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Many peasant farmers in the Plateau Central region of Haiti took in displaced people from Port-au-Prince. They received local seeds to help feed the new people in their households.

While the world focused on the devastation of Port-au-Prince after last January's earthquake, a much different, but no less heart-rending story was unfolding far from the cameras.

"Nearly all the peasants you meet took in some family and friends after the earthquake," says Yvan Girardin, Development and Peace's representative in Haiti. "Households went from five to 12 people overnight, a huge burden when your home is one room with no electricity or running water. But the solidarity of individual Haitians is incredible – they helped one another."

There is almost no one in Haiti who was unaffected by the earthquake. Even if they were far from the epicentre, they now face critical food shortages.

During the colonial period, Haiti was one of the richest islands in the Caribbean, but it suffered tremendous deforestation and agricultural exploitation in order to achieve that wealth, says Mr. Girardin. "It stripped the fertility of the land, created problems of erosion and made crops extremely vulnerable to the weather." The degradation continues.

"Just 30 years ago, the country was practically self-sufficient in terms of food production. But because of poor soil and imports flooding the local market, agriculture has suffered terribly," he says.

Many imported products are subsidized in their countries of origin, so they are sold cheaply on the Haitian market. As a result, local producers can't compete and have had to reduce production of those crops, impoverishing Haiti's large peasant population even further. Climate change is also affecting the country, generating more rain and tropical storms.

With its local partners, Development and Peace, a Canadian organization that has been in Haiti for 40 years, is working toward sustainable food security. It's not easy.

"In the aftermath of the earthquake, we provided for the distribution of seeds so farmers could get back on their feet," Mr. Girardin says. "Many used their seed reserves to feed displaced people from Port-au-Prince. The local seeds we distributed gave people a chance. But then Hurricane Tomas blew through and destroyed their crops."

Haiti has enormous agriculture potential, he says, but growers must use sustainable farming methods and must be more prepared for disasters to protect both people and crops.

IRATAM, a local organization, is achieving this through a coffee co-operative in northeast Haiti. "Coffee trees are excellent for preventing soil erosion, and it is a crop that can be sold locally and exported," says Mr. Girardin. "IRATAM helped farmers improve the quality of their crops, which increased the price of their beans. But the coffee production is just one facet of an integrated approach to agriculture that incorporates other food-producing crops to ensure a diversity of produce."

At least 75 per cent of the people in Haiti are peasants. While they can grow enough food to feed the country and make a living doing it, "what they lack is the means," Mr. Girardin says. "We want to provide them with that opportunity."

For this to happen, he says, the international community must support small-scale farmers.

"Industrial farming of crops, destined only for export, will worsen food security in the long run." The impact of this work promises to be profound.

Development and Peace's support will help provide peasant women with more income through new (agricultural) activities," says Louisane Nazaire, a co-ordinator of OFTAG, an organization that works with peasant women in isolated areas of Haiti. "They will be able to make more money by selling more at the market. And that will change their lives."

Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP, or Papaye Peasant Movement), another Development and Peace partner, is one of Haiti's largest grassroots peasant organizations and one of the most successful at dealing with issues involving food production, land protection and viable peasant co-operatives.

After the earthquake, Development and Peace provided funding so MPP could distribute local seeds to 20,500 people, something that benefited more than 100,000 people.

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, executive director of MPP, says industrial farming has not helped Haitians. "The best solution is to return to small-scale farming and family farming," he says. "Peasants can use local products and achieve food sovereignty."