In the small community centre of Sans Sousi in Mombin Crochu, Haiti, women work together, sterilizing canning jars as pineapple jam bubbles away on a nearby burner. This canning workshop is supported by MCC partner Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL).
MCC began supporting the work of PDL in December 2013 – part of MCC’s efforts after the Haiti earthquake to help people find opportunity in the countryside and avoid moving to the crowded capital.
“Rebuilding the country should start by rebuilding resilience in the countryside.” -Cantave Jean-Baptiste
Born in the countryside himself, PDL founder Cantave Jean-Baptiste has spent years working with rural farmers.
And the aim of his current work in PDL is that farmers, such as these farmers group members planting sweet potatoes in San Yago, will join with others in their community to improve production, pool their savings and make better use of what they can grow.
Those efforts already are changing the lives of farmers such as Wisner Charles.
“Before, I threw out all the seeds and what comes up, comes up,” remembers Charles. From his work with PDL, “I learned to plan the distance between each plant,” he says. “So now all the plants have their own space, they’re more likely to grow.”
He uses less seed than before. “But our yield is much bigger,” he says.
And the canals that PDL helped him determine where to place are channelling water during heavy rains and helping to keep his crop and the rich topsoil from washing away, an issue for him in past years.
In addition to lessons in planting and maintaining, PDL works with organizations to encourage them to create their own seed banks. It saves farmers from having to buy seeds each year and from paying inflated prices for seeds at planting times. Local seeds are adapted to local conditions and provide an alternative to hybrid seeds, which are becoming more widely available.
For farmers such as Rosemitha Cherenfant, this means not having to rely on what sellers happen to have available in the local market, which might not include all the varieties or quantity a farmer hopes to plant.
“I’ve witnessed the last 20 years of teaching farmers that many farmers have changed their lives,” says Jean-Baptiste, shown above talking to participants in the canning demonstration.
But that’s not enough for him.
“Now I’m trying to reach another level,” he says. His passion is to bring greater and greater numbers of people in communities into local organizations and to see those organizations grow stronger, explore new ways of working together and have a greater and greater impact in their communities.
PDL has worked with local organizations to empower them to manage their own savings groups, where members make small contributions and then can take loans from the group’s money.
And PDL especially works with groups to explore how they can earn more income from what’s already grown in communities.
Canning was a natural connection.
Harvests of pineapple, passion fruit, grapefruit, cherries, mango, papaya and more fruits are abundant in rural Haiti. But reliable roads are not.
With roads too rough for local buses to come regularly and with families who don’t have funds to pay for motorcycle transport, the idea of getting fruit to a city market before it spoils is far out of reach. As a result, fruit beyond what a family can eat ripens and rots.
“These fruits are being wasted,” Jean-Baptiste says. “They are being wasted on the farms, but people in the cities need them.” Varieties that don’t grow in one area can be preserved into jam and taken there.
PDL began holding canning demonstrations, helping leaders from local organizations learn the process of preserving their harvests into products such as jam. Unlike fruit, jars of jam will not rot while roads are cleared.
With a canning manual in Haitian Kreyol, participants learned the steps for canning – from ensuring jars and lids are clean to cooking jam to a proper consistency.
Emilienne Antenor Donice scoops pineapple jam into jars during the workshop, as others close and clean the jars.
Instead of holding a single canning workshop for one community, PDL chose to bring leaders from multiple partner organizations together to learn canning principles and think about how they can use this with their own organizations.
For Rosemene Desamours, left, and Etrenise Saint Preux, from different groups in the Mombin Crochu region, it was easy to name the fruits plentiful in their communities – pineapple, mango, passion fruit, orange, grapefruit, soursop.
That’s only the beginning, says Shaudine Marie Shandra Gilles, a workshop participant and PDL representative.
“Even though you wrote a long list of fruits, there are many more,” she says. “In all our localities, in all our communities, there’s way too much fruit that’s spoiling.”
Preparing to take what they’ve learned back to their home communities, Desamours and Saint Preux reflect on what they hope this effort can bring.
They’re adamant this is not just preserving the harvest for individual use.
“We want to have some in our house, but that’s not the point. The point is to sell,” Saint Preux says, adding that she hoped her community could learn to process cashew nuts into products for sale.
This will be a work that’s shared, neighbour to neighbour.
“Everybody in the community is working together so we all will have more income and the community will be better off,” Desamours says.
As the workshop ends, Gilles and Georges Ducange arrange freshly made passion fruit jam.
Since this workshop, two other canning sessions have been held, focusing on jams from passion fruit, grapefruit, orange and sour orange.
And, as Saint Preux had hoped, another session held in Mombin Crochu demonstrated how to make cashew nuts (below) into products such as spreads that can be stored and sold later in urban areas.
In addition, PDL took products from these initial sessions to sell in Port-au-Prince, getting consumers' reflections on factors such as quality, taste and packaging – one more way to give those who tend crops and care for trees a better chance to benefit from the fruits of their labours.
Inspired to do your own canning? Check out this Simply in Season recipe for rhubarb strawberry jam. (Simply in Season is commissioned by MCC and published by Herald Press. Purchase copies of the new tenth anniversary edition at mennomedia.org.)
Rhubarb Strawberry Jam
Yields 7-8 half-pints/2L
6 cups/1.5 L rhubarb (diced)
2 cups/500 ml strawberries (mashed lightly)
Bring to boil in large saucepan with heavy bottom.
3-4 cups/750 ml-1 L sugar
Add and boil uncovered 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Pour into hot sterile jars to within half inch/1 cm of top. Seal with sterile lids and process in boiling water bath 10 minutes.