December 24th, 2012 | by Elizabeth Stevens
When a massive earthquake struck Haiti in January, 2010, it shone a spotlight on the need to ease the dangerous overcrowding in 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 efforts 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.
"If your crops fail, you become poor," said Willi Elimelec (above). "You can't send your children to school." Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
At a roadside plot of land in Petite Rivière de l’Artibonite, I watched as Willi Elimelec raised an armful of fresh-cut stalks of rice over his head and struck them against a weathered log. With a whoosh and a gentle clatter, seeds flew into the air and then settled in a pile as he drew back for another stroke. The rhythmic, age-old sound of threshing by hand was drowned out each time a truck roared by—a reminder of the uneasy place the farmer occupies, with one foot in the world of his ancestors and one in a fast-paced globalized marketplace.
Here in the lush Artibonite Valley—a region that produces an abundance of rice—the farmers are poor. Undercut in the market by cheap imported rice and lacking the basic governmental supports that farmers in wealthy countries take for granted, Haiti’s small-scale rice growers can barely eke out a living.
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March 2nd, 2012 | by Chris Hufstader
Farmers transplanting rice in Pursat province, Cambodia. Photo by Sokunthea Chor/Oxfam America.
A recent trip around the magnificent Tonle Sap lake reminded me how close to extreme poverty so many farming families can be, needing only a small nudge in the wrong direction to change their lives in ways that can take them decades to recover.
The reminder came while visiting Yem Dieb and Say Chhoun in Pursat, a province south of the lake. The wife and husband had learned how to grow rice using the System of Rice intensification thanks to the work of our partner Srer Khmer, which has trained nearly a thousand farmers in SRI over the last two years in Pursat.
Say Chhoun is a humble man but he is obviously proud of his rice-growing accomplishments over the last couple of years, as he took one small field producing one bag of rice a year to six, first by doubling his yield, then learning to produce three crops in a year instead of just one. It is still not enough to feed his entire family, which includes nine children, so Chhoun is also renting fields from other farmers to try to piece together enough land to grow the rice his family needs to survive. Read the rest of this entry »