Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Sustaining Haiti through permaculture

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Over Thanksgiving break I told my grandfather that I was making a documentary on Haitian agriculture and permaculture gardening, and how to effectively implement sustainability practices into its economy. He rolled his eyes and said, “How is it that on the same island, you have one country that is a success, and the other a complete and total disaster?” He was referring to Haiti’s neighboring country, the Dominican Republic. Before I could reply he said, “Good luck, kid, Haiti is a lost cause.”

His words stung, but he had a point.

How do you take a concept from a developed nation and apply it successfully to a developing country? I don’t like calling Haiti a “third world country,” as to me it implicates stagnation, immobility and – as not so eloquently stated by my grandfather – a sense of despair. But our generation can prove him and many others like him wrong.

Permaculture gardening is quickly gaining recognition as a sustainable form of agriculture, but how can it be successfully taught and implemented in a country like Haiti? It’s the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It is a country experiencing political upheaval, fragmented infrastructure, rampant disease, violence and crime, ecological destruction from hurricanes and a devastating earthquake in 2010 that only further crippled the nation.

According to the World Health Organization, data collected from 2005 to 2007 indicated that 57 percent of the Haitian population, estimated to be approximately 10 million individuals, was living below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption. This means that the majority of the national population is “undernourished or food-deprived.”

There is no readily available data to determine the national capacity of Haitians who are getting degree training in nutrition or nutrition in medical curricula. Additionally, there is no data of nutrition governance and the “general government expenditure on health as [percentage] of total government expenditure” as of 2009 was valued at only 6.1 percent of the gross domestic product. Health expenditure includes health services, family planning, nutritional activities and emergency aid. This excludes government expenditure on water and sanitation.

Here in the United States, it’s easy to start a garden. You can pick up all the equipment you need in the gardening section at any Home Depot. If you want to buy locally you can always head to the Amherst Farmers Supply. There are plenty of local, organic farms, and on our very own campus a permaculture garden. I’m thankful that these forms of agriculture are so readily available.

But Haiti’s soil is contaminated. More often than not there is no access to clean water. You could give a Haitian all the tools needed to start a garden, but where, exactly, do you suggest they begin to cultivate?

I could continue with more unbelievably dire statistics but I will spare you for now. My future film, however, will not be as modest.

Permaculture gardening could, if implemented correctly, significantly improve health conditions, increase GDP and economic infrastructure, and create a sense of community for the Haitian population. Permaculture relies on not only understanding botanical and agricultural sustainability, but a definite group effort as well. We’ve seen the positive effects of permaculture practices right here on our own campus: education, cooperation and sustainability. Oh, and let’s not forget healthy, organic food.

It’s going to take not only time and money to provide Haitians the means for such an initiative, but a complete understanding of their history, ecological conditions and their socio-economic and cultural spheres.

And, well, my camera’s ready to do just that.

Emily Felder is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].


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  • A

    Al MeardDec 1, 2011 at 1:54 am

    Sorry for the mistakes , my key board is on auto filling and I don’t know how to turn it off
    It s an IPad 2

  • A

    Al MeardDec 1, 2011 at 1:51 am

    How is it that everyone who plans to goto Haiti always start their introductions the exact same way
    It’s almost like copy and paste off other people s
    I am a still not hearing about the progress being done in Haiti it’s all about Cholera , Water issues Rubbles,but never the hundreds of Hospitals and clinics and the kilometers of roads community centers and the Thousands of homes built .
    Haiti has past the Earth Quake Ohase Haiti is working to get on its feet so that in the future they can do it themselves , there’s just alot of work to be done there and even alot of the Rubble will be recycled and used to build homes because people in Haiti built with Cement blocks, Wood, Mud and stones . The stones are being used on some home foundations instead of Cement blocks.

    Haiti will come around , Haiti will come out of this
    Just wondering