The Miami Herald
December 28, 1998

Hope growing for Haiti farmers

             Fish ponds provide food, irrigation for crops in fields

             By MICHAEL NORTON
             Associated Press

             PANDIASSOU, Haiti -- All his life he farmed without hope of ever making a real

             Today, Genold Mathieu brings tomatoes, lettuce and fish to the table for his wife
             and 14 children. The 10 school-age kids attend classes. And soon there will be a
             hospital to treat them when they are ill.

             His fortunes, and those of more than 20,000 others in Pandiassou, have changed
             in the 2 1/2 years since a Roman Catholic monk inspired the farmers to build fish

             Some people see the project as a model for restoring a measure of social and
             economic dignity to Haiti, a ravaged land that often seems hopelessly mired in
             lethargy and despair.

             So dramatic is the change that people in Pandiassou, three miles from the central
             city of Hinche, measure time as before or after the ponds.

             Before, most years brought drought -- fatal to farming in a land made largely arid
             by centuries of deforestation and land mismanagement. That meant unemployment,
             hunger and the death of livestock. Even in a good year, a hardworking farmer
             could earn only about $70 an acre from the single annual harvest.

             Now, irrigation from the ponds allows three harvests a year, and farmers can
             make $800 on every acre from each harvest. Most have small plots ranging from a
             half acre to 1 1/4 acres.

             For the first time, Mathieu can grow tomatoes, lettuce and cabbage, not just millet.
             Fish from the ponds add protein and taste to meals that used to consist solely of
             millet or corn mush.

             It all started with Brother Franklin Armand and the Little Brothers and Sisters of
             the Incarnation, a religious order he founded 22 years ago. The order, which has
             100 religious members and 200 lay associates, bought land in the area and
             persuaded the farmers to use it to build ponds that would serve their community.

             Today, there are 29 ponds, from the size of a swimming pool to that of a football
             field, stocked with tens of thousands of fish. When the rain falls, water accumulates
             in the ponds, which feed an irrigation system for the fields.

             ``The ponds have saved our lives. We're beginning to see the light,'' said Alix
             Sauver Jean-Charles, 65.

             The invigorated local economy allowed farmers to form a cooperative that now
             has 2,000 members. Most households comprise 10 or more people, including
             large and extended families and laborers. With low-interest loans repayable over
             20 years, 113 new homes have been built.

             The cooperative employs a land surveyor, and members have access to legal help
             to settle land disputes. There is a service that rents oxen and plows.

             Everyone credits the 51-year-old Armand.

             ``The word of God doesn't get along with empty bellies and seatless trousers,'' he
             said, wearing his perpetual smile. ``Haiti is a small country. We can solve our
             problems if we are rigorous, work hard and have vision.''

             And a lot of help from friends abroad.

             The European Union gave $800,000 for the pond and irrigation project. The U.N.
             Development Program provided a $1 million grant.

             The foundation of American philanthropist George Soros provides $170,000 a
             year to schools founded by Armand -- a nursery school for 100 children and a
             vocational and secondary school with 400 students.

             Increasingly, their school breakfast and lunch comes from food grown locally,
             giving hope that eventually the cooperative will support itself.

             On Nov. 23, the co-op inaugurated a new freezer facility to store fish, which the
             members hope to sell.

             While agricultural production has fallen in most parts of Haiti, in Pandiassou 103
             farms had increased production this year, up from 30 farms with higher output last

             ``We agreed to fund this project because people were already hard at work here,''
             said Michelle Pierre-Louis, the Soros foundation director in Haiti. ``One day, they
             will be able to do without us.''