Workers are building walls to keep water on the hills where they grow fruits and vegetables. Copyrights: WFP/ Stephanie Tremblay
A new project in a region that Haitians call the Far West is helping small farmers produce more food.
Jean Rabel is a sleepy little town almost at the top of Haiti’s northern peninsula. The city is located less than 300 km from the capital. Yet, getting there is a 7-hour journey, half of it on bumpy mountain dirt roads.
Here, arid valleys and deforested hills alternate with greener areas. Saying that the region is isolated is an understatement. Haiti’s North West feels like a place untouched by the passage of time. In Jean Rabel and in the rural areas surrounding the city, life probably isn’t that different now from what it was a century ago.
It is estimated that about 10,000 people live in Jean Rabel and 120,000 more have settled in the country side. The main activity in the region is agriculture. “We grow corn, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes as well as other fruits and vegetables” said Arsénio Védrine, a local farmer.
But year after year, everyone here deals with the same problem: it doesn’t rain often enough. And when it does, water seeps away on the dry land that is the farmers' sole source of income.
“We started working here after a big drought”, explains Rainer Schmid, who has dedicated the past 11 years of his life to improving agricultural output in the North West on behalf of WFP’s partner, the German NGO Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action). “A lot of food needs to be imported," he adds. "By working on watershed management and by creating irrigation systems, food production can be more regular. We believe that with each harvest, the need to import food will decrease.”
In Vieille Place, a few kilometers outside of Jean Rabel, Schmid recently started a new project funded by the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, the World Food Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and his own organization.
“WFP had identified the region as food insecure," says Eugene Elgo, who represents the Ministry of Agriculture in the area. "Creating jobs, generating revenues for people to develop agricultural land is a good way to reduce food insecurity. This is why we wanted to team up with WFP here.”
Increasing agricultural production, reducing the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters, and more importantly, improving families’ access to food are the goals of this extensive project.
“When there’s no rain, everything dies in our gardens," says Julienne Alexis one of the hundreds of workers busy building dry walls on the mountainside. "Now, water will stay on our land and we’ll be able to grow beautiful bananas, good fruits”. Her colleague Arsénio Védrine agrees. “You help us improve our land, he says, this is precious and it will stay with us”.
But that’s not the only thing that will stay with them. In exchange for their work, laborers are paid the equivalent of US $5 per day in cash and food. This is the government-mandated minimum salary in Haiti. “We buy fruits, food and other things we need, adds Julienne Alexis about her salary. It helps us lead a normal life”.
At the end of the project, dry walls and trees will have been planted on more than 4.000 hectares and another 150 will have brand new irrigation systems.
“Our life will change because we won’t depend on rainfalls as much as we did in the past," says Alexis. "Already, we see more economic activity, our community is better.”