I am neither an agronomist or an energy specialist. But I always have my eyes open for new innovations which could help Haiti achieve either food security or energy independence. Recently, I received an email from The National Algae Association (NAA) annoucing that it would be bringing together Algae oil production companies, algae researchers and "algaeprenuers" together for a conference on June 17th in Woodlands, Texas. The private sector seems to think algae has potential as a biofuel - Chevron, Honeywell, and Boeing all have some involvement in algae businesses. But is it feasible in Haiti?
In one of Bourik’s latest hoofs to the Northeast of Haiti he ran into an old friend, 8 year old Trou du Nord heavy, Beterson. While sitting outside the hitching post, observing the normal street commotion Bourik felt a looming presence.
Our friends at Current sent us a link to a piece concerning a town in the Upper Central Plateau of Haiti called Pignon. Pignon is an isolated community best known for its regional hospital. The road leading to Pignon is one of the worst in Haiti - The last time I was on it, the pickup truck literally tipped over. But even in the most difficult locations, when a community comes together, it can accomplish amazing things.
Copied below is a brief article in the Boston Globe written by Dr. Joia Mukherjee and Donna Barry, both of whom work for the Institute for Health and Social Justice at Partners In Health. Though short, the article cuts through many of the cliches we've seen so far on hunger in Haiti. The piece covers the long term historical reasons for food security, which is by no means new. It also notes how food "assistance" can cause more harm than good and the burden of Haiti's debt on this struggling, young democracy. With minimal tourism or industry, Haiti need its agricultural sector more than ever. But will developed countries let Haiti compete? A level playing field would be more important than any hand out for Haiti's long term development.
With an Agronomist for a President and now an Economist for a Prime Minster, we hope that the Haitian government will address the food crisis head on. The Government will need to articulate short term measures and a long term plan to the Haitian public, to donors, and the international community. Preval has spent a great deal of time talking about national production - but this will not be possible without halting and reversing envrinmental degradation. Fortunately, Haiti continues to draw support from major donors. This will allow the government some time to establish new policies and programs.
A press release by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced the next phase of Haiti's largest vaccination campaign ever. According to PAHO, Haiti has the worst health indicators of any country in the Americas, including the highest rates of infant mortality and lowest rates of childhood immunization. This campaign will go a long way towards changing that. As Wyclef states in the Public Service Announcements that kicked off the campaign, "To vaccinate a child is an act of love".
In response to queries from readers, the first "How Can I Help" blog was devoted to volunteering. With increasing food insecurity in Haiti, we have received many inquiries from caring people who want to do their part to improve the situation. Many have offered to hold food drives - but Haiti is in this situation because it does not grow enough food and has depended on importation for far too long. Your support will go farther if, instead of sending food, you make a contribution to an organization that is already on the ground in Haiti. Below are organizations that are fighting hunger in Haiti and are reputable and effective. With your support, they can reach more people.
With its emphasis on human rights, social justice and empowerment, Partners in Health (PIH) is making a difference in Haiti, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Russia, Lesotho and even Boston. PIH has inspired individuals working for non governmental organizations, international organizations and even governments to better serve the poor. PIH Model Online (PIHMO) was recently created as a practical online resource for anyone delivering health services in resource-poor settings. David West, part of the PIHMO team, notes that while the project is just in its early stages, there will be a flood of useful content in the coming year. The website will also provide a forum for discussion on health, human rights and poverty.
Security and food security go hand in hand in countries like Haiti that are dependent on importation for survival. President Rene Preval announced a 15 percent cut in rice prices and a series of measures to uphold national food production namely by providing subsidies, credit and technical assistance to farmers. Rice exports are banned. However, Haitians cannot survive on rice alone. Corn, beans, oil, etc. all remain expensive. The President has yet to appoint a Prime Minister who can assemble a new Cabinet. We hope, whoever he or she is, the new Prime Minister will take food security seriously and communicate often with the public about what is doing to reduce food costs and improve national production. This should have been a priority long ago.
Don't forget - Mother's Day is Sunday, May 11th. Project Medishare has released a special Mother's Day Appeal to complete their innovative program to treat malnourished children with locally grown ingredients. Once established in Thomonde, Project Medishare wants to expand their coverage throughout the entire Central Plateau. You can make a special donation in your mother's name to Project Medishare this year, helping to make sure that Haitian mothers are able to keep their children nourished and healthy.