Food Voices: The Interviews
Chavannes Jean Baptiste
Chavannes Jean Baptiste is a farmer and farm leader in Papaye, Haiti. Since 1972 he has coordinated Movement Paysans de Papaye (MPP). Chavannes is a child of peasants and was educated at an agricultural school. He uses his education and his involvement with the Catholic church to organize farmers.
There is a saying in Haiti that you have the three rocks of fire – the basis of stability. The three rocks of MPP are youth, women and men. There are about 60,000 members and 4,000 groups. Of them 700 are youth groups. That totals about 10,000 members. 1,200 groups of women. That totals about 20,000 women. There are about 30,000 men.
The first work of MPP is the training work. There is a group that makes tree nurseries. There’s another group called agricultural entrepreneurs. There will be about 30 youth trained over the course of the year and we will send them back to their communities and empower them to be youth farmers and leaders in their communities. The second work is agro-ecology, which includes natural pesticides, management of water, soil conservation, reforestation, food production. The third work is the audio-visual documentation. We are working to create a communication section of MPP. We are creating an audio-visual team to take photos, make documentaries and then we will send two of them to take a course on making films.
The big priority of MPP is the peasant agriculture. It is peasant agriculture that is working against industrial agriculture. What we are calling peasant agriculture is doing local work, local seeds, traditional tools, including poly-culture, which is allowing many plants to grow together with natural fertilizers and pesticides. We consider the future of the planet to depend on this method of agriculture. The only way we can combat climate change is by promoting a kind of agriculture that promotes bio-diversity and that respects the planet. Industrial agriculture is killing people. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers are killing the soil, destroying the environment and harming human health.
The main priority is food sovereignty. We are trying to find a way to demonstrate what food sovereignty looks like. A way to do this is creating home gardens – kitchen gardens, so peasants can produce vegetables near their homes. We call this method permaculture, where nothing is wasted. We use the remains of the vegetables to feed the animals and then the animals create manure, which is then used to feed the plants and then the animals are used to create meat. All of this can be sold at the local market with the primary objective to feed the local population with healthy food.
This is part of a program called, “Gardens as a Road to Life.” With 5 tires, you can have about 2 and a half meters [~8 feet] of production. With 5 tires, a peasant could potentially see $100 to $150 in sales of their products in one year. They can guarantee it will improve the health of those producing the vegetables, as well as giving them the possibility of selling at a local market. If you are going to have agricultural production, you have to have water. This is why one of the priorities of MPP is the holistic management of water.
If you are able to drink good water, then you will prevent yourself from getting illnesses that are very common here in Haiti. Capping springs that are the source of the water is a program we have been working on for 25 or 30 years, so we can make sure that the spring remains clean. After that, we work on irrigation. We drill wells in places where there is no access to water. We have an alternative cistern construction program. With these cisterns, you collect rainwater from the roof and turn it into drinkable water or use it to irrigate your gardens. We use solar panels pump the water up to provide potable water and water for the garden.
Along with the gardens near the homes, we are working with animal husbandry that only uses natural methods, including fish, chickens, pigs, rabbits and goats. This allows the families to not only have a source of meat, but also have a source of manure to feed the gardens. Another program we are looking to develop is facing the aggression of Monsanto in the production of local seeds. We are starting to have seed banks all over the country. We have begun creating silos made out of tins and have trained artisans that can create the silos in each community. We use the traditional method of seed conservation. We used to use a chemical pesticide to put onto the seeds, but we have been seeking to return to the method of the ancestors and we have had really good results.
After the earthquake, we were able to help a lot of people by providing seeds. Central Plateau is very close to Port au Prince. After the earthquake, people were running every which way to leave Port au Prince. It was very easy for people to come here. There were about 800,000 people who left Port au Prince. 150,000 came here to the Central Plateau. This created a large problem for the economy of the Central Plateau, as well as the families’ economies who received people. There are some families that had 15 or 20 people come live at their house. All of these people ate the food, even the seeds they had to plant for the next season. Some of the women who had micro-credit loans were obligated to spend that money on buying food for their visitors. We had to think about how we would respond as an organization and decided that we would help these people find food and then find seeds. The two parallel lines of work were the urgent needs of food and clothing and then the rapid food production.
We would like all the people who left Port au Prince to stay in the countryside and to start the process of decentralization, but this would require the state to play a role and they have not done anything. There are some people who came and have gone back. They found nothing in Port au Prince, so they came back and now they will look for work. People really seem to be struggling. There has not been anything done in a sustainable way since the earthquake. The situation remains serious.