Over two years and billions of dollars in aid later, Haiti is still working to find a firm footing in its recovery. A key impediment to sustained progress has been food insecurity for approximately 4.5 million Haitians. While ongoing programs providing access to staple foods for households have been critical in the recovery effort, with nearly two-thirds of the population reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods, a long-term solution is needed to tackle this challenge.
Andrew Pugh, Director of Oxfam in Haiti, tells MediaGlobal, “Two years after the earthquake, agricultural production is still not a priority in the reconstruction as Haitians have demanded. The biggest challenges remain lack of investment in the agriculture sector, lack of technical assistance, lack of government support to small farmers in the form of agricultural inputs.“
This was evident to Patrick Belizaire, Founder and Executive Director of Cooperative Farm Initiative for Haiti, who returned home to Thomonde, Haiti in 2007 to find farmers employing outdated technology and farming techniques. Belzaire describes Haiti as a “time capsule” without having any large-scale investment to revolutionize the sector.
The earthquake, however, resulted in renewed international attention that brought with it a range of resources. In addition to financial assistance, the country has seen technical and infrastructural investments. “All of a sudden [after the earthquake], there’s this huge rush of technology,” says Belizaire. “I mean, there’s Internet now, roads are being built, and all of this has happened within the span of three years.”
The Cooperative Farm Initiative is harnessing this investment to empower farmers. “Give them more power over their crops, thus giving them more power over purchasing, selling, buying power,” explains Belizaire. This helps farmers acquire political power and agency. “Even if they’re not educated in a classroom,” he explains, “they understand what they bring to the table. And the way to do it is to reconnect them once more.”
Belizaire and his organization are doing this by opening access for small-scale farmers to more efficient methods of farming, as well as access to buyers. His organization has set up partnerships for farmers with hospitals and organizations like World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization that has been involved in relief and recovery efforts in Haiti, to generate reliable revenue streams. Additionally, they are creating farming resource centers that aid in everything from seed and planting assistance to educating farmers on the use of various farm machines and tools.
Another initiative working on the ground is the Lambi Fund of Haiti, which partners with both rural communities as well as multilateral agencies. Sarah Leavitt, Digital Outreach Manager for the Lambi Fund, describes their range of services, from setting up credit funds to animal husbandry projects, to creating seed banks that will allow for affordable access to seeds for planting.
“Life after the earthquake has gotten increasingly difficult,” Leavitt tells MediaGlobal. “Farmers have had to deal with family members and friends moving back to rural communities — all needing food and shelter because their homes were destroyed in Port-au-Prince. Competing with food aid and food imports that undercut local food production has made it very hard for farmers to make any sort of profit on their crops.”
Many local initiatives like these have been buoyed by international support from international aid agencies and organizations. Oxfam has been one such critical player in securing food access both in terms of availability and access for Haitians. “In the Artibonite valley, Oxfam supports more than 2,000 rice producers to increase their production and improve the transformation process by using innovative technologies and practices to increase yield which results in better incomes,” says Pugh. “By working in the rice sector, Oxfam is focusing on a strategic sector to improve food security.”
In addition to working with rice and coffee growers in northern Haiti, Oxfam is assisting with disaster management and improving infrastructure to mitigate flooding. For relief work in the capital of Port-au-Prince, Pugh says, “Oxfam has focused on livelihoods and recapitalization of small businesses and a long term program of revenues generation in urban areas helping Haitians improve accessibility to foods.” Oxfam plans to launch a new initiative on urban gardening to help families increase their income through small scale agricultural production.
Not all international assistance has proven effective, however. The debate continues on the application of funds and why progress has been so slow in Haiti. Belizaire describes seeing first-hand heavy machinery and tractors in rural areas, left abandoned for lack of knowledge in their operation or maintenance. Such forms of aid look to provide quick fixes that overlook the underlying problems associated with the situation on the ground.
Belzaire notes that farming is a long process, especially when the existing infrastructure has been uprooted. “When a farmer’s farming for the first time,” Belzaire says, “they don’t really see profits. Most of the time it’s building up that profit and building up that crop, and finding that market, to efficiently bring that crop to market.”
Looking at the work ahead in Haiti, Pugh states, “The lack of employment and revenues is a serious concern for the population to access food. If Haiti is to move towards more sustainable development, poverty reduction, and food security in both urban and rural areas, it must give high priority to agricultural development.”
Photo courtesy of Feed My Starving Children: www.fmsc.org