Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Haiti reconstruction

Since a long time Haiti was, and after the earthquake even more so, an in-functional state. The great tragedy of this quake is that it affected mainly the more “affluent” people, those who where able to afford concrete houses, meaning that a large number of educated and skilled people who kept the little bit of economic activity going have been lost.

After the initial shock now begins the squabble of rebuilding, with many diverging interests and opinions.

One can discern two diverging attitudes:

The politically correct one, that one should respect the sovereignty of the haitian government to make the decisions, and on the other hand those who feel that Haiti should be placed under international governance for the next two decades until they can stand again on their own feet (I certainly favor the second opinion, which is also shared by many Haitians!)

The present state of utter destruction of the national infrastructure could be a golden opportunity to attempt to create a viable society, without reverting to decadent capitalist or socialist models.

Had I a say, the following would be my favored steps:

    1. Rebuild the basic infrastructure.

    2. Initiate a universal Identification system.

    3. Provide a universal unconditional minimum income of USD700.00 / year per person, including educational and healthcare vouchers, redeemable by independent schools and caregivers.

      (With todays electronic credit card systems this should be feasible). The needed USD8,000 millions would initially be funded by the international community, later replaced by the national economy financed through a Value Added Tax and land lease fee income. This could be the most effective way to get the economy going, benefiting the population in its entirety.

    4. Encourage and protect small and medium size sustainable agriculture. Farmers need a fair price for their produce, this will discourage migrations to the cities and give an incentive for many to return to the land.

    5. Introduce a major land reform, and making the vast presently un-utilized fertile plains available to farmers. Land should not be treated as commodity but be made available on a lease hold basis.

    6. Initiate a serious reforestation program.

Well, I will keep dreaming and add many more points!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

Jan. 22, 2010

On January 12th at 5.00PM, while in our office sitting at my desk, at once there was the feeling of being on a large ship, looking out of the window the impression was of a wide swaying. Some people thought they where having a nauseous spell, until somebody called “earthquake” (that nauseous feeling indeed lingered on for quite a few hours) and we got out of the building.

This was our experience of the earthquake that hit nearby Haiti with such devastating force, the epicenter only 200km west of us.

The terrible news coming in of the enormous devastation destroying a major city with over 200,000 dead and thousands maimed cast a heavy spell over everybody for several days. The inability to call friends and family (we have many Haitian coworkers on the finca) and the uncertainty of them being alive was depressing. Several workers who had family in port au Prince took off to find and help their relatives.

As we are located on the main artery to Haiti, all the relief traffic passes in front of our door day and night, or by helicopters over our heads, so that Haiti is continuously on our mind. I also had to think of the destroyed Hotel Montana and the State University where so many perished, the places I have stayed many times during conferences on organic agriculture.

The son of farmer friends in New York state, Ben Dobson (an organic farmer himself) arrived the day after the quake to search for his Haitian spouse and child who where visiting their family, he was very lucky and resourceful, he found a fast ride with a dominican ambulance, entering the city through back-roads and already next evening we where able to pick him up near the border with wife and child unscathed. Their experiences of that drive where harrowing, witnessing countless dead bodies lining the sidewalks. He made a trip back next day to the border delivering a pickup truck full of food and water supplies for the relatives.

Subsequently we received the visit of the french emergency rescue team (the father of our daughter in law a physician was part of the team) on their return from Jacmel (4,000 corpses where buried there in a mass-grave) their first moment of relaxation after two weeks of grueling work.

To get there they where flown by the Dominican military to the port of Pedrenales where they boarded a ship of the marine who brought them directly to Jaquemel. They made the international news by rescuing alive a 23 day's old baby who was buried for 8 days!

Next we will receive a team of waldorf teachers with a physician and a nurse, focusing on trauma recovery of orphaned children, they had previous experiences in Gaza, China and Indonesia. We are facilitating the local logistics and food supplies for their work in Haiti: www.freunde-waldorf.de

We got many requests from friends and acquaintances abroad for advise how to assist the victims, and our recommendation is to financially support known organizations who have a good and long record of working in Haiti. Our favored are a large orphanage run by “Father Marc” with over 600 orphans in Les Cayes: www.Freethekids.org, and a very successful health-care initiative founded by Dr. Paul Farmer: www.pih.org

The compassionate and warmhearted reaction of the Dominican people was astounding, considering their own poverty and the historically somewhat antagonistic relationship between those two nations. Following the lead of President Leonel Fernandez who immediately visited his homologue in the devastated city there was a enormous outpouring of help, people donating food, water and clothing. They where the first to arrive with emergency aid and bringing heavy equipment for rescue operations, and making all their hospitals available.

Hopefully this experience will have a lasting effect in improving the relationship between the two countries. This earthquake will have a profound social and economic impact on the whole island, for the better or the worse. The migration pressure of undocumented haitians will certainly increase, even assuming that international reconstruction efforts will succeed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Travels in Europe; Summer 2009

In mid June I attended the yearly Demeter International members meeting in Luxembourg, on which all the 24 international Demeter certification agencies are represented.
After my wife Annelien joined me on June 21st coming from Harlemville (she had been in the US since May 1st ) we spent a few weeks in Interlaken, enjoying the wonderful landscape, the swiss perfection as well as flying and hiking.
After our yearly visit mid July to Holland (Annelien's home-country) and with the (mistaken) hope that the english weather would be bearable we took the ferry to New Castle, the North of England and proceeded to the scottish border. First we visited the tidal “Holy Island” and Lindisfarne Castle, the site of introduction of Christianity in Northern England, and also the first to be totally devastated by the Vikings which sent shock-waves throughout England.

Crossing southern Scotland we where impressed by the loving care of the land and the proprietary attitude, the famous “my home is my castle” seems to apply here, along rural roads there was seldom a spot free for any parking nor any publicly accessible hiking path, we assume that this is due that the property rights have never been infringed on by a revolution like in France! Interestingly enough; there are sometimes signs of a public right of way visible, although overgrown with weeds, apparently there is a law that the public right of way has to be respected as long as there is a once a year use of it.

After crossing the Scottish border highlands to the west-coast, we stayed with friends at Loch Arthur Farm, a Camphill Village close to Dumfries, where we heard about a Megalithic site nearby; “Cairn Holy” and most likely would meet an american there with a camera! And indeed arriving there we met Joseph Proskauer (a former Waldorf teacher), and to our surprise we discovered that we had common friends in the US.At first view the cairns did no look like much, a group of standing stones lost in the landscape. However, after spending a day with Joseph our eyes where opened to the sophistication of how the site was set in relation to the various cosmic events. The placement and total harmony in the landscape was impressive, to the west the seashore with the special light-quality of the water, and just visible in the distance the south end of the Island of Man. Although viewed from a distance the place situated in a dip of the landscape looked insignificant, when standing there one had the impression of standing in the center / navel of the world.

On July 27th our visit fell just a few days after the summer-solstice so we could witness at sunrise the perfect centering of the sun in the headstone of the cairn. One could imagine the deep impression this must have made to a person lying in the (so called “ grave-”) chamber which in olden times must have been completely covered and enclosed except for a small opening to the eastern sunrise. The entrance to the cairn through the center-stones was interesting to experience; although the opening had a hight over 3 m. increasingly narrowing in height, one could only enter crouching sidewards (the shoulders would not fit) , in a similar manner as the passage of the child sidewards through the birth channel, one entered / exited the womb of the earth! One can imagine that these where religious sites where there a three day death-like initiation was practiced.

At certain times of the day, there was a near perfect alignment of the sun's shade, not a single stone seemed to be set without a specific significance, either in its alignment, shape or quality of the stone. One wonders in how far such sites served as (astonishingly exact) cosmic observation tools or that they had the task of tuning and connecting these sites in harmony with the cosmos.

Thanks' to Joseph's quality as a former Waldorf high-school teacher our eyes where gradually opened, not by him revealing to us his discoveries, but by asking us to observe certain aspects and make our own discoveries and conclusions. Joseph lives since over a year close to this site and has made the site the focus of his meditations ( and obsession?), he never misses a day, makes daily observations and pictures of the site with the different weather conditions and sun positions. In any case this was the beginning of unplanned focus on megalithic sites for the next weeks !

On July 28th we turned north to Wigtown and visited the Torhouse stone-circle, comprised of 19 stones (the year's it takes for the moon to return to the same alignment. Although we had in mind to see more of Scotland, the weather turned real nasty with a forecast for long spell of cold and rain, which made us run in one stretch down to the south of England.

July 29th : “Stonehenge”! Although having seen pictures of it, the real sight was overwhelming in its scope, an enormous cultural center of humanity!

Already the physical aspects are astounding, with stones of 50 Tons transported over long distances over unpaved terrain would even with todays equipment be a difficult task.

The exact placement of the about 100 stones and calculation of the many different cosmic alignment's are so astonishing that conventional science in its arrogance still refuses to accept these feats of Neolithic people!

Usually we camped right at these megalithic sites and could witness sunrises and dawns in tranquility avoiding the bulk of visiting crowds.

On July 30th we took the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff, France. On August 1st ; Morlay, visit of Cairn Pluezoc'h an enormously sized cairn completely built of small stones with large slabs covering the various caves in it.

August 2d; Penisula of Crozon, found another unexpected stone alignment at our campingsite in Camaret above a beautifull rocky coastline.

The end of our Megalith Tour; on Aug. 4th was Carnac, the in expanse largest megalithic site known, with miles of of stone alignment's. The megalith culture (not to be confounded with the later Druid stones) dates from 4'000 BC to 1'500 BC, and its sites can be found especially concentrated along the atlantic coast's from Norway to Spain but as well on the east coast of North-America.

We then proceeded over the Pyrenees in to Spain, experiencing quite an extreme and immediate change in landscape and atmosphere, coming from cool and humid Bretagne. As soon as we crossed the pass we got immersed in to a dry and hot landscape exactly as one imagines it from having read Don Quixote de la Mancha, and also very similar to our home in the Dominican Republic! The arid country is predominately cultivated with almonds, olives and barley to be fed to the thousands of pigs stinking up the countryside, to produce the spanish jamon specialties!

We did not venture further in to Spain and ventured east along the pyrenees, myself enjoying a few very nice flights from the famous paragliding sites while Annelien had to suffer the heat wave.

By October 18th we turned back, spent some time in the Haute Provence alps and returning in time to Switzerland to celebrate Sebastian's 35th birthday.

On Sep. 10 I returned back to work in the DR while Annelien went to our US home in Harlemville until the temperatures in the DR are bearable for her.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Biodynamic Seed-propagation

On July 11th we where invited-to the open Seed- day at “Fintan” the 140 Ha Farm in Rheinau, the largest Biodynamic Farm in Switzerland.
Since over 25 Years farmers and researchers have been involved in developing seeds appropriate to Biodynamic and organic farming methods. Quite a number of vegetable seeds and cereals have by now been registered and made available since.
It takes thousands of seed trials and about 15 years until an acceptable variety of cereal is produced, an effort which can only be carried by subsidies and donations.
With the rapid disappearance of a large diversity of seed-stocks (and animal breeds as well) and the concentration of seed-propagation in the hands of a few powerful multinationals and lately the development of GMO seeds this work has become crucial for the future of humanity. Conventionally available seeds are not appropriate for sustainable farming methods, the only give results with high fertilizer inputs, herbicides and pesticides, and in general can not be propagated by the farmer, so that he has to buy new seed every year.
As a Banana grower I regret not to be able to work on seed propagation, the development of new Banana varieties is extremely difficult and costly, the Banana industry relies on the only one marketable Cavendish variety, which is propagated since over 30 years vegetabily and becomes increasingly susceptible to diseases. In Biodynamics we know that plants are cosmically rejuvenated by going through a flowering and seed-process.
We are glad to be able to contribute to this effort at least financially, apparently this seems to be typical for older people to be concerned about the future, it is the old farmer planting apple trees even if he does know that he will not be the beneficiary of the fruits, in that category also fits seed-propagation and the caring for the future of children. It could also be said that believing in re-incarnation this may not be all that altruistic as it seems!
http://08.avenirsem.ch http://gz.peter-kunz.ch http://www.sativa-rheinau.ch http://www.turtletreeseed.com

Our home on wheels in Europe.

Since several years we are fortunate to spend a few month in Europe in order to escape the peak caribbean heat.
Our home there is a “camping car”, the kind of ugly white plastic box cluttering the most scenic tourist sites that we in the past we used to look at with disdain!
However, after initially having rented one we learned to appreciate its convenience, and eventually bought one ourselves, and when not in use it is parked in Switzerland, with our son Sebastian (who has abandoned farming and is now making a living giving tourists paragliding flights) in Interlaken.
On a relatively small space it has all the conveniences, sleeps 4, can be heated, has a mini-bathroom with toilet, sink and douche, a 4 pit gas-range and refrigerator. There is enough space to store paraglider, inflatable canoe and our bicycles which are great for sightseeing and entering towns for shopping!
Traveling longer distances is now a pleasure, after a few hours driving we pull of the road take a coffee brake, often cook lunch (Annelien!) and take a nap. Overnight we often park between farm fields, the edge of the woods or along a stream, and if we get caught in an urban area we look for a quite parking spot often found next to a church, or a sport field, and in France and Italy most towns have a designated parking area for camping cars. Often when parked for the night close to roads, other campers park alongside feeling more secure in company.
Whenever we decide to stay longer or when it is time to do laundry we check in to a campground.
Visiting relatives and friends is easy, nobody has to be inconvenienced, we are simply temporary neighbors, can be grandparents and retire to our own quarters if the kids get to rowdy!
Business visits are uncomplicated, if Annelien has her fill of seeing one more cold-storage with Bananas she can simply stay at “home” in the parking lot, knit socks, read and sometimes join again for a business lunch.
Escaping unpleasant weather, especially in Switzerland is often (to) easy, it takes about three hours to cross the alps to the italian sunny side, a temptation which tends to bring some undesirable restlessness if not checked.
The planning of our itinerary has the following pattern: Family and friends, Banana customers, Paragliding sites (usually in mountainous areas) and Biodynamic Farms, where sometimes also our help is welcomed!
After a few months however we are getting our fill of restlessness and look forward to our quiet home and a regular working schedule.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A permanent home for our Kindergarten.

After 4 years of housing our Kindergarten in various temporary rooms on our Finca, we now succeeded to give it its own 390 m2 home, consisting of two classrooms for 25 children each on the first floor and a 3 room teacher apartment on the second floor.
We where very fortunate to have found 2 trained Waldorf kindergarten teachers, from Colombia and Peru with 2 local assistants in training. We hope that with this step we can give Waldorf education a significant boost in our country, creating a space for internships and conferences.
On March 10 we where able to accept the second group of 26 children aged 3 ½ to 4 years old and move them in to new building, and on the first day of spring, March 21 we celebrated the inauguration with parents, coworkers and many friends.
The construction costs for the building of US$80,000 was mainly raised through a “Fair Trade” initiative of our client “Weiling” a organic food distributor in Germany, where banana customers where willing to pay a additional premium of US$0.01 per banana, as well as by the contribution of our Export company.
We separated a 7'000 m2 lot from our Finca and conveyed it to our Fundacion Nuestro Porvenir, the legal carrier of our Educational initiative, enough space to develop a full school.
After much deliberation we found that the Kindergarten needed a protected and sheltered area (this is already implicit in its naming, garden has its root in “guard” a guarded and protected area where valuable crops and flowers are tended with special care). Placing the Kindergarten close the center of our commercial operations appeared to be the best solution, it gives it the necessary protection from noise (nearly unbearable in the villages with unmuffled motorcycles and perpetual disco music) and burglars. It creates efficiencies in sharing some infrastructure and the availability of a helping hand of company staff is often of great help to the Kindergarten teachers. This nearness and presence of small children who need our help as well as the not for profit activity radiates a very positive social influence on our work.
It is very satisfying for me personally to be able to develop a educational initiative supported by our commercial activity, a reversal of the past where I have been farming inside the economic shelter of tax exempt educational foundations. As we have reached conventional “retirement” age I am happy do devote myself increasingly to cultural / educational activities, a privilege which is rare in our modern society, and I enjoy being called abuelito (little grandfather) in an environment where I am respectfully adressed “Don or Señor”. And my wife Annelien has renewed her mothering instincts creating a variety of dolls and animals. Small children and old people have a special affinity to each other, both are close to the spiritual world, the former fresh arrivals, the later mature departures.