Haitian small farmers breaking new ground in agriculture

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Three years after the earthquake, small farmers in Haiti are sowing seeds of prosperity. They know money doesn’t grow on trees, especially after the terrible events of January 2010, which threw the country’s economy into a tailspin.

But they also know they can count on vital resources becoming available to them free from red tape.

Agriculture grants are now reaching small farmers directly thanks to a new distribution mechanism that the Bank has helped set up. This is no small feat.

The agro-industry employs 75 percent of the Haitian poor and accounts for 25 percent of the country’s GDP. Also, agriculture has huge potential to help Haiti achieve its economic and development goals in a sustainable manner.Farmers’ needs and decision-making abilities are at the forefront of the novel distribution system.

Officials can now estimate demand, by crop and by region, by getting farmers and suppliers to register in a single national database. Up until now government agencies had purchased and distributed supplies such as fertilizers and seeds, resulting in poor supply and chaos --private agro-input businesses competing with the public sector and NGOs, for example.

After some initial hesitation, Haitian farmers bought into the new initiative. Marie Gerta Labbe, mother of 11 children, was one of those doubters. She recently made her way into Camp-Perrin in southern Haiti, to find out about the new national farmers register.

At first the whole formality of the process put her off. But then she shouted: “Give me the contract! I’m going to sign it; I have no problem in making the commitments asked from me.” Marie, later confessed, was determined to do it.

She is raising her children alone and struggling to make ends meet. Also, she said it has been difficult to purchase enough fertilizer and seeds to boost her yield. She had already heard about other projects in the South Department but had never managed to register in time.

Marie’s two neighbors, Yvanne and Françoise, are also on board after their visit to Camp Perrin. They say the paperwork and eligibility criteria are simple. Once on the register, farmers are visited by an agriculture official who helps them complete the grant application form, noting in particular the GPS coordinates of the farming plot.

A list of eligible farmers is compiled and then sent to Port au Prince for approval. Farmers may then collect their vouchers or cash at a local bank branch. The new system is a win-win for all. It’s good for the farmers, the government and the donor community.

It makes financial resources more readily available to farmers. And from a donor perspective it makes easy to track public aid, which in turn helps assess the impact of grants.

After hurricane Sandy lashed Haiti’s south, it became clear once again the need for the Government to have a system that allows targeting its aid by area and type of production.

The new distribution system will be extended to the rest of the country through various projects, allowing for the adoption of technologies in a rapid and sustainable manner.

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