Strength through unity.
That is the motto on the Haitian flag, and it is being played out now in a new collaboration among the country’s leading social movements.
Each of the four largest Haitian peasant movements have storied histories individually and now collectively under the umbrella of the Group of Four (G4). In Kreyol the G4 is called “4 Je Kontre” or “4 Eyes Meet.”
The G4 consists of the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movement (MPNKP), Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP), Heads Together Small Producers of Haiti (Tet Kole), and Regional Coordination of the Southeast (KROS). Between the four of them, the G4 has over a quarter of a million members throughout Haiti’s rural areas and 100 years of experience accompanying peasant farmers in their fight to secure their livelihoods.
Members of G4 have lived through government-sponsored persecution as well as government-level neglect. The persecution, especially under the Duvaliers, forced them to mobilize, at times underground, and find resilience in numbers. And the neglect has meant that these movements have had to be resourceful in the ways in which they accompany their members. Most of the time, they’ve played the role usually assumed by governments—like paving roads, providing irrigation networks, seeds, tools, literacy education, and health care. They’ve also delved deep into political analysis of neo-liberalism with their members in order to understand how it impacts their livelihoods. As a result, regardless of whether their members have matriculated through an official education system, they have a sound understanding of what trade liberalization has meant for Haiti—the most open economy in the world.
I last visited with members of MPNKP, MPP and Tet Kole (each of which has received support from Grassroots International) where they work in Haiti’s Central Plateau, West and Northwest in July 2013. I can attest to their resourcefulness and commitment to working alongside Haitian peasants throughout Haiti. They have left no stone unturned in that regard.
In the Northwest, and six other departments in Haiti, MPNKP uses pig and goat distribution as an organizing mechanism for local communities who live beyond the purview of the central government. In the West, Northwest and South Tet Kole provides seeds and tools to farmers, especially following natural disasters like hurricanes. Tet Kole is currently building an agroecological training center 30 minutes north of Port-au-Prince. For its part, MPP has dedicated itself to reforesting the Central Plateau through agroecology—a whole systems approach that respects the natural environment and local knowledge.
But beyond their individual work, which happened in silos prior to 2007, what really moved me about KROS, MPP, MPNKP and Tet Kole is their commitment to each other within the G4. To appreciate how far the G4 has come, one has to understand that prior to 2007 Haiti had four peasant organizations working on similar issues whose paths didn’t necessarily cross. (The exception is the close relationship between the MPP and the MPNKP, who’ve enjoyed a close relationship stemming from MPP’s membership in the MPNKP.) In a country that marginalizes peasants in particular, and its rural communities in general, large peasant organizations were working independently and at times suspicious of each other. But those days are in the past.
Now, the G4 is working on common political strategies. As I was told repeatedly by Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the MPP, “The days of divide and conquer are over.” Rosnel Jean-Baptiste of Tet Kole echoed those sentiments: “Whenever Tet Kole is invited to participate in an activity, the next question is ‘where’s MPP, where’s MPNKP, where’s KROS?’ We all need to be there.”
Not only is the G4 becoming a tighter, cohesive unit forging together a common path in favor of peasants and rural livelihoods, they are also working closely with the Dessalines Brigade, a peasant-to-peasant learning exchange which consists of Via Campesina members from South America and (now) Cuba. The Dessalines Brigade brings decades of experience from members such as the Landless Workers Movement (MST) from Brazil. MST members have and still occupy farmland in Brazil! Members of the Dessalines Brigade have been instrumental in bringing best practices and lessons learned from their movements back home. For instance, MST members worked with the G4 to introduce cisterns made from reinforced concrete. These cisterns catch rainwater for irrigation and household domestic needs.
For their fearless advocacy and accompaniment of Haitian farmers, both the G4 and the Dessalines Brigade will be awarded the Fifth Annual Food Sovereignty Prize on October 15, 2013, in New York City. Created in 2009, the Food Sovereignty Prize is the real world food prize. It honors the courageous work of peasants fighting for the rights to land, water and food, and control of their food systems. As Michael Pollen recently stated, “The Food Sovereignty Prize has emerged as an important alternative to the World Food Prize. Its recognition of people working to promote genuine and sustainable food security, rather than simple food production, is needed and welcome.”
Will you be in or near New York City on October 15? Join us in celebrating the work of farmers around the world.
Grassroots International provided start-up funds to the Dessalines Brigade learning exchange and continues to partner with the groups involved. Grassroots is also a founding member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance which selects the recipients for the Food Sovereignty Prize.
Photo above: Chavannes Jean-Baptiste (center) of the Peasant Movement of Papaye meets with Flavio and Victoria from the Dessalines Brigade in Haiti on July 23, 2013.