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Cholera fall-out likely to cause crop losses in Haiti

FAO and government provide hygiene information to farmers

Photo: ©FAO/Thony Belizaire
Cholera likely to increase Haiti's already-existing food security problems
29 December 2010, Rome - A significant portion of the rice harvest in northwestern Haiti is likely to be lost because of farmers' fears of cholera contamination, an FAO preliminary assessment indicates. FAO and the Haitian Ministries of Agriculture and Health are engaged in a campaign to provide hygiene information to farmers reluctant to harvest rice during the ongoing cholera emergency in the country.

Many farmers are avoiding the harvest, fearing that the water in the rivers and canals that irrigate their paddies and other fields might be infected. There are also reports of consumers being unwilling to purchase produce from regions directly affected by the cholera outbreak which will further impact agricultural commerce in the area. An FAO assessment team recently noted that some of the deaths in rural areas are not recorded by the authorities and many cases probably result from farming families not having access to the right information.

Since lost crops may impinge on food production, and thus on food security and livelihoods, FAO is now working closely with Haitian authorities and the UN agencies dealing with health and sanitation to give farmers the correct information regarding the precautions to take while working in the fields. FAO and its Agriculture Cluster partners are currently also supporting the assessment on cholera's impact on food security and rural livelihoods, led by the Coordination Nationale de la Sécurité Alimentaire (CNSA).

According to Etienne Peterschmitt, Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for FAO in Haiti, it is extremely important that disease transmission mitigation measures specifically target farm communities and even more to the point, farm workers. A rapid FAO assessment revealed that the radio stations used for transmission of sensitization messages don't reach some remote areas. More sensitization designed to target rural low-income communities' needs to be done in person through hands on training and outreach.

Without a timely response to the damage caused by floods and cholera to Haitian agriculture, food security could plunge, worsening the effects of last January's earthquake on the poor rural population. 

The effects of the cholera outbreak have been magnified by the November floods caused by hurricane Tomas which damaged farming infrastructure, damaging up to 78 000 hectares of crops and caused the disease to spread further, resulting in a sanitary crisis for over 50 000 rural families.