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Seed Programs International

Pascale DesormesPascal Desormes meets us in the center of the small town of Perches, in mountainous northeast Haiti. The cooler mountain air and fresh puddles of rain are a pleasant change from the crowds and heat of Cap Haitien. But the living conditions on the way here are, mostly, no better - many houses are constructed of sticks and mud, not the cinder blocks back in town. Statistics tell us that 60% of Haitians live on less than $2 a day and this region is surely typical -- income appears patched together from improvised sources. Gas stations consist of women selling motorbike fill-ups worth of diesel or unleaded from plastic cooking oil jugs on the side of the road.

Pascal rides with us up the hill and we park in front of a structure, partially built like so many in Haiti, but well on its way to what he tells us will be a food processing facility. As we walk farther up the hill, admiring the tropical reserve-like land clearly under good stewardship, the story slowly unfolds.

Pascal’s family has owned some land in these mountains for generations. He was educated in agronomy, always knowing he wanted to return to his family land in Perches. He built a small business growing peanuts, then grew the business and then began processing peanuts grown by his neighbors. He began an association for the furthering of agriculture in Perches, which anyone is welcome to join. Over time, he added new crops: coffee, cacao, and honey. In each case he helps new growers and sees their products through to their final processed form, ready for the final buyer or wholesale outlet.

Today, more than 500 peanut growers, 135 coffee growers and 25 honey producers and cacao growers are in business with Pascal. His food processing business provides a sure market outlet for what they produce. He never stops trying new things: as we stand under the shade of a cashew tree, he points out a new plot, in full sun on the hillside, recently turned over to produce a crop of hot peppers. The new processing facility will save a 3 hour drive each way to reach the current processor.

Keep in mind, a story like this sounds commonplace, almost easy, to American ears. We see it every day in a magazine, or chatting with a successful business owner in our hometown.

However in Haiti, forces of corruption, destruction and chaos make a story like this near-impossible. Yes, Pascal has an advantage: land from his family. But Haiti rips every advantage and every attempt of progress out of the hands of smart and well-meaning people every day. To do what Pascal has done is near-miraculous: growing an enterprise without electricity most days; with impassable roads; with personnel emerging from underfunded, crowded schools; amid a constant cycle of drought and flood with limited access to modern agricultural supplies; and relying on a customer base with little or no disposable income.

If you want to know how hard it is to make progress in Haiti, just ask the many aid and development agencies who have for decades fought--with varying success--to keep multi-million dollar projects from descending into the sewers of chaos and ineffectiveness. This in spite of all the advantages of having US headquarters, expensive vehicles, imported technology, and highly educated staff.

After the walk, we return to the lovely courtyard of Pascal’s house, where he gifts us with a fresh coconut each (to drink the water) and a bottle of his own organic honey.

I am travelling with SPI’s core Haiti partner AKV, Ayiti Konse Vet or “Keep Haiti Green.” They maintain a relationship with Pascal because that is part of the organizational model: to find and build a network of Haitian people who, through force of will, and by making the most of small advantages and opportunities, are able to parlay agriculture into a force for positive change.

We have never provided seeds or other services for Pascal. UNDP’s Small Grants Program for Haiti has in fact supported the development of his farmer support networks and processing equipment. So, why is this story relevant to SPI’s mission? Why does it so inspire me? I think it’s because the success of our work depends on and trusts, that there will always be local leaders like Pascal Desormes. We take a small but essential resource--good vegetable seed--and put it in the hands of many, along with a little knowledge and local support. This, by itself, does something. But the dramatic change comes when one, or two, or a few women and men step out from the many to take a small advantage, a small idea, and with that great human entrepreneurial spirit so very evident here in Haiti, make a bigger change for more people.

Vegetable seed is such a beautiful analogy for this transformation. A sand grain-sized speck of cabbage seed holds all the potential and information needed to grow a two-pound cabbage, perhaps the centerpiece of a family meal, or to shoot up a flower stalk and produce enough seed to grow 100 more two-pound cabbages. It only needs a little water, soil nutrition, and sunshine. People are the same. Sometimes it only takes a little advantage, a small resource, delivered with care and interest, to start the growth. Then, human entrepreneurial ingenuity takes over. 

Peter Marks, Seed Programs International

 

Hondurans are growing the next generation of seeds

Hondurans are growing the next generation of seeds
  • Doña Isidora from Ojo de Agua is reproducing onion seed with what she learned at the field school.
  • Doña Magdalena from Guayabal has started to test methods of reproducing lettuce seed.
  • Doña Ignacia from El Injerto is reproducing turnip seed.  

Nothing could make us happier! Here at SPI, we provide seeds so that those facing malnutrition can grow some of the food they need. But when people like these three Honduran women learn to select, grow, save, and store seeds for their neighbors, in addition to growing food, we are thrilled to know that the day is coming soon when we will be out of a job, in that region . . . and this is the best possible outcome of our work. 

Classroom

Classroom

Over 60 percent of Liberia’s agricultural producers are women; yet, men still tend to receive more and better training, and women’s training is often inappropriate.

Through the partnership of Seed Programs International and Church Aid Liberia a lot has changed at the village level and in the lives of the Women’s Empowerment Program recipients. The bottom-up approach has empowered the women. They are actively involved in various aspects of program management such as conducting meetings, collectively selecting training topics and presenting groups needs to Church Aid Liberia staff.

Church Aid Liberia women’s group training provides a structure that enables women to share training information. Equipping women with the skills to improve production and manage change and support each other. We believe access to information and training are the most powerful tools for women’s empowerment. We provide a community based solution that gives women access to knowledge, skills and self-confidence they need to seek out economic opportunities paths out of poverty to self-reliance.

Church Aid Liberia’s Women’s Empowerment programs incorporates agricultural training with Business management training, to help women take advantage of new agricultural opportunities, and to manage and market their vegetable production more effectively.

The fields

The fields

With the recent news of the Ebola vaccine, there seems to be hope for prevention of outbreak in the future. While the disease seems to be contained for the time being, the survivors of the Ebola outbreak are hard at work to get their lives back to normal. 

For this update report we would like to share a letter from one of our partners in Liberia:

Dear Seed Programs,

I am very grateful and appreciative on behalf of the G-CAP Family for the seeds that you have raised for us. Words are inadequate to tell you how thankful we are to you.

Contact Us

Seed Programs International

PO Box 9163
Asheville, NC 28815
+1-828-337-8632

 

Seed Programs Canada (Affiliate)

Registered Charity No. 839858107RR0001
Lombardy, ON
613-406-6100

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Seed Programs International (SPI)

Seed Programs InternationalSeed Programs International (SPI) is a non-profit, tax exempt, non-governmental humanitarian organization.

We work thorough other humanitarian organizations, church groups, service clubs and individual donors, to provide quality seed to impoverished communities in developing countries enabling them to grow some of their own food. In addition to seed, SPI provides critical seed expertise and experience operating seed based self help programs.”

SPI is operated by individuals with over 50 years seed industry experience plus over 20 years experience in vegetable research and production. We also have 15 years experience operating programs that have successfully shipped seed to over 70 countries on five continents. SPI has shipped enough seed to plant over 1,000,000 vegetable gardens, providing more than 20 kinds of vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals often missing in people’s diets.