A Brief Overview of Haiti
Although a small segment of the Haitian society is highly educated, multilingual and financially successful, by far the great majority of people barely survive from one day to the other. Indeed, Haiti is considered to be the poorest country in our hemisphere; 70-80% percent of its 10 million citizens are unemployed or underemployed; 88% are poor, and among those 67% are extremely poor (living on $1.25 or less per day).
The country has one of the world’s highest mortality rates among children below the age of five and among pregnant women. Current infant mortality rate is 56 per 1,000 live births (UN OCHA, Dec. 2013), compared to the US at 7 per 1,000 births and France at 4 per 1,000 births. Half of the population is illiterate and only 10-20% speak French, the other official language, which is crucial to read newspapers, study at the university or fully function in leadership positions.
Haiti is vulnerable to severe and, at times, devastating weather patterns and earthquakes, it suffers from widespread corruption, a constantly simmering political instability, and weak institutional and physical infrastructure. A country that used to be called the “pearl of the Caribbean” and exported significant quantities of agricultural products worldwide, today imports 70% of its basic food staples. Domestic food production is thus a major priority.
The 97% deforestation causes annual flooding and erodes the naturally fertile top soil, thus diminishing agricultural yields. The recent cholera outbreak which so far has claimed more than 9,000 lives, and the 2010 devastating earthquake that claimed more than 250,000 lives, made 1.5 million homeless, and resulted in the entire country suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) put enormous additional stress on the already weak infrastructure and the socio-economic fabric of the Haitian society.
A December 2013 United Nations report on Haiti states: “Widespread and stubborn poverty, low human development and high gender inequalities in country, give rise to concerns with regard to extreme vulnerabilities caused by structural development challenges, particularly with regards to the specific needs of women, girls and boys”. (UN OCHA, Dec. 2013)
Among the numerous challenges facing Haiti, none is as pressing as the eradication of poverty, which is the purpose of the EWI’s Talia Farms Project
Haiti can thrive. Most who know Haiti well agree that the Haitian people are one of the country’s greatest assets. They are predominantly hard working, very entrepreneurial and possess a remarkable level of resilience and fortitude.
The country’s economic development efforts of the last few years are showing signs of success. Companies such as MSG, (“Home Depot” like); Giant (a mixture of Whole Foods, Publix and home supplies) and many technology and retail companies have been well-established and profitable. The cellular phone company, Digicel, has been a major business success and leads by example in the corporate social responsibility arena. The banking system is solid and lately expanded to include programs for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Haiti boasts of beautiful beaches, waterfalls, historical monuments; five star hotels and high end restaurants which are important resources for the country’s efforts to revive the tourism industry. New roads, ports and airports are being built or retrofitted, and large multinational companies are encouraged to set-up workshops in the most impoverished areas of the country.
The present government has increased by one million the number of children attending school (112%). It is promoting entrepreneurship, encouraging private foreign investment, and an effort is being made to confront corruption and strengthen governmental institutions.
Still, much remains to be done because Haiti has hit bottom in so many areas for so many generations. Current governmental initiatives to spur economic growth are perceived by the poor as often bypassing them. Certain regions are being favored in development efforts, others are forgotten. In Ganthier, where EWI is located, no important initiative has been planned, yet, “Almost one quarter of the country’s poor people live in the Western Department”; which is where Ganthier and Talia Farms are located.
Haiti’s Major Challenge: Poverty
“Haiti’s poverty is massive and deep.”
(US Congressional Report CRS, p 12)
The World Bank’s report on Haiti states that poverty is much more widespread in rural areas where 70% of the total population resides. ‘Extreme poverty’ is defined as living on $1.25 or less per day (or $375 annually); and ‘poverty’ as living on $2.25 or less per day (or $675 annually). Haiti’s per capita GDP for the year 2013 was $820; compared to the neighboring Dominican Republic’s per capita GDP of $5,826 for the same year (World Bank). Though sharing the same island and most of the external conditions, it is clear that Haiti is nowhere near the level of economic development of its neighbor and must, therefore, adopt a much more aggressive poverty reduction stance.
This is why our Talia Farms Project focuses on poverty elimination in one rural area of Haiti: the Ganthier – Croix-des-Bouquets region. Our specific objective is to lift out of poverty 4,000 local farmers and their families, (totaling 20,000 people) by providing them with opportunities to double their income. This is a model project to be replicated in other areas of Haiti.
Talia Farms is a comprehensive approach to poverty reduction and provides a full array of training programs and services to accompany farmers through their entire planting and harvesting seasons. It organizes them into cooperatives to strengthen their voices, encourage mutual aid and build lasting institutions. It also provides access to both domestic and export markets. In addition to doubling farmers’ earnings, Talia Farms will also strengthen the community by providing access to healthcare, education, environmental remediation and stewardship, and better trained local leadership. The aim is to build concerns that are sustainable long-term and can be self-financed within the first four years of the project.