sprout out of the earth, the farmers were concerned that they didn’t immediately resemble the cabbage heads they see in the market. “Should we tie the leaves together into a ball?” they asked Stenio’s team, who assured them that the head would naturally form as the vegetable grew. The produce will both feed the families and supply them with a product to sell in their local markets to generate an income.
“Agriculture is the livelihood of the people here,” said ZA agronomist Larose Deus. “[This program] has the potential to bring major changes in the economic status of people in this area.”
In addition to fighting malnutrition through greater crop harvests, Zanmi Agrikol has also distributed about 500 female goats to local families, is rearing chickens with the intent of giving eggs to children in Zanmi Lasante’s malnutrition program, and is replanting fruit tree saplings to distribute to farmers in the spring. To support these projects, the ZA team has scaled up from about 25 employees to over 100—all local members of the community—since the earthquake.