Post-Hurricane Update #8: Trees for Tôle

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As part of its campaign to help 10,000 Haitians living in rural areas get back on their feet after Hurricane Matthew, Sigora is providing roofing tôle and Moringa seeds. But this isn’t your average charity donation. It’s a triple-bottom line transaction in which everybody wins.

Sigora’s Hurricane Relief Campaign is raising $96K to provide 10,000 people living in remote areas of the hurricane-affected region with support to permanently rebuild their homes, purify enough water for the next three months, and plant a hardy food and cash crop: the Moringa tree.

To avoid the trap of charity that hurts, rather than simply giving roofing tôle – which was purchased from a variety of local vendors in Haiti rather than imported from a bulk supplier abroad – away for free, Sigora is entering into a contract of good faith with every family: for each sheet of tôle received from Sigora, a family agrees to plant 10 Moringa trees. Trees for Tôle.

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“I am a businessman. I don’t believe in long-term aid. This campaign is not that. This is the need to help fellow humans when they are down, and these people are seriously down right now” says Andy, Sigora’s CEO, “we want to provide opportunity, not handouts.” Borrowing a term from the private sector, Trees for Tôle is a triple-bottom line initiative, with social, economic, and environmental benefits.

In the early 90s it was believed that straightforward charity could solve the problem of pervasive poverty. This is no longer the case. In fact, it is now accepted knowledge that free handouts often do more harm than good, undercutting local markets and weakening entrepreneurship. While humanitarian assistance is necessary in the context of short-term disaster relief, charity can have a damaging impact on long-term development. Haiti is a prime example of the contradiction of assistance as both a blessing and a curse; the U.N. launched its first development program in Haiti in 1948, yet it remains the least developed country in the hemisphere.

When Matthew ripped through the southern peninsula on October 4th, it devastated the entire western edge of Haiti. The hurricane struck during the region’s second main harvest season, and destroyed large areas of plantations and pasturelands. In the department of Grand-Anse, where the population is almost completely dependent on farming and fishing, nearly 100 percent of crops and 50 percent of livestock were destroyed, according to the World Food Programme. The rich forests and plantations are now splinters and a saltwater swamp.

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A Hand-Up, Not a Handout 

When Hurricane Matthew demolished entire fields of crops, it also destroyed families’ livelihoods. Losing the ability to protect and provide for one’s family and being forced to rely on the charity of others to get by is disempowering. Assistance provided in the context of a transaction rather than a free handout flips the social dynamic of the exchange and fosters the dignity that comes from employment rather than the demeaning dependence of handouts.

At the turn of the new millennium, the World Bank collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves. ‘Voices of the Poor’ chronicles the struggles and aspirations of poor people for a life of dignity. The research found that self-respect and dignity, as described by poor people, means “being able to live without being a burden to others; living without extending one’s hand; living without being subservient to anybody.”

The challenge for well-intentioned outsiders is to build upon poor people’s initiatives, hard work and resilience.

Trees for Tôle respects this principle by not only fostering an empowering social exchange, but also by creating a positive economic opportunity for participants. Ayiti Natives.Co, the supplier of the Moringa seeds, has agreed to buy back all of the seed pods produced as part of this campaign. Families who plant the tree will have a guaranteed future income as well as a nutritious food crop. By entering into an exchange with families, assistance is no longer a handout, it is a business transaction. It is also an opportunity to generate income and provide nutrition for one’s family.

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According to the United Nations, following Hurricane Matthew there are 1.4 million people in in need of food assistance with 800,000 in dire need of food aid.

The Moringa is so packed with vitamins and nutrients that its cultivation has been promoted as a means of combating nation-wide malnutrition in children.  Locally known as doliv or benzoliv, moringa olifeira is rich in vitamins A, B, C, D and E while containing minerals plus calcium, potassium and protein. The plant is estimated to contain twice the protein and calcium content of milk, several times the potassium of bananas, more iron than spinach and several times the vitamin C of oranges. Moringa’s high vitamin A content, almost four times that of carrots, is recognized as a potent micronutrient source to reduce child mortality.

“Moringa has tremendous potential as a nutritional supplement,” said chef José Andrés, whose World Central Kitchen organization helps deliver food-based programs to improve conditions in Haiti, “and particularly if it translates to an opportunity to support smallholder farmers.” In Haiti, Moringa’s could also be useful as feed for goats and chickens, increasing milk production in livestock, fish farming, and providing shade for coffee trees.

The planting of Moringa offers a host of environmental benefits too. Planting trees alongside other crops is a practice referred to as agroforestry, and is actively being promoted across Haiti as a means of fighting desertification and deforestation. Depleted tree cover exacerbates the consequences of frequent storms and hurricanes.

Widespread deforestation, particularly in the hillsides, has led to flooding, dramatic rates of soil erosion, and subsequent declines in agricultural productivity. Subsistence farmers, who make up nearly 75 percent of the population, watch helplessly as the meticulously terraced land they tilled on Haiti’s mountainous terrain washes away. Nearly 15,000 acres of Haiti’s topsoil washes away each year. Agroforestry helps to combat this erosion. Tree roots grip nutrient-rich topsoil, holding it in place during heavy rains and prevent mudslides and flooding. Better forest cover means increased environmental resilience.

Sigora’s Trees for Tôle initiative will lead to 200,000 trees being planted. And because there is an economic benefit tied to their successful cultivation – the harvest of the seed pods – farmers are incentivized to protect the trees, not to cut them down for charcoal.

By supporting Sigora’s Hurricane Relief appeal, your donation empowers families who have lost what little they had, creates economic opportunity for sustained wellbeing, and supports progress towards an environmentally resilient Haiti. It’s win, win, win.

Thank you for your support.

To donate, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/supportremoteareas