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Haiti agriculture: growing investments

Highlights from rural development projects funded by the Inter-American Development Bank in Haiti

Agriculture remains a key sector for Haiti, as half of its population lives in rural areas. Together with other donors, the IDB supports the Haitian government’s national agricultural plan, which seeks to address the sector’s structural problems. The IDB’s sector knowledge and experience from before the earthquake define its comparative strength and to make the sector a continued priority over the next four years.

At present, the IDB’s agricultural portfolio in Haiti consists of projects totaling $200 million, substantially focused on some of the country’s principal growing areas in the Artibonite and Northern regions. They include investments in infrastructure for irrigation and flood protection, subsidies to promote technology transfers and sustainable farming practices, the improvement of agricultural services such as animal and plant health controls, and supporting measures to regularize land tenure.

Since the earthquake the IDB’s MIF has also sought innovative ways to enhance agricultural production and incomes. It has established significant partnerships to support projects in two major rural value chains: mangoes and coffee. In the first case it partnered with The Coca Cola Company, USAID and the NGO TechnoServe to train some 25,000 farmers with the goal of doubling their incomes from mangoes. In the case of coffee, the MIF is backing a project with French development agency AFD, Nestle, Agronomists and Veterinarians without Borders and the Colombian coffee growers’ federation to restore Haiti as a premium producer and exporter.

Protecting Haiti’s Breadbasket

In the Artibonite river valley, Haiti’s principal agricultural region, the IDB has long supported a program to boost the output of staples such as rice, as well as high-value vegetables. Most investments have been aimed at protecting, rehabilitating and expanding the region’s irrigation network, the largest in the country. As a result, over the past two years the irrigated area has increased by 5,000 hectares (12,500 acres) during the dry season and by 7,000 hectares (17,500 acres) during rainy season, allowing 10,000 more farmers to plant two crops a year.

“In addition, repairs done to the riverbanks have ensured the protection of about 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres), or about one third of the Artibonite’s irrigated area,” said IDB rural development specialist Marion Le Pommellec, the program’s team leader. “Work currently underway to strengthen the Canneau dam will ensure the protection of the entire system.”

Before the 2010 earthquake, the program financed the construction of an 86-meter (280-foot) bridge over the Salée floodway, which typically overflows every rainy season, cutting off some 40,000 people from the rest of the valley.

The program also supported the rehabilitation of a rice processing plant, expanding its capacity fourfold. The plant provides selected seed to help local farmers improve yields. Applied research and technical assistance provided by the program, coupled with support from a technical mission from Taiwan, China to introduce more productive agricultural techniques, have shown that output can more than triple on experimental plots, depending on the rice variety grown and the inputs available.

Small Dam, Big Impact

Decades of deforestation and soil degradation have ravaged the Ennery-Quinte watershed, but an IDB-financed agriculture intensification project is using several approaches to boost rural productivity in this river basin. One of the most promising techniques is the construction of micro dams, says Port-auPrince based rural development specialist Bruno Jacquet.

Using large boulders and cement, the project builds small dams along the course of the ravines. During the rainy season, water accumulates behind the retention wall and sediment settles in to the riverbed. In less than a year, small patches of richer soil build up, allowing farmers to plant higher value cash crops such as beans, taro or plantains. As seasons pass, fertile areas continue to grow. Farmers can now use some of their additional income to plant live hedges and trees higher up the ravine sides, protecting their land.

This technique, first tested in Haiti by French foreign aid experts, is being expanded under the IDB-backed project, which has already financed the construction of 26 micro dams along the Ennery-Quinte, out of a total of 150 planned. Given the quick returns and the positive environmental impacts of these investments (micro dams cost about $5,000 a piece) the IDB expects to replicate this experience in three other river basins where it is financing watershed management programs, Jacquet said.

Other milestones of the Ennery-Quinte project are: the improvement of 50,000 mango trees by top-grafting; the construction of 400 cisterns to harvest rainwater; a successful pilot program to test vouchers for seeds, and the planting of more than 1 million fruit and lumber trees across the watershed.

This reforestation effort must be reinforced with other measures concerning local governance, such as persuading farmers to tether their cows and goats to prevent them from eating the saplings, or to refrain from burning fields to clear land for planting. Jacquet notes this will require alternative methods, such as growing fodder to feed cattle or adopting mulch-based agriculture, which helps conserve the soil.

Early Alerts against Floods

As a mountainous country exposed to hurricanes and tropical storms, Haiti frequently suffers flash floods and mudslides. Guarding against such threats, which can take thousands of lives, the Haitian government finished installing in 2011 an early alert system covering 32 municipalities on 13 high-risk watersheds. The semi-automated network was part of a disaster preparedness project financed by the IDB.

A network of 52 remote monitoring stations picks up data such as rainfall and river levels. When a flood stage is reached, electronic sensors transmit the information to a command center, which in turn relays the alert to different agencies involved in civil protection. Members of an inter-agency team can then sound alarms by activating any of the 47 sirens placed in high-risk populated areas. Sirens have three different sounds: one for practice drills, one for approaching storms, and one for floods.

As part of the project, risk maps and evacuation plans were prepared for the 32 municipalities covered by the system, identifying the areas likely to be flooded and places where people can seek refuge. Local authorities and civil protection committees received training on how to respond to emergencies.

While no floods triggered alarms during the 2011 hurricane season, the early alert system was used to warn people of two approaching tropical storms that eventually sideswiped Haiti, said IDB rural development specialist Gilles Damais. Sensors will be calibrated over time, based on the information generated by the monitoring equipment, eventually offering the option of automating the alarm system. At present, Damais added, international best practices recommend retaining an element of human decision in the process to ensure that other emergency response mechanisms are activated when the worst happens.