Promoting the System of Rice Intensification in Haiti
Throughout Haiti’s history, the rich soil and extensive irrigation systems of the Artibonite Valley enabled the region to supply most of the nation’s rice—a nutritional staple here. Yet while the region today is home to some 130,000 rice farmers, agriculture no longer sustains even those who live here. Such obstacles as climate-related and human-caused environmental degradation, limited access to credit, cheap imports of subsidized crops from the U.S., and a history of nonsustainable agricultural practices, have impeded the Artibonite region’s productivity, at grave human cost: 94 percent of the valley’s population are affected by hunger, according to Oxfam America’s 2014 estimates, and 43 percent experience significant food insecurity. Nearly a quarter of Haitians suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Oxfam America’s “Promotion of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Haiti” project seeks to support farmers in the Artibonite Valley by training them in SRI methods, repairing roads and irrigation infrastructure, and facilitating connections between farmer groups and governmental resources. Buddhist Global Relief has supported this project for five years.
Working through local organizations, this year the project enabled six agricultural technicians, a senior agronomist, and 60 trainers to provide technical knowledge support to 1,577 farmers as they implemented new agricultural practices including SRI, to improve farmer income and crop yield, environmental sustainability, and climate resilience.
Charles Sirrette is a farmer and mother supporting a household of five in the Artibonite Valley. As a trainer with the project, she guided 36 farmers in instituting SRI methods. The income she earned as a trainer and outreach agent enabled her to save enough to found a small shop where she sells agricultural products. She spoke about the benefits of this project for herself and her family: “I am able to diversify my sources of income. I no longer have any delay in paying my child’s school fees. I have more technical knowledge on the cultivation of rice and other crops. I have developed much more leadership on my culture block.”
The project also spearheaded a forum to advocate for further government investment in the region, and the government committed to rehabilitating hundreds of kilometers of irrigation and drainage canals and roads as part of the Caravan of Change program, a nationwide initiative to support Haiti’s agricultural development through government investment and support.
Oxfam America found that farmers increased their crop yields by weight after transitioning to SRI methods; these methods also reduced farmers’ seed costs and reliance on chemical fertilizers and improved water efficiency. However, the local market’s low prices limited farmers’ profits, and labor and equipment costs remained high. A formal evaluation funded by the project offered suggestions for responding to these and other challenges in future growing seasons.
Through her work with the project, Charles Sirrette sees hope for ongoing positive change in her community: “I can see a certain mobility and more values in the eyes of the farmers,” she said.
Tricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area and a staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief.
Haiti Livelihoods Program https://policy-practice.oxfamamerica.org/work/in-action/haiti-livelihoods-program/
USAID Office of Food for Peace Haiti Market Analysis http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADX774.pdf
Haiti: Water for the Artibonite Valley, from the Water Quality & Health Council nonprofit http://waterandhealth.org/safe-drinking-water/drinking-water/haiti-water-artibonite-valley/
“Subsidizing Starvation,” an article by Maura R. O’Connor, Foreign Policy, 1/11/2013 http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/01/11/subsidizing-starvation/