From the Fields to the Schools
Torbeck is located in the South of Haiti, about 4 hours away from the capital. Here, in the valley, you might be led to think that everybody is growing rice. This is not far from the truth. Fields are everywhere and rice is one of the main crops grown by local farmers.
Ylmo Louinesse is one of them. He has been toiling in rice paddies since he was a child. At 39, he rents about one hectare of land and the parcel is his family’s main source of income. One of the problems he’s had over the years is that no matter how hard he worked on his land, he could never produce a lot.
Haiti is a food-deficit country. That means that farmers like Ylmo do not produce enough to feed the entire population. About half of what is eaten by Haitians is imported. The government would like to change that and increasing food production is a priority.
In 2009, a group of Taiwanese agronomists arrived in the region with a specific mandate given to them by the Haitian authorities. Could they help farmers produce more rice?
“Nearly 70% of the rice consumed in the country is imported", said Shui-Sung Hsiang, the head of the Taiwanese technical assistance in Haiti. "The rice growing areas could produce 70% of the rice consumed by Haitians, so they would only need to import 30%. We believe there is great potential here to achieve this goal.”
When they arrived though, production yield was low, very low. On average, farmers managed to grow about a ton to a ton and a half of rice per hectare. The Taiwanese believe that the region has the potential of producing at least 6 times more rice.
“Before, we used to plant a lot of rice but the yield was minimal", says Jacques Jonas Charles, a rice farmer and the head of one of the local associations. "Now, because of the Taiwanese technical assistance, we are better farmers. We take better care of our fields, have a better yield and our families benefit.”
The results speak for themselves. In less than three years, farmers have tripled their production.
Producing more rice is not the answer to all problems though. Storage is an issue and crops need to be sold quickly because farmers have nowhere to keep them. Marketing is also a challenge because there is no organized distribution infrastructure.
“Sometimes we bring our rice to the market and we can’t find buyers because everyone is trying to sell its harvest at the same time”, says Thélicène St-Félix, a rice producer.
This is why the Taiwanese cooperation approached the World Food Programme. They knew the agency was working at increasing the amount of food purchased locally and offered rice at a competitive price. “When you have an organization like the World Food Programme participating in the development, that helps farmers understand that they should continue growing their crops. They know that their product is going to get sold, they will get paid easily and that motivates them to work more,” said Pierre Jeune, the head of operations for the Taiwanese Cooperation in Torbeck.
This summer, WFP purchased 500 tons of rice from Ylmo, Thélicène and their neighbors. The Government of Canada provided the funds with the condition that the rice be purchased from small-scale farmers and used in the school meals program. In fact, all the food purchased by WFP in Haiti is going to this program. The agency, working under the direction of Haitian authorities, believes that this is the most effective way to stimulate local economies. Developing links between farmers and schools encourages the development of competitive markets, supports productivity and increases the producer’s revenues. It is also the government of Haiti’s objective. By 2030, the National School Meals Programme aims to reach every student with daily meals cooked with local ingredients.
To support that goal and to facilitate local purchases, WFP has put in place a series of measures. For example, the tender process was modified to allow small farmers association to bid only for the quantities of food they can produce and training sessions were held to help farmers master every step of the tender process, from bidding to delivery.
“It’s a privilege to be able to work together”, concluded Thélicène St-Félix. A privilege indeed and something that WFP wants to keep developing everywhere in Haiti.