Haitians have not dubbed the country’s North West department the Far West for no reason. The region feels very far away. Driving the 300 km or so that separate the capital from the North West is a little bit like travelling back in time. Along the way, pavement is replaced by bumpy dirt roads, access to electricity becomes scarce or non-existent. Even the houses, usually built with cement blocks are replaced in the most part by mud huts.
The results of the 2011 national food security survey indicate that almost 6 people out of 10 living in the department are food insecure, the second highest level in the country.
There are many reasons to explain this. The region is isolated and, even though agriculture is the main activity in the department, farmers don’t produce enough vegetables and cereals to feed the entire population.
On the road between Jean-Rabel and Port-de-Paix, it’s sometimes hard to remember that this is still a Caribbean island. The area is dry and looks a little bit like a desert. “It’s difficult for farmers", says Fedner L’espérance, an agronomist who works for Welthungerhilfe, a German organizatiion and WFP partner. "Sometimes, they go without rain for 2, 3 or even 4 months.”
Everywhere, along the road, people are preparing big bags of charcoal. This, along with agriculture, is big business in the region. As a result, bare hillsides are not uncommon. “We have to plant new trees because now, when it rains, there is nothing to keep the water”, explained L’espérance. That’s an additional problem for farmers. Long periods of drought are often followed by heavy rains that wash away their plantations.
An important part of the World Food Programme’s work in the region has been dedicated to improving agricultural output.
In Metayer, a small community in a valley surrounded by dry hills, a project completed three years ago has transformed the area in a little oasis. “This is what I consider a project well done”, says Rainer Schmid, the head of the local branch of Welthungerhilfe. “People here were committed, and this is why we succeeded”.
The problem here, like everywhere else in the region can be summarized in just one word: water. “Before the project, our crops were dying", says Berotral Vincent, who lives here and first reached out to WFP and Welthungerhilfe for help. "Now, when it rains, the soil stays in place, the water stays too.”
And how did they do it? The solution did not involve complex technology, but rather a huge amount of manpower. With the help of WFP and Welthungerhilfe, the community built retainer walls, lots of them. In exchange for their labor, they received food, which at the time really helped. Now, if you ask people here, they will tell you they have everything they need in their plantation.
“We make papaya jams and picklies” (a spicy and delicious Haitian specialty), says Juvénat Vincent as she shows the lemon, papaya and other trees that are now thriving on this piece of land that used to be dry. “Even if it doesn’t rain often, we can still grow food, she adds. Now, everyone in the community has enough to feed their children”.
Bringing Water to Small Communities
Another initiative West of Jean-Rabel improved access to water for several small communities living on a desolate stretch of land along the coast. WFP again supported a project managed by Welthungerhilfe, an organization that is very active in the region. This time, 15 cisterns and pipes were built to carry drinking water over 15 kilometers. Behind, in the hills, an irrigation system was constructed to bring much needed water to agricultural land.
Cisterns have become gathering points for the community and houses have been built around them. The fields are greener than in living memory. Crops are rising, mangoes are growing and water is just a few footsteps away.
As a result, Haitians living here have more to eat, more to drink, and fewer things to worry about everyday.