Haiti's Akamil Project
This is one of 50 Harvesting Nutrition project case studies. Harvesting Nutrition was a contest held in 2012 and 2013 that showcased active projects working to improve the impact of agriculture and/or food security on nutrition outcomes. Co-sponsors were SecureNutrition, Save the Children UK, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Learn More.
In 2007, a grassroots campaign was launched in Haiti to produce an indigenous food called Akamil (pronounced Ah-kah-mil). Akamil is a mixture of corn and beans, rice and beans and/or wheat and beans – virtually any grain mixed with any legume so long as it maintains a 70/30 ratio of grain/legume for the necessary protein. Haitians like to mix Akamil with fruit and sugar for a sweet meal and/or mix it with vegetables and salt (and meat when available) for a more savory meal. It has been a popular food, but has typically been served as a ready-to-eat meal at sporting events or on market days due to the charcoal required to cook the food at least 50-60 minutes to breakdown the enzymes in the beans.
Akamil has been too expensive to make at home for most, however our grassroots campaign has successfully attracted donations from dozens and dozens of partners to build the food processing plant, helped farmers grow the necessary crops, and purchased the equipment needed to mix, mill and pre-cook the product (i.e., making it "instant," similar to instant oatmeal). This “holistic” food intervention also creates jobs for women in the sales and distribution of this healthy, affordable food (i.e., fortified with 10 essential vitamins and minerals). Finally, because it uses less charcoal, it reduces deforestation in Haiti and is environmentally friendly in its packaging and production processes.
It is expected this grassroots campaign will be replicated in other departments throughout the country as not-for-profit “franchises,” creating even more jobs, providing even more healthy, affordable food, and building even more self-determination and self-sufficiency in country, which are required to successfully address food security in any country.
Impact of project:
By working locally and producing a local, indigenous food, we are making something people want to eat, not something the international community is trying to make them eat. We are also creating an incentive for farmers to grow more crops because they know the Akamil plant will buy all they can grow. It also creates opportunities for women in the sale and distribution of the product (i.e., "Avon Ladies"), but most importantly it creates self-determination locally because people are solving their own problems rather than relying on the international community or foreign governments to solve their problems for them.
This "bottoms-up" intervention addresses nutrition better than anything heretofore attempted in Haiti, but it does so in a way that is sustainable and builds democratic institutions locally and, oh by the way, it costs less because it relies on local ideas being supported by local businesses, not the international aid community or foreign governments. In terms of food security, this is the only way to go in the current fiscal climate where less money is available and some governments are even threatening to "Cut all Foreign Aid!" All we provide is the coaching and we expect the local marketplace and local community do the rest.
If it works in a poor country like Haiti, it can work anywhere. However, it should be noted we also address issues like quality control, product labeling, worker safety, etc.; not by using strong-arm tactics, rather it simply makes good business sense. So this is essentially a market-driven, public-private partnership based on local entrepreneurial efforts.
Why this project is a Good Practice example:
The value of our Akamil project isn't just the intervention; it's the approach to the intervention. The intervention changes from one country to the next (e.g., making corn tortillas in southern Mexico or making a staple food in Afghanistan with local farmers, as we are now exploring). What the grassroots approach does is to allow local communities to design their own interventions based on their own, local problems/needs. In Haiti, the interest was in creating an indigenous food because - just as in the USA - the number one concern locally was job creation, not nutrition. What's important to international aid organizations is not always important to people locally. However, by working through a grassroots approach/campaign we manage to come up with interventions that are often considered "holistic" in nature and can address all of their needs locally.
This intervention has been completed without the assistance of the international aid community; in fact, we found traditional, international interventions/organizations are as much a part of the problem as they are a part of the solution in countries like Haiti because they undermine self-determination and local control. The biggest challenge for international aid organizations may be to just get out of the way and let local organizations lead interventions and stop promoting their Colonial aid programs, which do more to undermine food security than help.
As many have said - including President Obama during his recent trip to Africa - "We need a new paradigm in foreign aid/interventions." Our Akamil Intervention in Haiti was presented at the SLAN 2012 Nutrition Conference in Havana, Cuba in November 2012 and was very well received, with many calling for more "holistic interventions" like this one because it addresses jobs, women's rights, local agriculture/farmers, but most importantly it builds self-determination locally while also addressing nutrition "bottom-up" rather than "top-down" or "outside-in" as is done in narrow nutrition interventions like USI and Sprinkles. It's not just the intervention that's unique, but how it came about through local decision-making, local leadership and local financial support rather than relying on international aid organizations who think they know what's best for a local community/country. So consider the approach, not just the intervention.
Funders: Project Medishare and numerous volunteers/donors
Primary Contact: Michael Kaiser, Project Coordinator
Project Dates: 2007 to present
Interventions: Assess the context at the local level, Target the vulnerable and improve equity, Maintain or improve the natural resource base, Empower women, Improve processing, storage and preservation, Expand markets and market access for vulnerable groups,
Target Population: Children under 5, Women,
Project Stage: Ongoing activities Geographic