Chavannes Jean Baptiste is a farmer and farm leader. Since 1972 he has coordinated the Peasants Movement of Papaye (MPP) and is active in La Via Campesina. Chavannes was educated at an agricultural school and uses his education and his involvement with the Catholic church to organize farmers and advance food sovereignty in Haiti.
Chavannes Jean Baptise is giving a presentation to a group of young farmers at the MPP headquarters on the tenets of food sovereignty. His mission is to develop a food sovereignty system based in democratic processes, agro-ecology and food security for all Haitians.
Chavannes wants to ensure all people are involved in the process. He explains “There is a saying in Haiti that you have three rocks of fire – the basis of stability. The three rocks of MPP are youth, women and men.” MMP has 4,000 groups and about 6,000 members. Of them 700 are youth groups, totaling 10,000 youth; 1,200 groups of women, totaling about 20,000 women; and, the remaining 2,100 groups are comprised of about 30,000 men.
Through those groups, MPP develops specialized skills. Chavannes continues, “The first work of MPP is the training. 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. The second work is agro-ecology, which includes natural pesticides, management of water, soil conservation, reforestation and food production. The third work is the audio-visual documentation.” This multi-faceted approached allows MPP to promote food sovereignty across the country. At the core is peasant agriculture, which focuses on local work, local seeds, traditional tools, and agro-ecology. For MPP it is essential to pursue peasant agriculture to fight industrial agriculture and all its follies. Chavannes believes, “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.”
As in so many other places, Monsanto has pushed its way into Haiti, but MPP fights against it, to ensure their food sovereignty and independence. Rather than accepting seeds or buying seeds from Monsanto, MPP established seed banks held in tin silos created by local artisans all over the country. This practice, therefore, involves all sectors of the local communities, while incorporating Haitian culture.
Haiti has a rainy season, but water is not often collected to maintain a supply throughout the year. Holistic water management is one of MPP’s priorities. Chavannes established a water conservation program to provide both potable and irrigation water to farmers. They have been capping springs for 25 to 30 years to promote water quality, while they drill wells for irrigation. Now, they are creating cisterns to collect rainwater from roofs, then solar panels power a pump to provide water for drinking and kitchen gardens.
Kitchen gardens provide a constant supply of healthy food. These gardens are created by inverting tires, which is quite significant, as tires in Haiti have been set on fire during violent protests. Now they are used for a positive purpose. Chavannes explains, “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.” All of these efforts and programs together lead to food sovereignty.
The Central Plateau is fairly close to Port au Prince, and after the earthquake, about 800,000 people fled the capital, with about 150,000 settling in the Central Plateau. It put a strain on families who suddenly had an extra fifteen or twenty people in their homes to feed, but MPP mobilized and engaged in two parallel lines of work: the urgent needs of food and clothing, and then rapid food production.
There is a large family of about eight still living in a tattered United Nations rationed tent. The wife was from that region, so they had a small piece of land to work and she had entrepreneurial skills to improve their lives. They define resilient. She has strength and courage in her soft, sparkling eyes; it is inspiring. MPP works to support these families.
Chavennes sees their place in the countryside not only the best option for them, but for the country. “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 has not been anything done in a sustainable way since the earthquake. The situation remains serious.”