The first Latin American country to become a republic, Haiti is one of the poorest in the world. Its rate of human and social development is very low and eight out of ten of its 11.2 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, or less than two dollars a day. Self-sustaining agriculture is the primary means of providing food, both in rural areas and in densely populated urban areas. The country, which includes the western part of the island of Hispaniola, is therefore under constant threat of not being able to guarantee regular and quality food to the majority of its population.
Almost two-thirds of Haitians survive on subsistence agriculture intended for the domestic market, producing mainly grains, vegetables and staple foods, making agriculture the main economic base of the country. About 78% of households are involved in one way or another in agricultural activities. And the cultivated area is divided into about one million agricultural units, of which about 80% is in the hands of small farmers with plots of less than 1.3 hectares.
These small farmers face major production challenges, such as loss of soil fertility, climate change, a weak financing system, limited access to quality seeds and instability of the local market. But there are also challenges from a processing and marketing perspective due to poor infrastructure, low storage capacity, and lack of connections to roads and transport networks.
As the basis of the national economy, agriculture plays a key role in providing food and generating income at the local level. In addition, the sector is essential for increasing the resilience of other economic activities and adapting the country to the risks posed by natural disasters. Haitian agriculture could therefore not only significantly improve the country’s food security, but also stimulate its economy and make the country safer for the environment.
Between 1998 and 2012, a period of relative growth in the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean, Haiti’s expansion was only 1.0% per year, well below what is needed to reduce levels of poverty. But in 2019, the country further reduced its weak growth to 0.7%.
In the first year of the pandemic, according to UN estimates, the Haitian economy contracted by 2% and this year the decline is expected to be around 1.8%. The pandemic, therefore, adds yet another element to the already complex national scenario, resulting from years of political instability, civil war and natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake and 2016 hurricane Matthew.
Towards a productive transformation
Haiti’s geography, agricultural potential, natural resources, culture and history make it a country rich in opportunities. However, to initiate a process of productive and social transformation, clear, comprehensive and appropriate policies are needed to support small farmers and small and medium enterprises that are part of the agricultural value chain.
In this sense, how to transform, develop and promote Haitian agriculture by strengthening the agricultural production of small producers? There are two priority intervention areas with clear potential to increase agricultural productivity, increase rural incomes and improve food security in the country.
First, the diversification of income sources among rural families should be encouraged. By diversifying agricultural production, the associated risks would tend to be reduced, thus increasing incomes and improving national food security. All of this would make the country more resilient and less vulnerable to shocks.
Second, the performance of rural markets must be improved. Agricultural productivity suffers from limited availability and high costs of production inputs. In addition, the lack of reliable access to markets reduces the value of investing in improving agricultural production.
With this in mind, policymakers and other actors should focus on expanding diversification and improving access to markets, financial instruments and agricultural and climate technology assistance. Policies are needed to promote and strengthen the links between cities and the countryside in order to facilitate the access of small farmers to markets.
These policies should encourage farmers to increase production, processing and marketing through access to credit, agricultural insurance, prioritizing local production, encouraging the private sector to get involved with small farmers. In addition, the creation of production and marketing cooperatives, farmers’ associations and incentives to protect and preserve the environment should be supported.
To this end, research should be strengthened to identify the most appropriate agricultural activities for each agroecological production zone. Strengthening extension services with initiatives such as Farmer Field Schools or FAO, and greater availability and accessibility of key inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers, should also be encouraged.
Development of extra-agricultural activities
In addition, non-agricultural activities should be encouraged to diversify the income sources of rural families. This would help reduce vulnerability and establish long-term planning, which is essential to address the climate risks so prevalent in the country.
To this end, investments should be directed towards reducing barriers to basic education, vocational training, seed capital, access to basic services and markets. “Smoke-free industrialization” could be used as a framework to pursue structural changes, not only in sub-Saharan countries and communities, as has been discussed in global forums, but also in Haiti and other Caribbean countries. .
Finally, the expansion of credit and the reduction of the cost of production are directly associated with the reduction of risk, which in Haiti has a strong climatic content. The adoption of innovative financial instruments, such as parametric insurance, could therefore be a useful tool.
Sharing risks with different regions and different markets – local and external – would be a first step in strengthening financial markets and creating supranational institutional arrangements that would increase the amounts available to farmers. This would expand their markets and reduce the risks associated with hurricanes and floods.
This type of insurance, by linking the lowest risk to the development of technologies and the adoption of climate-friendly measures, would constitute an engine for the adoption of new practices. And especially those suggested by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to ensure that countries and stakeholders are resilient to climate change.
The Haitian people deserve global support.
www.latinoamerica21.com, a plural medium engaged in the diffusion of critical and true information on Latin America.