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Manitoba farmers pitch in for Haiti

Nancy Howatt wanted to support cattle farmers by selling them feed, and use the proceeds to respond to needs in Haiti.

November 12, 2021

By Janice Biehn

What do hungry cattle in northern Manitoba have to do with earthquake relief in Haiti? On paper, the two worlds could not be further apart. But in reality, they are tied together by the work of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, of which PWRDF is a member.

In the southern part of Manitoba, Pembina Valley to be exact, the Rev. Chris Lea has been donating a portion of the proceeds from his family farm to PWRDF’s equity in the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for five years. This “Anglican Grow Hope” project connects urban church goers to rural farmers, with the goal of raising funds to end hunger around the world.

This past summer, lack of pasture for cattle and lack of rain forced many cattle farmers all over Manitoba to sell their animals. Nancy Howatt, Chris Lea’s sister, is a cattle farmer in the southern part of the province, in Manitou. In past years, she has selected a steer to auction off and donate the proceeds to Anglican Grow Hope. But when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti August 14, and the Foodgrains Bank announced it was participating in a Humanitarian Coalition appeal for Haiti relief, Howatt was struck with an idea.

Unlike many northern producers, she did have oat straw to spare. Why not auction off the feed straw to farmers who desperately need it to feed their cattle, and donate those proceeds to the Foodgrains Bank’s Haiti appeal?

Howatt pitched the idea to Lea, who was on board from the get-go. The hay auction quickly gained traction thanks to some early social media support.

“Once the word got out what we were doing, people were more than willing to donate a feed source to help. We wanted to give and to generate awareness for what was happening in Haiti. It took our minds off the stresses of farming business,” says Lea. “One farmer, around the Portage area, told us if this didn’t happen, he was ready to sell his cows.”

In total, 11 producers signed on to donate their feed. That small but mighty group raised more than $15,000, for PWRDF’s equity account with the Foodgrains Bank. Lea is quick to credit the Killarney Auction House for waiving its fees and working quickly to send the funds to the Foodgrains Bank on time to qualify for a match. The Foodgrains Bank was participating in a matching appeal as part of the Humanitarian Coalition, an umbrella organization of aid agencies in Canada. Funds raised in this appeal were matched 1:1 by the government of Canada, up to $2 million. Those matched funds are being allocated to Haiti relief by the Humanitarian Coalition.

In the meantime, the funds raised by Manitoba farmers are contributing to a project in two regions of Haiti (which is divided into 10 departments) – Nippes and Grand’Anse. These two departments were heavily impacted by the earthquake and are now facing crisis levels of food insecurity. The Grow Hope donation to this project has been matched 4:1 by the government of Canada, and this is providing a substantial contribution towards the total project budget of $937,684 CAD. The project continues until August 2022. 

PWRDF is partnering on this project with World Renew, also a fellow Foodgrains Bank member, which has an office in Haiti. The project has already accomplished much:

  • 2,600 households have received one month of emergency food assistance (rice and oil)
  • 750 household farmers have received emergency agricultural support (including seeds) for the Fall 2021 planting season

The project will now focus on 1,000 of the most vulnerable households in Nippes, by delivering three cash-based transfers for food assistance, and emergency agricultural support to 1,000 household farmers for the Spring 2022 planting season.

An estimated 17,000 people will participate in the project. Many gender equality interventions have been included, such as ensuring women are equally involved in decision-making and participate in a Community Advisory Committee to select those most in need to receive project supports. Staff in Haiti are also trained in prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse policies and procedures.

There have been many challenges getting the project off the ground, due to the recent strikes in Haiti, new security concerns and the current fuel crisis that even affects internet connection. Staff on the ground are nonetheless operational and are planning for contingencies in the event of communications and electricity deficiencies. Staff have satellite phones and are looking into a more secure solar backup.

Haiti was battered this past summer by the earthquake, a tropical depression, the assassination of its President and the deep challenges of governance, economic development and public health amid a global pandemic. Says Will Postma, PWRDF’s Executive Director, “The support and encouragement of Chris, Nancy and others in the Pembina Valley has raised not only significant funds, but also awareness of a continued tragic context where the partnership with Foodgrains Bank members offers a ‘hand up’ to our neighbours in Haiti.”