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.

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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.

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    Haiti is faced with severe environmental damage due to deforestation
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    Less than 3% of the original tree cover remains, and the mountains are scarred with soil erosion and ever-widening ravines.
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    Trees are cut down on the mountains, and the slopes are planted with cash crops for a few seasons, until the soil washes downhill and out to sea.
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    Deforestation has eliminated all but a tiny percentage of the country's original tree-cover and the soil from once fertile lands quickly erodes.
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    Slash and burn farming is still widespread - being a cheap and easy way to clear land to grow seasonal crops likes beans and corn.
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    You cannot fail to admire the hard work that goes into farming such steep slopes - although sadly the exposed top-soil will wash away in a few years.
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    As tree-cutting and charcoal production progress once fertile areas gradually become barren due to soil-erosion.
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    Charcoal is a major cash crop, as it is always in demand as the main source of cooking fuel.
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    Tons of charcoal are consumed daily in the capital Port-au-Prince while the tree cover continues to dwindle. An alternative solution must be found if the country is to survive.
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    Fertile lands in the lowlands are subject to flash-floods from the eroded hillsides upstream. These floods can destroy crops and property, covering arable land with rocky sediment, making it worthless for agriculture.
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    Flooding increases in line with the deforestation. Roads, towns and property are destroyed by increasingly frequent flooding.
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    The value of a tree is often only in its wood products, which is why propagating grafted mangos and other commercial fruit trees (which earn more every year in cash than their wood-value) is so important.
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    Trees that earn good money annually are very rarely ever cut down.
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    Overpopulation leads to increasing pressure on the environment. Everyone needs fuel to cook and trees are often the most readily-available source of cash.
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    The agricultural system is still based on subsistence farming with outdated technologies. The seeds and plant material are rarely selected for better performance, and crop yields are generally very low.
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    The majority of farmers focus on growing enough food to feed their families and selling the balance in small local markets, rather than as a market-driven commercial enterprise.
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    Tobacco being transported from the field in an ox-drawn cart.
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    Micro regions with partially wooded, fertile lands and irrigation systems still survive - and farmers are relatively prosperous, growing abundant fruits, vegetables and other crops.
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    Once erosion from deforestation causes sediment to block and bury irrigation canals local agriculture shifts from high to low revenue crops - and the population becomes poorer and less well nourished.
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    This young girl's yellow hair is a sign of Kwashiorkor from malnourishment
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    During the mango and avocado seasons signs of malnutrition decease especially in children.
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    Children collecting water from a spring. It is estimated that every family spends on average 6 hours a day in collecting water.
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    Cooking traditional rice and beans on an open fire. Often a primitive setup but a delicious taste!
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    The rural community takes care of it's basic needs with artisanal but effective technologies
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    The rural economy often relies on small-scale commercial activities to bolster income from agriculture.
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    Washing day by the river is a regular fixture throughout rural Haiti
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    As the plight of the rural population worsens many migrate to Port-au-Prince in the hopes of a better future - though unfortunately the majority live under harsh conditions in the city's many slums.
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    Even before the 2010 earthquake Port-au-Prince was over crowded, lacked urban planning and proper infrastructure. Today the challenges are far worse.
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    Haitians can display inexpressible charm and good humour even in the most difficult conditions.


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.

Improving the current farming system: Studies show that the Haitian farming system is still currently dominated by the production of staple crops such as corn, beans and sorghum, utilizing nearly 80% of the available farmland. Trees occupy a small, rapidly dwindling percentage of land use. Livestock would benefit from improved forage crops, and that the tradition of free-range grazing contributes to the deterioration of the environment. Vegetable and tuber crop production offers many opportunities to earn substantial income, but currently represent a small percentage of the farmers' production system. The over-all picture is one of low-income agriculture, with marginal quantities of land given to tree and vegetable crop production. This predominance of traditional low-yield crops, combined with the scarcity of quality seeds and plant-materials and the lack of production and marketing know-how imprison farmers in a cycle of subsistence farming and poverty.
Farming Systems 1

The current farming system consists predominately of lower revenue traditional crops

Farming Systems 2

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

Take a look at what people have been saying about us and our program history.

Mousson Finnigan CEO ORE Haiti
Dr. Mousson Pierre Finnigan, CEO of ORE Haiti, was among 15 women selected
for the national first award of 'Femmes de Mérite' en 2009.