Background on Haiti: Haiti is faced with one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the western hemisphere and severe environmental damage due to deforestation. Poverty, over-population and a lack of technical know-how are the main causes. Two thirds of Haitians earn a living from agriculture, but the yields are among the lowest recorded in the region. Economic pressures are forcing farmers to destroy the remaining tree cover, further intensifying the environmental crisis.
The situation in Haiti
The recent upheavals following the 2010 earthquake have left Haitian farmers poorer than ever. As world events turn our attention towards other crisis areas, important programs that could help the Haitian farmers are often being put on hold. The pressure is on a rural population struggling to find its direction in a bankrupt environment. Opportunities abound, but could permanently fade away if neglected. Haitian farmers are so undercapitalized that without external support they will be unable to create and manage competitive agricultural endeavors. And they have repeatedly demonstrated that given means (the guidance, technical support and necessary agricultural materials) they can and will sustain economic growth based on the production and marketing of improved commercial crops.
The environment: Haiti's environment is indeed in very bad shape. Uncontrolled deforestation has reduced the original tree cover to less than 3%. Since the eighties we have all witnessed once wooded and fertile areas becoming bare and then seen how farming for cash crops on steep slope exposed the soil which was then washed away by the intense tropical rains. Green hills turn brown, then grey, when bare rock with pockets of soil remaining.
The effect of this erosion are terrible. Normally trees break the fall of the rain, and the soil and root systems absorb the water, allowing it to filter in below the surface, replenish aquifers, with the excess gradually working its way downhill. That was how it was in the 1970s. But now heavy rains hits the bare hillsides and shoot straight downhill with torrential force carrying away everything in its path. So we see this type of thing happening throughout the country, with these and other results:
- flash flooding downstream with destruction of crops and buildings
- sediment (rocks, mud etc) which may have these effects:
- covering and blocking roads,
- filling up and bury irrigation canals - progressively taking lands out of irrigation, and therefore reducing income and/or forcing farmers to plant less lucrative crops,
- and covering arable land with gravel and rocks - making it unusable for agriculture
The environment and agriculture are inter-linked: No country can survive this type of progressive environmental degradation and feed its people. Keeping the mountains forested is essential. But the environment and agriculture are inter-linked. In a country where acute poverty, outmoded agriculture and widespread deforestation go hand in hand, solutions have to offer both economic and environmental benefits. By promoting fruit trees, such as mango, avocado and citrus, and bamboo, experience shows that in time communities start to protect their trees because of the attractive revenue they generate. Improved varieties of staple crops can contribute to better nutrition, but it also help financially, indirectly reducing some of the factors that cause people to degrade the environment.
The current farming system consists predominately of lower revenue traditional crops
The goal is to shift towards higher revenue, environmentally-friendly crops such as fruits, tree crops and improved staple crops.
What can be done?
Given the extreme poverty and the state of the environment our focus is on increasing profitable production of high-revenue fruit trees and cash crops, using improved plant materials and aggressive marketing, in order to replace subsistence farming in a way that promotes the environment. The idea is to create a shift in production, increasing the amount of land used for high-revenue crops; and secondly, to increase the profitability of staple crops, fruits, tree crops and vegetables by improved production and marketing. Profits from successful fruit, vegetable and tuber crop production increase land use for these crops, and by using improved seeds, farmers can produce the same quantity of staple crops - which are an essential element of the Haitian diet - on less land.
Since 1985, ORE has produced well over a million grafted fruit trees in Haiti. By promoting fruits and other commercial tree crops, experience shows that in time communities start to protect their trees because of the attractive revenue they generate. Improved seeds, soil conservation measures, and assistance with production and marketing help farmers replace subsistence farming with commercially successful agriculture.
Increased income from fruit tree crops helps reduce the economic pressure on local ecosystems. In regions where the program has been able to create concentrated regional fruit production, farmers are beginning to look on orchards of mangos, avocados and citrus as investment opportunities. The ecological impact is clearly visible, tree cover is increased and soil erosion reduced. Fruits and other tree crops, high value bamboo suitable for construction and handicrafts, soil conservation measures and leguminous trees such as Calliandra (used as pole for yam production) all add up to a powerful environmental protection package - offering farmers cost-effective solutions that help preserve the ecology for future generations.
In a country where acute poverty, outmoded agriculture and widespread deforestation go hand in hand, solutions have to offer both economic and environmental benefits. By promoting fruit trees, such as mango, avocado and citrus, and bamboo, experience shows that in time communities start to protect their trees because of the attractive revenue they generate.
The grafting program helps to boost Haiti's mango export industry and extend the avocado season. Bamboo are a renewable source of material for construction and handicrafts. By providing improved nutrient-rich seeds and offering production and marketing assistance, we are able to help the farmers replace subsistence farming with commercially successful agriculture - and also provide the nutrients through improved staple foods and help resolve malnutrition.
ORE has been working in Haiti since 1985