Foodtank – Empowering Haitian Farmers Through Investment in Local Food Systems

Original article appeared in Foodtank on Wednesday December 23rd 2021 by Vicky Brown Varela

Acceso Haiti, a social agribusiness, is working to build a strong food system and empower smallholder farming families with long-term opportunities and market access.

Along with its partner initiatives across Colombia and El Salvador, Acceso Haiti launched in 2014 to help farmers improve yields, lower costs, increase sales, and foster lasting partnerships to unlock key value chains.

In August 2021, one month after the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the island. In at least two cities in the western part of Haiti’s southern peninsula, the earthquake overwhelmed hospitals, damaged buildings, and trapped people under rubble. The earthquake left more than 650,000 people in need of immediate assistance. But even prior to this devastation, 4.4 million people—46 percent of the population—faced food insecurity, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

“Smallholder farmers in Haiti have been neglected for a long time now, long before the assassination of President Moïse and this recent earthquake,” Sergeline René, Director of Sales and Administration for Acceso Haiti, tells Food Tank. “They have lacked access to good inputs, cost-effective financing, key services, and markets—all of which Acceso is trying to change with its holistic model.” René adds that the country has “faced growing challenges linked to climate change, resulting in increasing food insecurity.”

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Acceso maintained operations and scaled up purchasing to help partners working on the front lines respond to immediate food needs. The social enterprise sourced and supplied over 136,000 kilograms of local fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as Acceso’s own Lavi Peanut Butter. Between August and September, Acceso provided over 700,000 meals and is working to produce more locally sourced food kits for affected communities. “These events have been a call to further actions for us,” Acceso Co-Founder Frank Giustra tells Food Tank.

Giustra also tells Food Tank that Acceso “fills an important gap” that programs by non-governmental organizations “can’t or have struggled to fill.” Giustra tells Food Tank that purely for-profit businesses “haven’t been interested” in filling this gap “because of cost and lower to no profitability levels compared to traditional business lines.”

Throughout Acceso’s efforts to combat food insecurity, Giustra emphasizes the long-term importance of “creating economic opportunity in poor rural farming communities and investing in local food systems.” Acceso’s mission to develop a self-sustaining and resilient food system that is not reliant on food aid aligns directly with the role agriculture has played in Haitian culture.

René tells Food Tank, “Haitians much prefer to eat good, locally produced food rather than imported products.” She explains that Haitian farming communities have developed and implemented numerous grassroots approaches to sustainable food systems for decades. René highlights practices like organic farming, kreyòl gardens, an agro-forestry model that focuses on crop diversity and reduces the impact of monoculture, and kombit, the traditional Haitian practice of community farming and mutual aid.

“With the right training, inputs, financing and market access, Haitian farmers can become a major engine of economic growth, as well as help reduce food insecurity throughout the country,” Giustra tells Food Tank. “Acceso and its partners are prepared to scale proven models to support tens of thousands of additional Haitian farmers working in diverse value chains.”

Looking to the future, Acceso aims to complete the construction of its first Community Collection Center and Community Processing Center. The organization hopes these facilities will create opportunities for revenue from new products and customers in Haiti and abroad. The social enterprise also aims to scale the sales of their products—including Lavi Peanut Butter, moringa powder, and moringa oil—for export, and continue to add more products for local buyers.

Acceso also hopes to scale market-linked reforestation work. According to Giustra, this has the potential to help 2,000 farmers establish micro-plantations, bringing them out of poverty while reforesting the country in a cost-effective and sustainable way. As they continue to grow operations in new locations across the north and south of Haiti, Giustra says that their “North Star is to bring 25,000 farmers out of poverty over the coming five years.”

“Acceso is needed now more than ever in Haiti, so it’s on us to make sure we’re here to stay for our farmers, partners and buyers,” Giustra tells Food Tank.

Acceso and its partners are prepared to scale proven models to support tens of thousands of additional Haitian farmers working in diverse value chains.
– Frank Giustra, Acceso Founder.