When a massive earthquake struck Haiti in January, 2010, it shone a spotlight on the need to ease the dangerous overcrowding of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. So, after responding to the disaster with emergency programs, Oxfam shifted some of our focus to the countryside. Together with our partners, we ramped up our program to reinvigorate the rice economy of the Artibonite Valley, with the goals of reducing rural poverty, contributing to food security in Haiti, and—by making rice farming more viable—counteracting the continuous pull to migrate from the country to the city. As Oxfam’s Elizabeth Stevens reports in a series of blog posts, Haiti’s rice farmers are embracing the program and making it their own.
My first meeting with a women’s group in Haiti was on a pitch-black night. At first there were just a few of us sitting on a porch, our faces lit by the eerie glow of a solar lamp, but every few minutes a new arrival emerged from the darkness, and soon the crowd was spilling out into the yard.
The Mouvement d’Aide des Femmes Liancourt-Payen de la commune de Verrettes (MAFLPV) is a key partner for Oxfam in the rice-growing Artibonite Valley. It’s a women’s organization that provides its members with access to low-interest loans so they can successfully market rice and whatever other goods they want to sell.
“We used to go to loan sharks when we needed money,” said Marie Melisma Robert, the founder and president of MAFLPV. She explained that the local moneylenders charge monthly interest of 25%. “When we couldn’t pay back the loans, we were arrested.” Now the women have access to credit at three percent – which can spell the difference between a successful business and spiraling debt.