Friday, November 8, 2013

Charye Conference for Unirrigated Sloping Land

August 28-31, 2013 was a gathering for representatives of organizations working in the Artibonite Valley region of Haiti but particularly for those on mountain land depending on rain for irrigation.

The Organization for Development Against Misery, ODCM, hosted and organized the conference at their headquarters in Charye, in the Communal Section of Lachapelle.

42 delegates represented various organizations in the region.  Morning sessions focused on teaching, exchange, and discussion.  Each afternoon included a practical session tied in with the morning teaching.

The first day focused on Soil Conservation, and Agronom Magloire explained several key steps.  First, always start at the top of the slope to protect it first so you don't waste your effort when water from above washes away your interventions. Lay out a reference line of stakes down the entire height of the hill to mark where your contours will be.

Always use an A-Frame Level to determine the contour, perpendicular to the main flow of water descending the hill.  Before we left for the field exercise, we built and calibrated the A-Frame as a group.

  The hill before we started work.
 Setting the first stake as a reference for the contour line.
 Preparing the land next to the row of stakes to create a good base for the large rocks that are the first to be placed.

 Placing the first rocks. Agronom Magloire reminded us that the choice of rocks has to be very careful so that they fit together smoothly.  The finished rock wall should be so strong that anyone can walk on it without any rocks wobbling or being knocked aside by climbing goats.

Continuing with the placement of large rocks, then filling in with small rocks.

Jeremie Conference Field Trip Highlights

Thursday was a day set aside for field trips to organizations working in the area.  The delegates divided into two groups, one that went to the area around Gebaud and then into the town of Jeremie and another which went further to Chambellan to see hillsides forested with breadfruit trees and cacao plantations.

When fruit and other permanent crops are a large part of the farm income, the hillsides can remain protected by vegetation, and the rivers can continue to run clear.

ROPAGA (the Network of Peasants Organizations of Grand Anse) is working to encourage greater utilization and productivity of fruit trees, and they hosted us for a tour of their fruit tree nurseries.

They are also working with several other forest products, including honey.  They have members of their organization who construct the hives (supers), and at the time of one of the pre-conference visits were fulfilling a contract for a quantity at 2000 gdes per box (roughly $50 US dollars).

The use of the rectangular boxes instead of a simpler top-bar hive or the traditional hollow log allows the beekeeper to keep the queen and the baby bee larvae separated from the honey-filled comb. Then at harvest time, the comb can be taken without diminishing the population of the bees.  In addition, the frames can be spun in a centrifuge, allowing the bees to start filling the comb again without having to expend the energy to rebuild the comb first.

The honey in a top-bar hive and a hollow log cannot be harvested without destroying the comb and at least a few bees.

The beekeepers showed how to protect against stings by covering skin and hair with gloves, long sleees, and a mesh face shield over a hat while using smoke to keep the bees focused on the honey instead of attacking the intruders.

A highlight of the day was seeing a master tree climber use two ropes to bring himself quickly to the top of a palm tree.  He used one loop to support his left thigh and used the other loop to make a step for his right foot. He then balanced on one side at a time while he raised or lowered the opposite loop. Dr. Paul also gave the method a try.

The next stop for the field trip was a private farm near Gebaud. The farmer wanted to showcase the contrast between the land where he had been practicing multi-story agriculture and an adjoining parcel where he cleared the land to plant vegetables.

At the same time, we saw a section of land closer to the river which had been planted with vegetables and bananas, but which was completely washed away by Hurricane Sandy, which had come through the area the weekend before.

The final stop was the city center.  The Catholic Church on the plaza overlooks a statue commemorating "les Trois Dumas," the three generations of Dumas writers with their heritage in Jeremie, including Alexandre Dumas, author of "The Three Musketeers".

No trip to Jeremie is complete without komparet, the local specialty sweet bread with cinnamon, ginger, coconut, and a few raisins for decoration. This shop is just up the hill from the main square, and everyone enjoyed a fresh-baked snack.

 The final stop before the end of the day was to see the shop where Caritas markets some of their "transformed products" like jelly, cocoa, cremas, and roasted peanuts.  These are produced by women's cooperatives in various local parishes around the region, and Caritas supports them with training,  recipes and packaging materials.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Grand Sud Conference 2012

The first regional Konferans Agrikol was held in Leon, near Jeremie, in the Department of Grand Anse on Haiti's southern peninsula.  92 leaders from 39 different organizations were present over the course of the three-day conference.

The location was the conference center operated by Caritas Leon, a beautiful rural location with several newly constructed spaces for eating and sleeping.  The kitchen staff included several locally-produced foods and shared some of the jellies and nuts that are packaged in their rural women's cooperatives across the department.