Addressing climate change impacts through community-led research in rural communities in Haiti

by Anggita Indari

Paul Edex and the community members of Machabiel.

Read the article in French.

“Climate change brings serious impacts to our food security and rights to a healthy environment,” said Paul Edex, beginning his story. Paul Edex is one of the Global Advocacy Team (GAT) members from Haiti who has been conducting community-led research with Centre de Formation pour l’entraide et le Developpement Communautaire (CFEDEC) in two places in Haiti, namely Machabiel in 8th section, Limbé Commune, Limbé Arrondissement in the Nord department and Vieux David Roy in 1st section, La Victoire Commune, Saint-Raphaël Arrondissement in the Nord department.

In many parts of the country, the seasons have shifted because of climate change: with the increase in temperature and the rainy season that starts a few months earlier than usual. These conditions have eventually led to frequent and severe droughts during the dry season and heavy rainfall during the wet season. Communities in Machabiel and Vieux David Roy that mostly earn livelihood from agriculture and livestock farming have been affected by this human-made catastrophe. “It’s been three years. We can see the changes in the way seasons vary. Droughts, hurricanes, cyclones, and epidemics occurred. They caused soil and crop losses. Additionally, the hurricanes and cyclones blocked the road access to many areas, closing access to distribute all these agricultural products to the market in the capital city and the town of Limbe,” said Paul Edex.

Environment and livelihood in peril

The green landscape of Vieux David Roy, Haiti.
The green landscape of Vieux David Roy.

Machabiel and Vieux David Roy are two remote villages situated in the Nord Department of Haiti. Machabiel lies on the bank of the Limbé River, offering breathtaking views of the lush green valleys surrounding it. Meanwhile, Vieux David Roy is a landlocked town with mostly flat terrain. Despite their differing geography, both villages share a common struggle: the severe effects of climate change.

“In Vieux David Roy, La Victoire, for instance, the loss of vegetation cover in some areas caused a massive decrease in crop yields when hurricanes happen,” said Paul Edex.

The vegetation cover refers to the green vegetation that plays a very important role in protecting the surface of the ground from raindrop splashing. The green vegetation that grows on the surface takes part in preventing land erosion from happening. Severe droughts that often happen in the area around Vieux David Roy caused the loss of this green vegetation. Hence, when heavy rains and hurricanes happen, the losses of crops cannot be avoided.

Paul Edex also added that insect invasion and plant disease have also been impacting the decrease of crop yields. “Based on the result from the community-led research that we conducted, some respondents reported insect pests such as mayoka, vere, tiyogan in yam cultivation and plant disease like masey affecting the bananas trees which are caused by the sudden weather and temperature rise, and related to the climate change.”

The temperature rise has a huge impact on insects. It speeds up insects’ metabolism, making them burn more energy, consume more food, develop faster and larger, and reproduce faster. The increased populations of insects in Machabiel and Vieux David Roy ultimately cause a decrease in crop yields.

For years, the community members have grown coffee, banana, mango, and rice in Machabiel and beans, peanuts, petit mile, and corn in Vieux David Roy. The recurring phenomenon directly linked to climate change forces them to adapt. Communities in Machabiel choose to implement diversified and complementary crop cycles by prioritizing long-cycle crops such as yam which can provide at least one crop per year, and beans, which provide up to two crops per year.

Deep-seated crisis persists

Climate change is not the only challenge faced by the communities in Machabiel and Vieux David Roy. Natural disasters, political instability, and high inflation rate have been putting the communities at stake, increasing the unemployment rate in many parts of Haiti. Massive rural exodus in search of greener pastures has decreased the number of the population, especially the productive generations. Most of them seek a better life in Port-au-Prince and even immigrate to neighboring countries like Brazil, Chile, and Dominican Republic.

The increasing and prolonged unemployment rate and economic crisis make the population engaged in banditry. Since the 1980s, gangs have been holding powerful positions in Haiti. All prior ruling governments have been using gangs to extend their power and intimidate their opposition. These gangs involve in many acts of crime like kidnapping and killing. In 2022, there were 1,200 kidnappings reported, and the real number is expected to be higher. Additionally, there were 1,349 murder cases between January and August 2022.

The normalization of gang crime in Haiti presents a significant challenge for people, especially women and young individuals, to participate freely in community-led initiatives. This is a challenge faced by many community members in Machabiel and Vieux David Roy. “The prevalence of gang violence in Haiti makes it difficult for community members to move around freely and participate in local initiatives. Women and young people face particularly limited opportunities for participation,” stated Paul Edex.

Moreover, based on the result of community-led research, deforestation is also a major challenge faced by members of the community. In the midst of an economic crisis, selling wood provides a source of livelihood for many people in the area. The absence of alternative energy sources to wood has resulted in extensive deforestation in the regions of Machabiel and Vieux David Roy. It is undeniable that deforestation in these areas has a domino effect, as it is largely responsible for recurrent floods and landslides. The impact of climate change exacerbates the after-effects of deforestation, making the situation even direr.

Visioning collective development priorities

Centre de Formation pour l’entraide et le Developpement Communautaire (CFEDEC) was established in November 2014 by a group of school directors and professionals in various sectors such as agriculture, law, computer science, health, finance, and law, in La Victoire. The aim was to establish a space for resource exchange, dialogue, and knowledge transfer among the community members. “Since November 2014, CFEDEC has been committed to working on various sectors like agriculture, livestock, small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), and human rights,” said Paul Edex.

Community members scooping corn seeds.

For years, CFEDEC has worked with local communities in developing agricultural potential by improving the production process and marketing of the final products. The organization also takes part in maximizing food security at the household level by initiating community gardens to plant beans and peanuts, running a cow breeding program, and also establishing seed banks. Paul Edex further added the work on promoting human rights to support the economic lifeline of the people. “CFEDEC and its partners have worked on promoting human rights values and principles through training, mobilization, and education in some disaster-prone areas, especially by prioritizing the participation of women and youth in the process of change. We are committed to setting up sustainable development initiatives that integrate economic growth as well as the promotion of human rights values.”

The community-led research team had a discussion with community members in Vieux David Roy, La Victoire.

Paul Edex was the executive director of CFEDEC from 2015 to 2018. In 2022, he became one of the GAT members from Haiti and worked together with CFEDEC to conduct community-led research in Machabiel and Vieux David Roy. He explained that his involvement in GAT and the community-led research enabled him and the CFEDEC team to learn about different issues related to the community. “This research allowed us to establish a common vision for sustainable development and strengthen our network with different actors in the community such as local authorities because we can provide them with a research report that summarizes what happens in the community. It also allowed us to collect information about climate change, a topic that does not seem to appear on our national plan.”

During the GAT meetings, each member had the opportunity to exchange resources and learn from each other’s cases. Eight (8) members from 8 countries met through interactive online meetings facilitated by International Accountability Project (IAP) to learn more about utilizing community-led research tools as well as sharing each other’s case studies. “Through this solidarity, we learn from each other and develop strategies to overcome challenges in the implementation of research, especially on how we engage community involvement in the research,” expressed Paul Edex.

Now Paul Edex and the CFEDEC have finished the research process. Based on the result, community members in Machabiel and Vieux David Roy critically pointed out their development priorities such as climate change mitigation and adaptation campaign, training for sustainable and climate-resilient farming, reforestation program, and sustainable alternative for energy. With the government’s focus on investing in disaster preparedness and infrastructure reconstruction, the community members in Machabiel and Vieux David Roy hope that the government will provide climate mitigation and adaptation measures to vulnerable communities affected in their area. “It is essential to see this as an opportunity to integrate climate change adaptation into reconstruction efforts,” said Paul Edex.

This article is part of a series that features stories from the 8 community organizers from 8 countries who are part of IAP’s Global Advocacy Team. The Global Advocacy Team initiative brings together incredible community organizers from around the world to conduct community-led research and mobilize their communities to change how development is designed, funded, and implemented. Learn more about the Global Advocacy Team focused on community-led development planning.

IAP’s training materials on community-led research are available in 13 languages, including French.

Anggita Indari works on Communications for the International Accountability Project and is an Atlas Corp Fellow.

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International Accountability Project (IAP)

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.