Haiti's Ground Zero: a field of maize and beans

Haiti's Ground Zero: a field of maize and beans

02/02/2010

As long as you had the money, one thing a traveler would have passing through the poor Haitian farming town of Leogane, before the terrible earthquake on January 12, was a good meal. A stop-off on the long road from Port-au Prince to the south-western cities of Jacmel and Les Cayes, Leogane's roadside stalls sold hot meals of plantain, beans and maize. Weary travellers would stock up on coconuts, mangoes, sugar cane, bananas and grapefruit, depending on the season, from women crouched with baskets by the roadside.

Situated just a few miles from the quake's epicenter, Leogane is now in tatters, a fifth of the population dead, 80 to 90% of the buildings destroyed, and two weeks after the earthquake struck, people in this former agricultural hub are hungry and in desperate need of food.

Closer still to the earthquake's epicenter, in the rural areas, an FAO led assessment mission of damages to the agriculture sector took place. At first sight, there seemed to be more grounds for optimism. Haiti's Ground Zero is covered in fields of beans and maize crops, seemingly untouched by the terrible force of nature that has caused the tragedy in Haiti.

If only that was the whole picture. Most of the scattered mud and tin-roofed shacks where the farmers who attended the fields lived were destroyed. Debris from the earthquake and the ensuing mudslides has blocked the irrigation canals. This is endangering not only the only source of water for humans and animals, but the beans and maize crops, part of them a few weeks from maturing, is at its thirstiest stage.

A group women was crouching and scooping water in the fields with anything they could find, a plastic cup, even their bare hands. Their tools are trapped under the debris of their houses. Further along the road, in the mountain rural areas between Leogane and Fond Dwa on the road to Jacmel the earthquake had destroyed all the farmer's houses. The area is a main source of bananas for Port-au-Prince. Women traders, called "Madame Saras" in Haiti were seated with empty baskets waiting for suppliers that didn't come because of the earthquake.

FAO has already started the process to procure as fast as possible 10 000 each of wheel-barrows, pick-axes, hoes and shovels, so that the farmers can clear the canals as quickly as possible and save the crops.

There is a famous Haitian expression: behind every mountain is another mountain - one problem follows another. To avert an increase in hunger and malnutrition in the rural areas, where 60% of the population live, urgent support and focus on Haiti's food production capacity, for the farmers to feed themselves and the people in the cities, is essential. Although most of the television cameras are in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's ability to bounce back lies in the rural areas.