Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hurricane Matthew--How you can help the farmers of Haiti

"Hurricane Matthew destroyed their crops in the middle of the growing season. And they will need the most help NOW, as the new growing season begins."

 October 4th through the 6th, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti head on.  
 It was the worst natural-human caused disaster that Haiti has suffered since the earthquake of January 12th, 2010. Hurricane Matthew's greatest impact was in Haiti's southwestern peninsula. Grand Anse, including the capital of Jeremie, was devastated. The report on the hurricane's impact on Haiti from  Wikipedia [Effects of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti ] suggests that virtually every tree in Grand Anse was knocked down. I avoided looking at many photos, but I did read a few accounts from folks on the ground who confirmed that that land looked like it had been bombed. Cindy Corell, one our colleagues in World Mission shared some of what she saw in her blog from November 2016 [Cindy Corell: November 2016]. All crops were lost and at least half of the farm animals. The departments of Sur and Nippe were also exceptionally hard hit, as was the northwestern peninsula. The first map below demarcates the wind levels suffered. The second gives actual rainfall. Links in the captions lead to the original sources.

From twenty years now of experience with tropical storms and hurricanes, I know that rainfall causes much more widespread damage than the wind in mountainous terrain such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic, although with winds of 145 mph in the southwest, the winds that smacked southwester Haiti certainly were the initial source of the utter devastation. After Hurricane Matthew had passed, however, rains continued to fall for three weeks throughout the country; they fell most heavily in the south and the northeast. In part due to the continued heavy rains, a new round of cholera has added to the misery [A Photographer's Journey Into Haiti’s Cholera Crisis].

Overview of track and wind forces


This image shows the amount of rainfall dropped by Hurricane Matthew over the life and track of the storm. IMERG real time data covering the period from Sept. 28 through Oct. 10, 2016 show rainfall from Hurricane Matthew before and after its interaction with a frontal boundary. Matthew caused extreme rainfall in North Carolina resulting in over 20 inches (508 mm) of rain. Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce

The Haiti Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is working to link people throughout the denomination engaged with Haiti. You can check out the Facebook page:

Haiti Mission Network-Presbyterian Church (USA)

If you want to check out the posts most pertinent to the situation with Hurricane Matthew, you will need to select (upper left hand corner) "2016", rather than "Recent." October and November have the most posts.

This past March 12th, 13th and 14th, we had a major Mission Network Get Together in Asheville, North Carolina. Buzz Durham from outside of Asheville coordinated  a host of volunteers to make it happen. His congregation, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church was one of the main hosts. Our colleague Jo Ella Holman worked with Buzz, Cindy Corell, and me to think through some of the logistics. Cindy and I, together with Cindy's Haitian colleague from FONDAMA, Fabienn Jean participated in the event, which included between 35 and 40 people representing more than a dozen mission engagements. Our focus was how can we be effective and respectful partners of the work that Haitians are already doing.

Cindy Corell [Mission Connections] has some excellent posts on Facebook: Cindy Corell: Facebook

I had the pleasure of translating for Fabienne Jean as she described to the participants how FONDAMA is responding to the crisis in the south as well as other areas hit by the subsequent flooding.

I visited FONDAMA's office in December during a quick family trip and saw the initial stockpile of vegetable seeds that they had purchased to send out to the farmer organizations working in departments of Haiti most affected by Matthew.  Most of these seeds were sent to Grand Anse, Nippe, Sur and L'Ouest, as well as the Nordest. They had cabbage, lettuce, tropical spinach (amaranth), okra and black-eyed peas, all crops that can be ready to eat and to sell in less than three months. The spinach can be ready for the table in 30 days or less from the planting date.
Farmers in Haiti are durable people. Knock their house down, they will find a way to put it back up. But Hurricane Matthew destroyed their crops in the middle of the growing season. And they will need the most help NOW, as the new growing season begins. As many of you know, FONDAMA is a network of grassroots farmer organizations led by people who understand their constituency--because they are farmers themselves.

Their focus in December were vegetable seeds--fast growing food. Now, Fabienne explained, they are working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to provide seeds for staple crops--beans, corn, pigeon pea. Along with the seeds they will train trainers in agroecological techniques that can help farmers recuperate their land, even as they grow the food that will sustain their families. The trainers, Fabienne explained, come from throughout the remote rural areas of the mountainous Southwest. They live near the people with whom they will be working. In each community they will also establish seed banks, where farmers will repay their seeds, plus interest. The goal is for these seed banks to serve as buffers, to create resilience, so that farmers have greater security when the time to plant comes.

Fabienne explained that the work also include providing simple systems for treating water, the main source of cholera infections.

If they can find the funds, the leaders of FONDAMA hope to include a second stage to this program, helping families recover their farm animals, especially the goats and pigs.

Thank you to all of you who have already donated through PDA and other funding sites. Thank you also for your prayers and your concern. If you or your congregation feel called to donate now, PDA is still a great way to go.

Funds can be sent to PDA, (https://pma.pcusa.org/donate/make-a-gift/gift-info/DR000193/) which is working hand in hand with Fondama Haiti to help provide seeds and tools to the mountain farmers of Haiti.

 It is unfortunate that my first Haiti blog after so long is about a disaster. But it was probably the burning need to do something that brought me back here again, finally.

In my next blog, I want to share stories from the communities where Herve Delisma and I worked from April 2012 through April 2016 with yard gardens. MPP (Farmer Movement of Papaye) was able to send Herve and a small team to each of the three farmer organizations to visit with people who were also hit by the hurricane. The winds, even though much less, tore off a lot of roofs and destroyed homes throughout the mountains of Léogâne, Verettes and Bayonnais. Crops were lost as were the farm animals. Many of the yard gardens, however, survived.

But that is the next story!

P.S. The mission of FONDAMA and all of the Joining Hands organizations throughout the world is to address root causes of hunger. In Haiti, in addition to responding compassionately to the situation in the south, FONDAMA is gearing up to confront large corporations and the Haitian government itself as these entities move to grab land from small holder farmers for the creations of industrial parks, mega-plantations of bananas and other export crops, or for mining gold and other minerals.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Moringa oleifera--an NPR report

Here is an NPR report online about moringa.

"One doesn't need to do very much to prove that if you are hungry or nutritionally replete, then eating moringa as a source of vegetable protein in a varied diet is a good thing to do. We're beyond the need to prove that."

Jed Fahey, a nutritional biochemist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has been studying the plant for 20 years.

 Thank you, Gordon French, for the link.

NPR: Moringa
NPR: Moringa

Tesilia Desilus, with moringa leaf powder she produced at her home in Salas, Dofine (Verettes)  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Making Vegetable Tires: Some Links


Here is a link to a great blog on how to choose a tire that can be turned, and how to turn it.

Making a Tire Planter:
Making a Tire Planter

The best advice is at the end:

"Practice arching one eyebrow and staring haughtily back at the ignorant critics."


Also, here is the link again to the series of videos created by UUSC, Unitarian Universalist Social Committee:

How to Build Tire Gardens
How to Build Tire Gardens

I think I shared this link already, but just in case.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Follow up to Ferrocement cisterns in the mountains of Verettes

A quick follow up to the original blog. I spoke with Andre yesterday, Thursday May 14th. Ricot Joachim and Exode returned to Dofine this week to finish the project. They put the top on the cistern at MRPST's school/center, then went up into the mountains, and according to Andre, had already finished the second cistern and were headed toward the third. They are working with the same MRSPT masons, hopefully letting them do more and more of the work.

Andre had worked with Herve to get him up the mountain so that he can take photos and continue documenting the work.

Three or four days after the original workshop ended, Herve, Lucien and I sat together and wrote down all of the steps, and all of the measurements, for building a cistern. Hopefully I can get that document put together with the photos to create a manual that MPP can use in their training workshops.

Ferrocement workshop in the mountains of Verettes

Starting the workshop. We held the theoretical sessions outside the center, because primary school was in session. Participants are: civil engineer, Junior Lapaix (facing, green and grey polo shirt) in Dofine, a beautiful, fertile zone in the mountains of Verettes (Artibonite Department). Junior is sharing technical information about cement and cement construction with a group of Haitian masons from the farmer organization, MRPST. The masons are, from left to right, Fanord Toicius, Renaud Segné, Samuel Antoine,  and Clermius Pierre-Louis. Also participating were (continuing from left to right): Exode Pierre (red & white striped shirt), a mason from the farmer organization MPP (Peasant Movement of Papaye); Mark Hare, PCUSA Mission Co-worker; and Lucien Joseph, a member of MPP and part of the team helping carry out the activities of the MPP-FONDAMA Yard Garden Program. The workshop was held at MRPST's primary school and training center in Dofine from Tuesday, April 21st through Friday, April 24th. Coordinates for the center are: N 19.00151º, W 72.48059º. Photo by Herve Delisma. Note the Toyota Landcruiser enclosed truck in the background. It was purchased for the MPP-FONDMA Yard Garden Project with funds from the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
On Monday, April 20th, we arrived at MRPST's center, at the end of a long, rough road, well after dark. We were an interesting crew. I am from Ohio, but I have been a Mission Worker with PC(USA) for over fifteen years, working with rural families in Nicaragua and, for the last eleven years, in Haiti, with the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP, for its initials in Haitian Creole).

Junior Lapaix, born and raised in Haiti's Central Plateau, is a civil engineer who was in his last year of the University in 2010 when the earthquake brought the University crashing down. Since the earthquake he has been a member of MPP's technical team, helping execute the organizations' water projects that are part of the organization's program to make safe water available to rural communities.

Carel Sainfinis, our driver, was originally from Port au Prince. He and his wife lost their two-story house in the earthquake of 2010 and nearly all of their other material goods. That led them as refugees to MPP in the Central Plateau. Carel eventually become a driver for the organization and last year the family settled in a home of their own, in one of MPP's five eco-villages, built with funds from Presbyterian Disaster Agency (MPP Ecovillages). Carel frequently drives the Toyota Landcruiser for me, as part of my work coordinating the MPP-FONDAMA Yard Garden program. The work of the Yard Garden takes Herve, myself and our ad hoc team members all over the mountains of Verettes, Gonaïves and Léogâne.

Herve Delisma is originally from Cité Soleil, in Port au Prince, but as a teenager, his mother sent him to live with his sister in the city of Hinche to get him away from the Cité Soleil gangs. Now he lives in an even more rural setting on the outside of Hinche near the community of Papaye. Herve and his wife, Kekèt, and their two children do a good job of producing food in their yard--when it rains.Herve also works as my assistant in the PDA-funded Yard Garden Program.

Lucien Joseph is a young man who left high school due to a vision problem that can't be corrected, with lenses. He was apprenticed to a furniture maker, but now works part time with his brothers in Port (au Prince). Lucien always returns home during the rainy season to plant and care for his gardens, and to work with Herve and me when we need him. With a beautiful plantation of moringa at his parents' home outside of Papye, Lucien is an effective promoter of yard garden systems.

Ricot Joachim is the head of MPP's security team, but he is also a farmer and a mason. He learned to build ferrocement cisterns (Ferrocement) when MPP selected him to participate in a series of workshops led by MPP agronomists (Agronomist) and masons; these instructors received their training in a permaculture (Permaculture) program in Brazil sponsored by European donor organizations.

Like Ricot, Exode Pierre is also a farmer and a mason, and a member of MPP. He has been Ricot's assistant in a series of ferrous-cement cistern projects throughout the Central Plateau. When I asked them how many cisterns they've done together, Ricot said "Huh. I can't even begin to count."

MRPST, the organization that welcomed us late in the evening on April 20th, was founded in 1998. MRPST (Peasants Without Land Revindicating for their Rights--Mouvman Revandikasyon Peyizan San Tè) began with half a dozen friends meeting clandestinely at the home of George Ulus, next door to the school where we held the workshop. The goal of the  movement was to take back land that had been, in one way or another, stolen from them, their parents and their grandparents by a man named Marc Etienne. Through a local farmer who served as his agent, this landowner made a lot of money from the land he appropriated by renting it back to the original owners. Cindy Corell, the companionship facilitator in Haiti for Joining Hands (Cindy Corell) is collecting stories of MRPST's struggles which have, all in all, been successful thus far.

Since 2012, Herve, Lucien and I have been working with the leaders of MRPST, helping them establish their own yard garden program. After a series of ups and downs, this year the organization's program has really begun to take off.

Now the leaders of MRPST had also been blessed to receive funds from the Hunger Program of the Presbytery of the James in eastern Virginia and some addition funds from the Water for Life Campaign, based in Portland, Oregon. In total, the organization received about $8,000 to build three cisterns, each with a capacity for about 3,500 gallons of  rainwater. The first was to be built at the organization's center as part of a workshop that would introduce the four MRPST masons in both the theoretical concepts and their practical application. Junior was responsible for the theoretical and Ricot, with the help of his assistant, Exode was responsible for the practical. Herve, Lucien and I were along to learn as much as we could, and to document. We were also able to direct funds from the Yard Garden program to help pay for the food for the workshop.

After three days of intense work, starting around 7:00 AM each day and finishing between 4:00 and 5:00 PM, the workshop came to a successful conclusion. The icing on the cake was the arrival of Valdir França and Jo Ella Holman from PC(USA) World Mission. Valdir França is the area coordinator for Latin America and Jo Ella Holman is the regional liaison for the Caribbean. Cind Corell, the companionship facilitator for Joining Hands, had coordinated their visit as part of sharing with them an on-the-ground look at her work coordinating the Joining Hands ministry with FONDAMA. FONDAMA is a network of  Haitian grassroots organizations working to renew Haiti's environment and establish food sovereignty. MRPST is a member of FONDAMA through their relationship with MPP.

Countless personal stories that brought a dozen and a half or so individuals together, supported by the joint efforts of half a dozen organizations, projects and agencies (MPP, MPP's Techncial Team, MRPST, FONDAMA PDA, PHP, World Missions, Presbytery of the James). If any of us had tried to intentionally bring all of these pieces together to make this workshop happen, we would have been called fools.

We would have been fools.

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power."
I Corinthians 1: 25, 2: 4-5 (NIV)

Amen!


Now for the pictures.
(Photos by Herve Delisma and Mark Hare, unless otherwise indicated)

Most of the tools you need for the cistern. From left to right: Shovel and pick and an iron bar for digging the base of the cistern. The bar is for cracking rocks or hard pan. Two sheets of aluminum with handles for holding the mortar onto the frame and a cement trowel. A wood "float," used as a palette to hold the mortar you are adding to the structure, and to work the final layer that seals the cistern. Two sieves. The one above to get a sand that is slightly coarser--for the structure. The one below for finer sand that is used to seal the cistern. A sledge to help with the rocks when we were digging the base. Pliers for working with the binding wire. Bolt cutters (behind) to cut the metal framework. A hacksaw for whatever the bolt cutters can't take out.

Ricot Joachim, in the read shirt, starting to pick the soil for the base. After choosing a site close to the school/center, Ricot measured a diameter of 3.5 m and put a stake in the middle. Then he tied a string to the center stake, measure 1.75 m along the string, then tied another stake which he then dragged all the way around the center stake to mark the base. Ricot was an excellent teacher for the practical component of the workshop. He would work with the team until we understood what we were doing, then he would step back and watch, to see if we were really doing it correctly.




Renaud, from LaCroix, picking out the mark that Ricot had made, all around the center stake.

Laying a base of gravel in the base. We dug out something like 5 cm at the shallow end. Bondyebon is to the left, Exode to the right.



Ricot and Samuel (green shirt) with the pipe that will feed the water from the cistern into a faucet on the lower end. Fanord is to the left.




If I couldn't find something else to do, I made myself useful by dipping water from the canal that runs by the school and filtering it through a t-shirt into one of the two plastic barrels. Carel the driver helped me.


Pouring the base. The concrete base was 2 parts cement, 4 parts coarse sand and 6 parts gravel. You can see the 2" pipe that leads from the lower end of the base underneath and out.

Preparing the mesh for the base. Ricot cut two pieces, approximately 5 meters long. The mesh is made of 1/4" pieces of iron reinforcement bar welded together into a framework of 15 X 15 cm squares.


Then Ricot overlapped the two pieces and tied them together with binding wire (#16)

Then Ricot repeated approximately the same process he used to line out the hole. He measured a diameter of 3.5 m in every direction, then put a stake in the ground in the center. With a string that measured 1.75 cm, he walked around the center stake, but instead of using another stake, he borrowed a black Sharpie marker from me to mark where the mesh would be cut. As Exode continued to mark, Ricot began cutting with the bolt cutters.

When they were finished with the mesh, they laid it on top of the concrete base. The base was already mostly dry, so it was not embedded into the concrete. You can see they lbits of rebar, about 5 cm long, sticking up.

The next piece was for the sides. Ricot had us roll out the iron rebar mesh, 11.2 m long (the rolls of mesh are about 2 m wide).



On top of this, they lay one width of good quality chicken wire, also 11.2 m long. You can see that the width of the chicken wire was about 45 cm less wide than the rebar mesh.



Then they wove the two materials together



With almost everyone helping, they stood the framework up and walked it down and around the base, forming a nearly perfect round cage.



Then they tied the framework to the rebar mesh base. In four our five places, they also put in stakes and tied the stakes to the framework with binding wire, to help assure the framework would keep its shape. We finished all of this around 1 PM on Wednesday, April 22nd.
Early in the morning, Thursday April 23rd. Mixing the mortar for the first layer of plaster. The next morning, early, we all got up and began the process of plastering on the first layer of mortar. The mix for the mortar was 2 parts cement and 4 parts of the coarser sand. For more strength, the mortar needs to be only as wet as it has to be.



The team also invented a double ladder that went up and over the framework. This is because for every person plastering on the outside, someone has to be on the inside holding up an aluminum sheet with handles.


Lucien Joseph on the inside, holding up the aluminum sheet while Herve plasters. This is not a perfect process. A lot of times, the cement would fall instead of sticking to the framework. Ricot taught us to use our mistakes. The mortar falling around the edges, he explained, help in sealing the cistern's base.

Around and around, up and up. A look at what the plaster looks like from the inside.

After the cistern had its first layer, and the mortar had stiffened somewhat, Ricot showed us how to go around and fill in the holes. After the holes were filled in, we went and ate lunch.



Around 3:00 PM, we came back and kept going, adding two or three more layers of plaster all around on the outside, and one really thick layer of plaster on the inside.


Renaud, finishing up with the final layers on the outside.




Friday morning, April 24th, Ricot had us mix up a batch of mortar using the finest sand. This mix was to seal the cistern, and they did a layer on the inside and the outside. The mix was 1 1/4 parts cement and 2 parts fine sand. when this layer was starting to dry, they used the wooden floats to finish the sealing process. You can see Clermius with a piece of plastic bottle. He would throw a little water, then pass the float. Inside the cistern they did not use the wooden float; instead, they used a hard sponge.


Lucien and me, working on the gutters. The organization purchased 4" drainage pipe, which we cut on one side, then slid the pieces onto the tin roof. Herve and Lucien fixed the pipe using the #16 binding wire, wrapping it around the pipe and through any convenient spaces under the tin roofing. They are more confident on a home made wooden ladder than I am.


Local kids helping with the construction. Mario is on top of the double ladder, Anel is handing the mortar up. There are three or four masons inside to receive the mortar, which was for sealing the base of the cistern. On the roof you can see the PVC gutter, with the elbow just over the cistern. Herve, Lucien and I had to leave the final piece of the pipe for the folks from MRPST to put in, because the cistern was still too soft for us to lean a ladder from the inside.


Left to right: Samuel, Clermius, Renaud and Exode, sealing off the base with a thick coat of the mortar made with cement and fine sand (1 1/4 parts cement to 2 parts fine sand).



The almost finished cistern with the outlet for the water, ready to be connected to whatever type of faucet the organization wants. The top of the cistern has to wait until the cement has cured, at least 5 days, according to Ricot. The cistern also needs to be kept moist, sprayed with water at least twice a day. Or, Ricot explained, if it rains, you can start filling it with rainwater, as long as it has had 5 hours to harden. The team was finished by 10 AM Friday. Ricot and Exode were packed, bathed and dressed to head back to Papaye by 11 AM.
Valdir França (black shirt, far left) and Jo Ella Holman (beside him) listening to Mark Hare (blue shirt) translate for Ricot and the other masons. Valdir and Jo Ella arrived Thursday afternoon and listened to the masons as they explained what and why they were learning to build this type of cistern. Then later in the evening, they listened to the members of MRPST's executive committee tell the story about how MRPST came to be. Photo by Cindy Corell.
Mark Hare and Herve Delisma resting from working on the gutter, and frustrating Cindy Corell's efforts to get a decent picture. Photo by Cindy Corell (even if she won't admit it).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Biochar for Soil Mix

Buzz Durham (from Grace Covenant PC in Asheville, NC) in Léogâne, providing some ideas to workshop participants about using charcoal dust to create a biochar mix for vegetable tires. Buzz recommended starting with adding about 1 part charcoal powder to 6 parts "regular" soil mix. Our normal soil mix is 3 parts soil, 2 parts dried crushed manure (cow, horse and burro) and 1 part sand. So now we recommend 3:2:1:1, soil:manure:sand:charcoal powder. The exact proportion of soil and sand will depend on how heavy the soil is (how much clay it has) and also how fine the sand is. For example, I have a sand that is so fine, I just use it as soil, mixing it with the dried animal manure.  The next step is to fill the vegetable tires with the mix, wet them thoroughly, cover them with some type of mulch and leave them for a week to ten days. This give the charcoal time to convert into biochar--biologically active charcoal. Photo by Mark Hare
Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment. Like any charcoal, biochar is created by burning biomass of some type in the absence of oxygen (pyrolysis). Biochar is under investigation as an approach to carbon sequestration. (From Wikipedia: Wikepedia: Biochar).

As a soil amendment, we have started using charcoal powder in the soil mix we make for our vegetable tires. Because charcoal particles are extremely porous they can absorb water and nutrients. The tiny holes in each particle also create good places for beneficial microbes to live and develop.

All charcoal is not equal in terms of benefits, it turns out ("Gardening with Biochar" Gardening with Biochar). Some types of charcoal provide more nutrients ("bio-oil condensates") for the little beasties. More beasties (micro-organisms) means more life in the soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants. In addition to making nutrients in the soil more available to plants, a healthy soil micro-biology also provides plants a better defense from diseases caused by viruses and other pathogens.

In the mini-workshop that Buzz Durham led in Léogâne, September 2014, we used charcoal powder that had accumulated in the area within the local marketplace where charcoal merchants sell their product. The powder comes from the bits of charcoal that fall out of the sacks and then get crushed into powder by the weight of the sacks of charcoal sitting on it and by people constantly walking on it. The coordinator for farmer organization ODEPOL, Luxène Sommervil, collected two sacks of the powder there for free, and I brought one of them home to use in my family's vegetable tires here in Barahona (Dominican Republic).

If you don't have a local marketplace that sells charcoal, there are ways you can make charcoal in your backyard. Here is a youtube.com demonstration of a simple way to do this, developed by Amy Smith from MIT: Amy Smith: Agricultural Charcoal. Commercial charcoal briquettes are not good because the material used to bind the charcoal may not be good for the soil.

One of the most important characteristics of the charcoal added as a soil amendment is that it is durable. We can add it once to our soil mixes and it will keep providing benefits for a very long time. The charcoal residues in the terra preta soils of the Amazonian rain forest are hundreds, possibly thousands of years old (Terra preta soils in the Amazon).

In terms of carbon sequestration, what this means is that by using a biochar system, we are capturing the carbon in the carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing it in ways that there is a net decrease in CO2 in the atmosphere.

Turning charcoal into biochar is something like learning to put the petroleum back in the ground, and then growing food with it.
 
Buzz detailing the benefits of using charcoal dust in soil mix. Photo by Mark Hare.


An experiment with biochar. The pot to the left has no biochar, the one in the middle has about 10% and the one to the right has about 20%. Photo from PowerPoint presentation by Larry Sthreshley, PC(USA) mission co-worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Used by permission.

A tire with tomatoes at our family's home in Barahona. The tire is filled with a mix of sandy soil, manure, compost and charcoal powder from Léogâne. Photo by Jenny Bent.

Friday, May 1, 2015

What does El Niño feel like?

A vegetable tire with wilted green pepper plants
 in Herve Delisma's yard. Photo by Herve Delisma.
I came home to my family in Barahona (Dominican Republic)Wednesday, April 29th, after about eleven days working in Haiti. The last four days of those, I was working in Papaye-Hinche. When I am in Papaye I stay with Herve Delisma and his family. I lived in Papaye full-time from 2004 through 2010 and into 2011, working with MPP's "The Road to Life Yard and Moringa project."  In 2012 I was given the opportunity by MPP and the Presbyterian Church (USA) to share yard garden ideas with other farmer organizations, including one in Léogâne (ODEPOL), one in Verettes (MRPST) and one in Gonaïves (MPB). Herve, usually known as "Tiga," became my assistant in that endeavor and in January 2014 he also became my host for the times when I am back in Papaye.

Tiga, his wife Keket and their two children, Kedou (a springy eight-year old boy) and Tália (a shyly mischievous 3 year-old), plus a long term guest, Gary (a reserved boy around 6 years-old) live in a community called Ti Do, in a three-room and large porch cement block house about twenty-five minutes from a source of potable water. They live a seven-minute walk from the nearest stream that normally provides the families around water for bathing, and in Tiga and Keket's case, water for their vegetable tires.

Tiga and his family. Behind, left to right: Kedou, Keket,
and Gary. In Front: young neighbor, Tiga and Talia.
Photo by Herve Delisma




I have a particular interest in Tiga and Keket's vegetable tires for two reasons. The first is that as my assistant in promoting the concept of yard gardens, I need Tiga to speak from his own experiences--from the realities that he and his family deal with as they apply the ideas they have learned to their own yard. I very much want Tiga and Keket to feel successful and encouraged by what they do. The second aspect of my interest comes from the fact that when I am at their homes, I try to provide some value to my presence by hauling the water for the tires. So in December and January, for example, every day that I was at their home, I took two of the family's jugs down to the stream ("Ravin Papay"), filled them with about 2 1/2 gallons of water each, and lugged them back to the house to water the tires. Those five gallons, with occasionally an additional 2 1/2, I was able to calculate, kept eleven vegetable tires, planted to cabbage, parsley and garlic chives, well watered. It took me twenty-five minutes to lug the water, counting the walking and the filling. It was a good feeling--providing useful labor and being part of the family's production system.

In March when I arrived, the cabbage was harvested and the tires were planted to Haitian spinach (amaranth) and green peppers, as well as the bit of parsley and the garlic chives. The problem was, the Papaye stream was gone. Dried up. First time in at least ten years, Keket told me, that the Papaye stream had dried up like that. She and Tiga had another source of water, though; there was a mud hole some where behind the house that provided enough water to keep the vegetables in the tires alive and producing.

It turns out the stream has a hidden life, though. My friend Lucien, from the same neighborhood, demonstrated to me that water still flowed under the surface. Lucien had dug out a hole in the stream bed close to his house that made that water accessible; he took me down there most mornings to collect enough water for each of us to bathe. Lucien and I each used almost a whole bucket to bathe--about five gallons each.

The hole Lucien dug out to access the Papay stream
that has gone underground. Photo by Herve Delisma.
 When I got to Tiga's home Friday, April 24th, though, I found the tires full of wilted vegetables. The amaranth had given the family a good crop, but Tiga and Keket had to abandon the plants before they could provide the seeds for the next planting. The mud hole had finished drying up, and even though Tiga had dug his own hole into the sub-surface Papaye stream, there were too many families depending on that water; Tiga and Keket just don't have time to wait an hour or so to get water for tires when they don't even have all the water they need for bathing. The holes in the stream have had to get deeper as well--about twice as deep as when I was there in March.

Tiga and Keket's wilted amaranth. The got one good crop from it before the lack of water forced them to let the plants go. Photo by Herve Delisma.
The source of potable water, for drinking and cooking, is also drying up. The source for that piped in water is set of springs about four miles up the mountain, outside of a set of communities globally known as the Bassin Zim zone. The series of reservoirs and pipes that brings the water down the mountains has had its good and bad moments ever since I moved to Papaye in 2004, but with recent improvements--at least one additional spring capped and added as a source to the system--most of us assumed the problem had been resolved.

None of us counted on the "El Niño" period that started this past October. "El Niño" is the warm end of a cycle of climate variability caused by changes in surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean. The cool end of the cycle is called "La Niña." Although the focus of the changes in temperature are in the tropical belt of the Pacific Ocean, centered around the equator, the effects of the cycle are global. "El Niño," for example, may bring some hope to drought-stricken California. Often the rainfall increases dramatically in southern California during an "El Niño" cycle.

In Central America and the Caribbean, "El Niño" brings drought.

The last "El Niño" phase before the current one started in July 2009 and lasted through April 2010. In Haiti's case, it ended just in time for farmers to successfully plant extra corn and bean, bananas and yucca to help feed families flooding into the countryside from Port au Prince after the January 12th, 2010 earthquake. With two cycles of crops each year, one ending in July and the other in November, in 2010 most Haitian farmers were able to get two decent harvests and then again in 2011. 2011 had particularly good rains related to two short cycles of "La Niña." Check out this site: El Niño and La Niña cycles (El Niño and La Niña cycles) to see the data. Red numbers indicate periods that were hot and dry for Haiti (and Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic), blue indicates periods when the weather was cooler and wetter for the Caribbean and Central America.

In Haiti, the first crop cycle of 2014 was a "neutral" cycle with temperatures hovering around the "average." But many areas in Haiti still suffered drought and the farmers did not get good crops. The second crop cycle of the year, ending in November, ran hard into the beginning of the current "El Niño" phase. End of the year crops were poor throughout almost the whole country. Even more significantly, with less rainfall for the whole year, the underground water reserves are being drawn down with minimal recharge--i.e. still no heavy rains.

In Papaye, Haiti, and specifically in the small community of "Ti Do,"  El Niño feels hot and dusty and dry. It feels exhausting. Every morning I would go for a run and I would meet women and children, and sometime men, walking with gallons or buckets of water on their heads. "Where did you get the water?" I would ask. "A long way away," they would respond. Tiga and I were less exhausted. We had access to a truck that we used every evening to go up to MPP's training center, where we filled three or four 5-gallon containers and took them home. When the truck and I are not there, Tiga has a motorcycle he uses to carry two buckets at a time. Kedou and Tiga's adopted boy, Gary, use their time, too, at the scooped out water holes, filling their gallons with Papaye water to take home.

"El Niño" also feels complicated.

For four days, while I was at Tiga and Keket's home, I felt blessed to be part of people's lives, to be sharing the limitations they experience every day, adapting to those limitations with at least some measure of the grace that they demonstrate continuously. For example, I have always thought that 5 gallons was my personal limit for bathing--ten gallons a day with a bath in the AM and one in the PM. But living in a family of six, with exactly fifteen gallons of water between us for bathing, drinking and cooking, I was able to drop my limit to 3 gallons a day. And usually, after each bath, I had three or four cups worth left over to feed to the parsley or the garlic chives.

Yesterday Jenny, Keila and Annika and went to the beach. We live very near the ocean. The water was warm, much warmer than I remember it from other years. That could be, though, from looking too much at charts of ocean surface temperatures: Sea surface temperatures. In any case, it was a pleasant afternoon at the beach and we had a lot of fun. When we got home, I took Keila and Annika's sandals, and my water shoes to our laundry sink out back. I turned on a huge stream of water to wash off the sand from our footwear. That made me pause just a bit. Then I got in the shower and I turned on the water, and another huge stream of water poured out that I used to bathe and to wash out my bathing suit. When I was done, I realized that in less than fifteen minutes I had used enough water to bathe all of us at Tiga's house, twice.

The weird feeling that gives me, even right now as I write, is why I am sharing this blog.

But what exactly would I like to accomplish by sharing it? I would not like people who read this to feel pity for the folks living in Ti Do--I am sure of that. Rather, I would like this story to give people a sense of admiration for that community's toughness, and for their ability to share common resources with minimal friction, even when the resources are very limited.

Probably what I will most pray for is that somehow this contrast between those who have and those who don't could change your and my perspective on what may be our common responsibility for what is happening in Ti Do.

The most severe El Niño cycles recorded occurred in the last thirty years of the 20th century, in 72-73, again in 82-83 and then the very worst in 97-98. One article I worked my way through (http://judithcurry.com/2014/05/07/el-ninos-and-la-ninas-and-global-warming/) demonstrated that the El Niño phase of the cycle correspond consistently with the biggest jumps in the global temperatures. Historically, global temperatures that increase during El Niño phases are reversed during the La Niña phase. But not in the last fifty years. What went up, in terms of temperature, did not come back down. The Earth seems to be using the Niño/Niña cycle to process the increased energy that is being captured as we increase the CO2 in our atmosphere. That is not good news for Tiga and his vegetable tires.

So when you hear about Global Climate Change, think about what it means for all of us.

And please open your "all" to include the families in Ti Do.

In Christ,

Mark

A resident of the Ti Do/Saintville communities scraping out water from Lucien's water hole. Photo by Herve Delisma.

Check out this article from the online "Nature" for more information about the relationship between "El Niño" and Global Climate Change: El Niño and Global Climate Change

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