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Better Irrigation and Training to Improve Crop Yields in Artibonite

Since she was a child, Marie Bertha Alexis, a 55-year old rice farmer, dreamed of improving the lives of her friends and neighbors. She knew the only solution would come from the land in her native Artibonite river valley, Haiti’s principal agricultural region. But her efforts were stymied by decaying irrigation systems and lack of knowledge on how to best grow crops such as rice.

However, the situation is now changing not only for Alexis, but for some 40,000 farmers in the valley. In 2012, Haiti inaugurated a repaired irrigation system made up of nearly 30 kilometers of masonry-reinforced canals that provide water reliably so that farmers can grow rice and high-value vegetables. Financed by the IDB, the project aims to protect, repair and expand the Artibonite’s irrigation network, the largest in the country.

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As a result of the project, the irrigated area in the Artibonite over the past three years has increased by 5,000 hectares (12,500 acres) during the dry season and by 7,000 hectares (17,500 acres) during the rainy season. This has enabled 10,000 more farmers to plant two crops a year. The project also repaired riverbanks, ensuring the protection of about 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres), or about one-third of the Artibonite’s irrigated area. And the program financed the construction of an 86-meter bridge over the Salée floodway, which typically overflows every rainy season, cutting off some 40,000 people from the rest of the valley.

The project is expected to boost the incomes of farmers, and that increased domestic production will pave the way for an estimated reduction of 40,000 metric tons of rice imports annually.

Besides construction works, the program also provided training for as many as 2,000 farmers, including Alexis, on how to prepare the land, properly irrigate and fertilize the soil for rice and onion crops, and better select and process seed rice. In order to encourage the adoption of better farming techniques, the program created pilot plots where local farmers could compare how both traditional and more new techniques affected productivity. Results from these experiments were disseminated through workshops.

For Alexis, who has been a farmer since she was 18 and today is the head of an association of rural women in the region, the program is making her dreams come true.

“For us, rice is everything,’’ she said. “With this program, we are producing more. We have more to eat and we hope to produce even more.”