What is a cooperative and why is it a useful model in Haiti?
FIDA/pcH exclusively promotes the productive agricultural cooperative model as the most appropriate institution to nurture and sustain economic and democratic activity at the grassroots level. Cooperatives are autonomous, community initiated business organizations owned by the share-holding members who use their services. Control rests equally with all members (one member equals one vote) and surplus earnings are shared by members in proportion to the degree in which they participate financially in the activities of the cooperative. Cooperatives world-wide are guided by the Seven Principles of International Cooperative.
As a vehicle for development, the cooperative movement is uniquely suited to the Haitian context. Cooperatives build the economic capacity of members through the income generating activities carried out by the cooperatives. Just as importantly, cooperatives build social capacity empowering women and men to reach their full potential collectively and as individuals. In an interview with Brett Fairbairn, Director of the Centre for Cooperative Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, he identified the role of the cooperative as The Third Way: the vehicle to promote change when neither individuals nor political institutions have the capacity or the will to initiate and execute change.
“Cooperatives exist where there are social and/or economic voids. They are a response to exploitation (or fear of) and serve to correct economic disadvantages. When people intentionally yet voluntarily band together there is less risk of exploitation… The successful cooperative is always bottom up. By its nature it is a developmental and educational process for people to be involved. Cooperatives nurture leaders who in turn become spokespersons for their communities on a wider (political) stage. Where cooperatives exist there is greater social capital for individuals and communities to respond and engage…”
How does credit work?
Credit, for urban Canadians, often means student loans, mortgages, and car payments. Canadian farmers would find it nearly impossible to manage their farms profitably without credit. FIDA/pcH offers this basic necessity to Haitian farmers. While a $40 US loan to a farmer in rural Haiti may seem small in comparison, it enables him to significantly expand his farm while maintaining his self-respect and freedom. By not giving a handout, we are making a statement of faith in him as cooperative member, as business owner and as a person. We are acting on the belief that he has the will and the ability to succeed. Reasonably priced credit also means freedom: a loan at 24% can be paid off, while a typical loan which can command as much as 600% means a lifetime of indebtedness. Reasonable interest rates beget economic growth; inflated interest rates beget a lifetime of economic disability.
FIDA/pcH offers two types of credit: Capital Credit and Agricultural Credit.
Capital credit is loaned directly to the cooperatives to enable them to purchase the harvest from their members. Each lending cycle is mutually determined by pcH and the respective cooperative depending on the specific growing season of the crop being financed. The purchased crop is then stored in the cooperatives’ silo. This affords the cooperative the ability to “speculate”, selling the harvest when the market price is high in concert with the planting season of other regions. Cooperatives require capital credit twice yearly, in accordance with the two main harvest seasons. Capital credit loans consist of about $3 000-$5 000 CAD on average, with an interest rate of 10%.
Agricultural credit is a form of credit that is dispersed to the cooperative at an interest rate of 10%. The cooperative, in turn, provides small loans to its membership. Cooperative members who meet the criteria receive the loan at an interest rate of 24% per year with the proviso that the principal be repaid in full. Members use the credit to purchase seeds and hire labour needed for preparing the fields, planting, and harvesting. Groups of men form a “konbit” (hired labourers who travel from farm to farm) to prepare the acres and acres of land with only a pick and hoe. The 14% interest earned remains within the cooperative to cover loan defaults and to reinvest in the cooperative. The cooperative is required to repay the capital after each crop cycle in order to be eligible for further capital.
Are you only in Haiti?
Yes. Although we often receive requests to work in other countries, we have focused our resources in Haiti. Haiti is a country of priority for Canada and is the second largest recipient of our foreign aid and development. Although it is noted to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti does have resources and the desire to raise itself up. Travel to Haiti is reasonable, we share a common language (French) which means that Canada has become home to thousands of Haitians.
Do you have a volunteer program?
No. Volunteerism in terms of a program is a concept we have yet to embrace. We have a very small staff in Canada that focuses largely on raising funds and awareness for our sustainable development approach and methodology. In Haiti, our staff is all educated, salaried Haitians. We do host internships from time and time and would not turn down an appropriate candidate. We also do welcome event volunteers at the Canada level. If you are interested in exploring further please contact the office.
Do you offer trips to Haiti?
Yes. We refer to them as Not-so-comfortable-adventures-in-understanding-poverty tours. They are designed to introduce a foreigner to how we can respectfully and appropriately make a difference in a country given such great disparity historically, culturally, economically, socially, and politically. This tour takes you behind the veil of Haiti and introduces you to the courage of people who desire to be seen for what they are and have over what they are not and have not. All inclusive cost from Toronto (for example) is $2,000 per person. For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can I do in Haiti? How can I help?
Jack Wall, the founder of FIDA, was fond of saying, “Haiti is a graveyard of good intentions.” Many people who have had a long experience in Haiti would agree. It is much easier to want to help Haiti than it is to actually be helpful. Most people, who want to help or do something in Haiti, don’t want to take the time to ensure that what they are doing is fruitful. They want to feel good and they want to feel good now. This is possible to experience in Haiti but it essentially does nothing for Haiti. If you desire to be an agent of change this takes time. The first step is to “be still and listen” before you choose to act. Both you and Haiti will be richer for this.
Why is Haiti poor?
Pierre Richard Pierre, Country Coordinator of pcH was asked this question by a Canadian student. His response was, “I am poor because you tell me I am poor.” This should tell you that the answer is not a simple one but it does begin with our perception. Haiti has long understood that poverty is its commodity and citizens of wealthier countries have supported it well. Most efforts, investments along with foreign policy practices, although well meaning, have only resulted in entrenching Haiti’s poverty. Change begins at the bottom. For FIDA/pcH, this begins with people who have their hands in the soil, the people who directly affect Haiti’s food and agricultural production.
Is there tourism in Haiti?
There is very little casual tourism although Haiti does attract adventure tourists. There are lovely beaches with decent accommodation but it is difficult for Haiti to compete with other well-established sunny tourist destinations. There is great richness in the country. However, it takes a receptive and humble spirit to appreciate what Haiti has to offer. When you choose to travel to Haiti, it is important to:
- Remember the colour of your skin… you are being treated the way you are because of it
- Smile a lot… your face is your passport
- Practise some basic Creole phrases
- Consider the impact of handouts. Will your handout create a future dependency or foster dignity and respect?
- Establishing a relationship first is the pathway to a mutually respectful experience.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep or believe all things you are told or promised.
- Be still and listen/observe.
- Carry a notebook. It is more important than a camera. It deepens understanding and reflection.
- Remember that what may enrich you may violate others. If you unsure about anything, don’t do it.
- Long pants, dresses/skirts will lead the way to more respect than overly casual wear
- Haiti is hot, dusty and noisy. Not everything may be up to your standard. Be prepared, patient and understanding.
- Be aware that you are seeing Haiti through your own particular lens. What you may see or consider as being poor, Haitians may not. Do not disrespect them by feeling sorry for them when they may be proud to have what they have and choose to share it with you
- Travel lightly. Avoid bringing packaged and/or inappropriate materials and goods. Haiti is not accustomed to dealing with non-organic matter and products they have no use for.
Do you do presentations?
Yes, members of our staff are available for Power Point presentations, discussions, sermons on a variety of topics such as:
- Adult Literacy in the Context of the Cooperative Model in Rural Haiti
- The Role of Credit in Rural Haiti
- Haiti after Hannah
- The Cooperative Model at Work in Rural Haiti
- A New Day Dawning; Light and Transformation in Haiti
- Mangos Falling on My Head: the real food crisis in Haiti
- Water Management and Sustainable Change in Rural Haiti
How can I stay up to date on FIDA’s work in Haiti?
You can subscribe to our monthly eNewsletter. Please see sidebar.