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Family Farming Could Feed Haiti and Protect It From Climate Change

May 2019

A recent article in Haiti’s largest daily newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, discusses what agroecology is and why it’s important for Haiti. We are posting this article with permission from its author, Jean-Rusnel Etienne, agricultural engineer consultant and teacher-researcher.

Haiti is not the only place where family farming is practiced. Currently, in many countries of the world, in Latin America as in Europe, they are gradually returning to this system of agriculture, because they have found that it ensures food security of the population, public health and the environmental protection.

In these countries, the State adopts measures to support peasant agriculture by conducting research to find new and better technologies, subsidizing peasants and providing them with the necessary technical support. But in Haiti this is unfortunately not the case. On the contrary, the tendency is to want to reject family farming, and the very people who work that land. Today to be a peasant is difficult, and family farming output has greatly decreased. Indeed, the Haitian government has deliberately chosen to encourage the free entry of subsidized foreign products into the market, facilitating unfair competition with products grown by Haitian farmers, who do not receive any support. Therefore, it is necessary to encourage all actors, and mainly the government, to promote more sustainable agricultural projects.

Today, Haitian agriculture faces new challenges: the increased needs of human and animal food following population growth on the one hand, and on the other hand, the new demands from society, like sanitation, safety, nutritional quality and respect for the environment. Haitian farmers today face many difficulties: loss of soil fertility, proliferation of bio-aggressors, climate change, lack of access to quality seeds and credit, low production diversity, lack of skilled labor and market instability.

The agroecological transition must be promoted both through seed empowerment and the promotion of soil fertility practices (various compost, green manure, interpretation of the state of the environment), and preserving diversity (bio-pesticide, crops, off-season cultivation). In order to reinforce this change, the government needs to implement strategies to support the use of alternative techniques, or even provide financial incentives for their adoption.

Adopt a green revolution based on nature

The new challenges call for the elimination of environmental and health risks related to agricultural activity, especially the intensive use of plant protection products and chemical fertilizers, such as water and soil pollution, the loss of biodiversity, the prevalence of carcinogenic diseases, etc. (Tilman et al., 2002). Several studies have shown that pesticides have caused the disappearance of several animal and plant species of great ecological import, such as honey bees (Celette et al., 2009, Thompson, 2010) and have driven a large number of acute and chronic intoxications in humans (Aktar et al., 2009, Blair et al., 2015, World Health Organization, 1990). The agroecological transition is a dynamic process characterized by different relationships between objectives, farming techniques, means, implementation tools and impacts (environmental, economic and social techniques).

To respond to issues related to environmental and human health, researchers and agrologists (Quénéhervé, 1990, Lacher & Goldstein, 1997, Horrigan et al., 2002, Dinham & Malik, 2003, Gowen et al. Maroni et al., 2006), in particular, in collaboration with small-holder farmers, are exploring new ways to produce with low numbers or zero of chemicals.

Today, it is necessary to put the landscape at the center of agricultural projects through different approaches. Each farm is considered a project space, and thus a landscape project. The transition to agroecology requires a reorganization of agricultural landscapes to allow nature to become an ally and not a constraint.

Adopt visionary policies for agroecology

Farmers have less and less room for maneuver to cope with the growing instability of agricultural courses and the impacts of climate change. These developments increasingly question the sustainability of the Haitian food system, in employment and incomes (precariousness of service jobs, income of farmers dependent on subsidies, weakening of the economic balance of farms) but also in health and environment. On average, diverse growing performed better than monocultures, especially in drought conditions, where the increase in yield went up to an extra 800 g/m2 of cultivated area, against 200 g/m2 in irrigated conditions. In addition, the more plots containing different genotypes for the same species, ten instead of one, the greater the yield stability. For researchers, the presence of several species on the same plot makes it possible to better use the soil resources, which explains the better yield obtained by polycultures.

The lines of agroecology are changing and depend on several parameters: where we place the ecological cursor, the objectives we want to achieve, the means of production available and the socio-economic and environmental context. Agroecology calls for breaking the link with top-down and uniform agricultural production patterns. Each agroecological transition must be studied in terms of the territory (pedoclimatic and socio-economic conditions, and opportunities for outlets) and the objectives of the farmer (health, quality of life, etc.). Agroecology does not prohibit the use of “organic” or “natural” agricultural techniques from other modes of production, which has led to some confusion.

Free trade agreements threaten Haiti

In general, Haiti’s agro-food industries are unfairly competing with European, American, and Dominican companies. For agriculture, it’s the same thing.

We all know that European and American agriculture, in addition to being one of the most productive in the world, are heavily subsidized (the European Union through the Common Agriculture Policy). So exports of rice, milk, sugar, and eggs for example, become even cheaper on our market.

The decrease in budget revenues is huge. To be sure, the USA/EU/Dominican Republic goods must be more than half of Haiti’s imports. This is budget revenue that would not return to the coffers of the Haitian state for almost 30 years.

In addition, in Haiti the majority of companies are from the informal sector, so do not pay taxes on companies which limits the tax revenue of the government. This agreement forbids the increase of export taxes of cocoa, coffee and mangoes, which was one of the first fiscal resources of our country. With population growth, the country has long term opportunities for high value-added products from their so-called green technologies.

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