Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reflections from Haiti: Cash Flow, Dignity, and Rabbits

Below are some excerpts from the Devils Gulch Ranch blog, where Myriam Kaplan Pasternak - veterinarian and development practitioner volunteering in Haiti this month - shares her reflections of progress in Haiti, and challenges and successes in the rabbit project. Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak has been volunteering in Haiti with Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program for six years.

F2F Field Officer Gerard Michel Joseph ("Papy") gives thumbs up
...So how is Haiti after 6 years of observation?

A place of extremes, confined to an island divided, spilling over to a global reality, hanging on to tradition while flooded by international generosity. A micro reflection of a global future attempting to redirect history so as to not repeat itself. If any country can change fate it is Haiti. Is that what draws global giving or is it the rain of coins traveling the rivers of NGO cash flow? Cash flow, cash flow, that is the key to what the Haitians want. They want jobs more than anything so they may take care of themselves and their families with pride and the dignity to make their own choices. Hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc. are all well and good to get one through, but cash flow builds lives and sustainable futures, limited only by creativity rather than poverty and charity.

The evidence is showing that cash is flowing in Haiti. The cities are cleaner, electricity is on more than off, buildings are blooming, and new businesses with freshly painted signs are emitting the entrepreneurial spirit of the post earthquake era. Build Back Better. Yes! Time will tell if it is better. Stability is key to keeping the spirit alive but not an easy thing to do when you can't make everyone happy all the time.

...The rabbit project is still growing. Around the the hotel, I overhear people (missionaries and NGO's primarily) talking about various rabbit projects affiliated with their groups, with a general air of excitement. From the Haitian producers themselves I hear a lot of frustration. As their production grows, problems arise.
Agronomy students in Port au Prince prepare for training

As a producer myself with around 7000 rabbits, I can attest to the fact that rabbit production can be frustrating even with every available resource. First, don't have industry backing like the pork or beef industry, which means we do our own R&D. Second, while rabbits breed like rabbits, they also die like rabbits, which is why the world in not overrun and why the are the krill of land dwelling carnivores. At least in the USA we do have veterinary services, feed mills and lots of reading materials and experienced people we can share ideas with. In Haiti, all of these things are limited, inaccessible or non existent.The two biggest needs right now are year round, locally available, feed sources that are store-able and transportable, and veterinary services. Pelleted commercial rabbit feed is currently made from imported ingredients and is often so old it cause vitamin deficiencies in the baby rabbits. It is expensive and only available in the Dominican Republic or Port au Prince. Not a practical solution for small farmers, but not insurmountable with time and an incremental plan. ...Veterinary services are also in the same boat, but thanks to several, Haitian, Cuban and American veterinarians, the incremental sets are happening slowly and we are including veterinarians in our rabbit trainings. Several of them supplement their incomes by selling rabbits!

So, you can see by this tiny sliver of development, that Haiti is complicated. Its moving forward, but still has a long way to go. To quote a new friend that I met this week who has lived and traveled in the Caribbean for many years, " Haiti is like the Caribbean in the 1940's".

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