Renan Toussaint and Florence Lisene contributed to this report
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - Kore Lavi, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) food program for malnourished Haitians, ended in August amid a worsening of Haiti's food insecurity crisis.
It is estimated that 2.6 million people, roughly a quarter of Haiti's population, faces food insecurity in 2019. Experts say natural disasters, high inflation and the country's socio-political and economic problems are to blame.
"Kore Lavi has served as a strong model in the ongoing development of Haiti's National Social Protection Policy," Alexis Barnes, acting senior development, outreach and communications officer for USAID in Port-au-Prince, told VOA via email.
"This activity was designed to be a partnership with the government of Haiti that would model through a limited sample of households a predictable, social transfer focused on consumption of nutritious foods among the most vulnerable in 21 communes," Barnes said.
New way to address hunger
The multimillion-dollar program began in 2013. It provided nutritious meals to 18,000 households in the southeast, northwest, central plateau and Artibonite regions, as well as the Isle of La Gonave.
Originally scheduled to end in September 2017, USAID extended the program for two more years after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which devastated homes and food crops in many regions of the Caribbean country.
Four NGOs — the World Food Program (WFP), World Vision, Action Against Hunger and CARE — administered the program with MAST, Haiti's Ministry of Public Works and Social Affairs (Ministere des Affaires Sociales et du Travail Haitien).
Program coordinator Laurore Antoine said organizers used innovative ways to address hunger.
"We wanted to divorce ourselves from the traditional approach," Antoine, a Haitian official with CARE, a Geneva-based international humanitarian and international development agency, told VOA."We wanted to kill two birds with one stone, so we boosted local production, as well."
That new approach included "fresh products" such as meat, fish and vegetables sold by program-approved vendors.
"That way the beneficiary was able to consume a nutritionally balanced meal and learn the components of that. But what's more important is that we achieved this with a network of local vendors whom we found living in the community - in many cases they were women - in fact 86 percent of our local vendors were women," he said.
Kore Lavi participants received a monthly allotment of food stamps that could be used to buy perishable provisions for the week. Vendors then turned in the vouchers for cash.
Haitian opposition lawmaker Youri Latortue, who owns a poultry farm, said boosting national food production is key. He fears Haiti's food insecurity will soon worsen if that doesn't happen.
"When you have 3 million people who don't have access to food on a daily basis, you are heading towards famine," he told VOA's Creole Service. "It's not normal to depend on international aid agencies to feed the people. Of course it's true that it is a humanitarian situation (crisis) that they can temporarily assist us with, but it's not a permanent solution. The (Haitian) government needs to step in to do its part."
Latortue said the government solution for the current crisis must include all sectors of the food production industry, both livestock and agriculture.
"That's the only way out of this crisis," he said.
As Kore Lavi shutters its operations, Barnes is satisfied with the program's accomplishments.
"Achievements include the development of the SIMAST vulnerability mapping system, which has now expanded and is supported by other donors such as the European Union, and international NGOs working on activities serving the most vulnerable," she said.
Barnes expressed optimism that the Haitian government will keep the progress going.
"The program succeeded in demonstrating that the government of Haiti can manage a predictable social transfer activity to the most vulnerable in this country in a well-targeted and transparent manner," she said. "Haiti's commitment to developing the policy framework for engagement of a durable and manageable social protection system is essential to this task, and we have been proud to support our government counterparts as they vision and structure their system."
Does that mean the beneficiaries will maintain the level of nutrition they achieved over six years?
"The people still have problems," Antoine acknowledged. He said things will indeed change. MAST needs access to financial resources so they can continue funding the program, he said.
Antoine hopes a micro-loan system CARE put in place to support the food program will motivate former participants to unite and borrow money to launch small businesses that can pick up where Kore Lavi left off.
"Recently, we did a resilience study using a methodology called SenseMaker, where we asked the beneficiaries to tell us how they are living, how the program changed their lives. We can tell you that (the program) required a huge effort, a lot of sacrifices, but in the end, we delivered (what we promised). So today, as we participate in the official closing ceremony, we stand proud of our work with the most vulnerable populations," Antoine said.