Better farming could boost Haiti-Added COMMENTARY By Haitian-Truth

March 30, 2010
By `

Haitian farmers are getting a much-needed boost from a USAID-funded training program, but the project is about to be cut in favor of immediate humanitarian efforts.

DAME MARIE, Haiti — A soft rain is falling as a dozen farmers, sheltered by surrounding cacao trees, stand in a semicircle. One by one, each tells a similar story of why this year’s cocoa harvest is more crucial than ever.

“We’ve had a lot of people come who were injured, and there are more mouths to feed,” said Guerlains Saint-Louis, who has had eight relatives leave Port-au-Prince since the Jan. 12 earthquake to join his family of six.

So much money has been spent helping newcomers that there is none left to hire workers to prepare the 250 acres of land he and his father farm. “As long as the rains fall, there isn’t a problem.”

Before a U.S. government-funded training project helped these farmers improve their crop, rain had been all they depended on.

Boosting agricultural production will be high on the agenda Wednesday when more than 100 countries meet at the United Nations as part of an international donors conference on Haiti. The earthquake has highlighted the need for further investment outside of Port-au-Prince, especially as thousands flock to the countryside.

Cocoa is like much of the agriculture produced in Haiti: Farmers have little training or technology to work their crops, resulting in the lowest cocoa yield per cacao tree in the Western Hemisphere.

“Food aid is important for the short term, but in areas outside of Port-au-Prince, you have hundreds and hundreds of hectares that have been underutilized, where there has been no investment or support,” said Kimberly Flowers, a spokeswoman for the United States Agency for International Development in Haiti. “There is tremendous opportunity for growth in agriculture.”

But with many countries juggling funding, some long-term projects like this one are being cut to support immediate humanitarian efforts.

Alex Deprez, who heads USAID’s economic growth projects in Haiti, said that’s inevitable as everything the agency does in Haiti is judged through a “post-earthquake lens” — and the reality that USAID must redirect $80 million of its $287 million annual budget toward immediate relief and rebuilding efforts.

That puzzles Haitian exporter Theo Weiner, one of the country’s largest cocoa exporters and a funding partner in the project.

`THE EASIEST WAY’

“If you want to do something to help Haiti, I can’t believe you don’t think about developing agriculture,” Weiner said. `It’s the easiest way to get money to large amounts of people.”

The project is a joint effort by his company, Geo Weiner S.A., and Washington-based not-for-profit CNFA. Three years in the making, it began last fall. The goal is to double the current cocoa crop — and those farmers’ profits.

This part of the country, in a province called Grand’Anse on Hait’s westernmost tip, produces half of Haiti’s export crop for cocoa. It is one of the more fertile areas of the country, with abundant trees, regular rainfall and until now, a small population.

But most farmers, who usually have just a handful of cacao trees, tucked among other crops, usually farmed on the sides of hills, often don’t even prune their trees.

“See this tree?” asks American cocoa expert B. K. Matlick, pointing to one near the farmer Saint-Louis. `It’s got money on it. Cocoa is like a money pump.”

Matlick, an agronomist from Hershey, Penn., travels the world helping cocoa farmers improve their crop. On a recent trip to Haiti, Matlick taught farmers here and in a sister project in the north basics of pruning, grafting and tree growing. In all, 3,600 farmers will receive training.

PEAK SEASONS

Cocoa beans are harvested during two peak seasons, between April and May and November and December. On market day, farmers sell their beans to middlemen.

The middlemen — speculators — sell those beans to Weiner, whose family has exported the commodity for four generations. His factory in Dame Marie dries the beans, a process known as fermentation, before they are shipped from Jeremie to Port-au-Prince and eventually to companies like Mars Inc. in the United States.

While the global average for cocoa production is about 990 pounds for every two and a half acres, in Haiti, it’s just one third of that — about 330 pounds.

Doubling the crop means another 8,000 gourdes, or roughly $210, a significant amount of money in a country where half the population lives on less than $1 a day, according to the United National Development Program.

USAID’s Deprez said cutting the funding for this program doesn’t mean the agency will stop focusing on agriculture and investments outside of Port-au-Prince.

“We’re by no means considering giving up the strategy,” said Deprez, adding they’re in a waiting period until the donor conference provides clarity.

———————————————————————————————————–

COMMENT BY HAITIAN-TRUTH.ORG

We have had all sorts of great and terrible ideas foisted upon Haiti by well-meaning folks, over the years.

Like the time Ronald Reagan forced Duvalier’s slaughter of Haiti’s Creol pigs with an overblown swine-fever scare. In any other country, the sick pigs would have been isolated and killed, saving the majority. This was a political move to put pressure on Duvalier. The pigs were an important factor in the peasant economy. By forcing Duvalier’ destruction of this important asset, Reagan hoped to weaken support for Duvalier.

This didn’t work, but millions of Haitian paid the price.

Then there was the time USAID spent $5,000,000 on a coffee project and never planted a single tree.

Haiti needs practical actions, not the usual bird-brained efforts of the foreign community.

2 Responses to “ Better farming could boost Haiti-Added COMMENTARY By Haitian-Truth ”

  1. G. Douglas on March 31, 2010 at

    PEPPADEP (Projet Eradication PEST PORCINE AFRICAN)
    To the credit of the “on the ground” direction of the over-blown 1981-85 project, there was a great deal of consternation between the U.S. Director and USDA. The Executives on the project in Haiti saw the down-fall of the repopulation phase of the event long before the importation of “foreign” porcine was undertaken.

    One executive resigned in his protest. The objective had (reportedly) originally been established that the farmer who lost their swine population to the project would receive “free of any expense” a replacement of new “healthy” pigs.

    Without a great deal of details I’ll jut say that it did not happen that way meaning that thousands of persons in Haiti’s animal husbandry and agricultural community, collectively lost tens of millions of dollars that resulted with more impoverishment upon the outlying regions of the country, and eventually, higher prices for whatever local animals (that survived by being hidden away) or that were imported.

    The “Peasant” population, or “Paysan” are a noble breed of highly independent and determined people of respectable, even admirable intelligence.

    Without the small and the large Paysans, Haiti would be a country of bottle and flip-flop vendors, computer engineers, doctors & lawyers, light manufacturers and so on, but all without a decent source of protein, legumes and cereal in their diets.

    The eradication of Haiti’s pork population resulted in economic and personal suffering for a large part of the Haitian population. It endured for years following even after the introduction of imported swine and the rebuilding of that population over the ensuing years at “special” locations around the country.

    Alex Deprez’s influence and efforts are appreciated and needed most dearly at this time. Agriculture, including animal husbandry is the real future of Haiti, and always has been. Ignoring the Provincial health of Haiti has simply hastened the current misery and international dependence. Haiti can, and must become self-sufficient in the realm of nourishing its population. That is a “Definite” not just a “Possible”.

    Press announcements of “588 million”, then followed by another of “billions” for Haiti’s Agriculture “Agri-Industries” and farming have been recently heard and seen.

    Today, March 31st, 2010, at the U.N. in New York, will there again be a calling and commitment to the earlier spoken “words” of promise to go forward with Haiti’s Agriculture?

    This is now an argument, or a polite demand that the Internationals respect their earlier declarations and apply their speeches to real bankable economic support and co-administration for the protection and sustainable improvement to Agriculture, Agri-Education, Communications, Provincial Health-care, and the absolute re-commencement of the “Spirit of Damien”.

    The Agronomes, and Paysans of Haiti must have their voices heard, their influence amplified, and their wisdom applied in partnership with the Donor Nations!

    Without such an undertaking, Haiti will simply continue in the endless whirl-pool of Never!

  2. MICHAEL COLLINNS on March 31, 2010 at

    G. Douglas…thanks again.

    You are smack on with the comments about the pig fiasco.

    I knew Percy Aitkens-Soux – the Director of IICA, charged with the program.

    Canada was supposed to supply the basic replacement stock but backed out of the program when they saw its direction.

    I can remember the requirements for receiving pigs…cement-floored homes, special food, anti-biotics and other things the peasant didn’t even enjoy.

    Peasants were supposed to get replacement pigs but the commercial sector really benefited from the entire effort.

    Haiti was self-sufficient in rice and actually exported quantities. Now it imports close to $900,000,000 and Heaven help the guy who tries to break that monopoly and return to local output. The rice people will kill him.

    Some with importers of cement that destroys the local industry. Try to bring in cheap cement and the Mevs family will shoot you.

    And so it goes.

    We need a new leader with many of the qualities held by Francois Duvalier.