Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn-SOFA rejects the presidential decree of February 8, 2021 which makes Savane Diane a Free Trade Zone.
First of all, SOFA wants to draw attention to this decree taken by Mr. Jovenel Moïse dated February 8, 2021, twenty-four (24) hours after the end of his mandate. In addition, it should be noted that said decree, which appeared in the official journal Le Moniteur on February 8, bears the signature of a minister who is no longer part of the government considered to be de facto, which shows that these people are so eager to carry out their schemes – even for ill, they do it wrong.
A little reminder for the truth and for history:
Women farmers, members of SOFA, have 13 hectares of land granted in 2017 by the Haitian State through the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR) and the National Vocational Training Institute (INARA). These 13 hectares, intended for organic farming, had been made available to our organization to reinforce SOFA’s Délicia Jean School of Organic Agriculture Farm in Saint-Michel de L’Attalaye.
This concession took place after more than two (2) years of advocacy and negotiation with MARNDR at the end of which SOFA members signed a memorandum of understanding with the then Minister of Agriculture.
In May 2020, Mr. Andy Apaid Jr appeared to claim this property. He bribed bandits who brutalized SOFA members and their supporters to the point of blood after destroying the fences erected by the farmers. Faced with this aggression, SOFA sought the assistance of the Minister of Agriculture at the time in order to expose the problem.
He asked the organization to start a negotiation process with Mr. Apaid. When we refused follow this path, the minister sent a correspondence to SOFA nullifying the protocol giving us land title, and imposed an arrangement on us with the usurper. In our response, SOFA told the minister that its proposal went against Haitian laws regarding land conflicts. In addition, we were no longer in ‘negotiation” phase. The usurper in this case, Mr. Apaid, chose the path of violence to force women to give up what was rightfully theirs.
SOFA denounces the attitude of the de facto Minister Patrix Sévère, who preferred to flout all laws and all legal principles to satisfy the greed of the industrialist operating in the textile subcontracting sector. Mr. Sévère’s memorandum notifying us of the suspension of the protocol signed between the ministry and SOFA forced us to give up our training program and a competition that the INFP was going organize for the peasants of Saint-Michel de l’Attalaye.
From 2017 to 2020, SOFA had trained more than 240 women farmers in organic farming, including innovative techniques allowing them to obtain a better yield for food crops in the Artibonite region. By suspending the protocol and denying us the usufruct of the land, the minister pawned the spring campaign of the Delicia Jean Feminist farm school that empowered young women in the area to fight against food insecurity. Our work had already yielded a harvest of 350 pecks of pigeon peas in the first year alone, used as seeds and redistributed to SOFA members throughout the town and to other peasants who had participated in the production, 200 pecks of peanuts, in addition to a large amount of okra seeds.
Due to the agricultural importance of Savane Diane, in 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture ranked it among the 5 priority areas guaranteeing food self-sufficiency of Haiti. However, to our astonishment on February 8, 2021, the former president, who won the elections on the basis of the speech that he was going to feed the entire population, and the former Minister of Agriculture, who is paid by the population to define strategies in order to achieve this objective, announced a decision to create a free trade zone for an export crop.
SOFA wants to draw the attention of all Haitian society to this measure, which hinders the country’s future possibility of providing food for citizens. The overall goal of free trade zones is to produce for the outside world. Added to this, these types of businesses don’t pay tax for 15 years, a major shortfall for an impoverished country. The purpose of this concession is to make room for the production of stevia to make a sweetener for use in Coca-Cola. SOFA wonders if Mr. Apaid should always position himself as the gravedigger of the Republic so as to benefit from the vulnerabilities of the collective in each major crisis.
As usual the terms of the contract are not in Haiti’s favor!
La Savane Diane covers a territory crossing 3 of the country’s largest agricultural departments: the North, the Center and the Artibonite. According to the Interministerial Committee for Territorial Planning (CIAT) in the document entitled Haiti Demain, Boucle Center-Artibonite published in 2010, the plain covers approximately 25,000 hectares and all kinds of crops are grown there: food like congo peas, okra, rice, peanuts, sugar cane, millet, moringa, several varieties of fruits, in addition to medicinal plants: moringa, artemisia, among others. Note in the battle against COVID-19 whose patient zero had been spotted in St Michel de l’Attalaye, medicinal plants were of great help to us, in the absence of the State, which was preparing to bury in mass graves more than 1,500 corpses per day.
After the Cayes plain, Saint Michel de l’Attalaye is the second largest corn production area in the country. The region is also known for its sugar cane brandy, the world famous Clairin Saint-Michel. The largest hilltop lake in the country sits in the middle of Savane Diane and covers 14 hectares, the equivalent of 14 football fields. These lakes produce fish for local residents’ food and for trade. They are also used to irrigate land and give livestock water.
Declaring Savane Diane a free trade zone amounts to destroying the environment, destroying agriculture, destroying livestock and at the same time, condemning farmers to go and work in factories, in particular the stevia factory in anticipation of supplying Coca Cola, for a pittance, without any social compensation. In other words, it is to reinforce food insecurity in Haiti, the impoverishment of the country including the outrageous feminization of poverty.
Declaring Savane Diane a free trade zone means further forcing citizens of the Central Plateau, the North and Artibonite to leave the countryside to go and work in the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic or to become boat people and expose their lives to the risks associated with poor sea travel conditions.
Thus, declaring Savane Diane a free zone will:
- Destroy the region’s biodiversity by switching from pluriculture to monoculture;
- Abandon organic farming in favor of intensive industrial farming likely to poison the environment, the land, livestock, and water table;
- Eliminate one of the largest plains that supply the country with the production of export commodities;
- Condemn the country to import more processed products that will harm the health of the Haitian people, especially the sexual and reproductive health of women;
- Increase the cost of food because we will need more dollars to import products, which will increase maternal and child malnutrition;
- Force farmers to seek a pittance in the stevia industry and reinforce the impoverishment of peasant women.
Lè nen pran kou, je kouri dlo. [when the nose is struck, tears flow from the eyes]
When local agricultural production of the North, Artibonite and Center departments disappear and be replaced by stevia, many more Haitians and Haitians will experience the pangs of misery from induced poverty, and the entire population will pay the consequences, including women from the most impoverished sections of society. The activities implemented by SOFA through its farm school aimed at strengthening agriculture in Saint-Michel can no longer be continued. Thus the process of weakening Haitian civil society by the state with the help of the International and the local bourgeoisie will be more visible.
On February 7, 2020, the FAO classified Haiti as a country of urgent food insecurity. Haiti then had 3.7 million food insecure people. The FAO predicted that if no action was taken by March 2020, that number would rise to over 4.1 million. A year later, on February 8, 2021, on the contrary, the current state authorities of the country accompanied by industrialists want to drive the population into hunger and misery.
All Haitian people must say no to the decree of former President Moïse, adopted after the end of his term, aimed at expulsing peasant families from the land they cultivate for the benefit of a whole population, a decision which only sows desolation and disarray for Haiti.
We, the members of SOFA, firmly believe that all the Haitian people must say no to this ferocious and arbitrary measure.
The struggle of women is the struggle of the Haitian people!
Coordonnatrice générale SOFA
Port-au-Prince February 22, 2021