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Haiti earthquake: one year on

Support to agriculture the key to a sustainable, food-secure future

Photo: ©FAO/Walter Astrada
Self sufficiency amid the rubble: FAO has helped victims establish food gardens in urban areas and camps for the displaced.
11 January 2011, Rome/Port-au-Prince - One year later, the reverberations of Haiti's devastating earthquake continue to be felt in rural areas, further compounded by the ongoing cholera outbreak and the flooding and landslides triggered by Hurricane Tomas, which has hit the agriculture sector particularly hard.

Greater support to agriculture is crucial to meet the country's development objectives and help it prepare for future emergencies, according to FAO.

'Critical role'

"Poor, vulnerable, agriculture-dependent communities suffer some of the most severe consequences of natural disasters," said FAO Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for Haiti Etienne Peterschmitt.

"Agriculture has a critical role to play not only in eliminating hunger and malnutrition, but also in boosting rural incomes, reversing environmental degradation and increasing resilience to future threats," Peterschmitt added.

Since the earthquake, FAO and the Agriculture Cluster partners, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture have contributed to the food security of 560 000 households or close to three million people. FAO has distributed 2 200 tonnes of crop seeds, 16 490 kg of vegetable seeds, 164 tonnes of fertilizer, 156 000 banana plants, 29 million sweet potato cuttings and 190 000 agricultural tools.

These inputs have allowed the cultivation of a total of 69 000 ha of land, for an overall production of over 100 000 tonnes of edible crops, FAO estimates.

In urban areas and displaced camps, FAO directly or with its NGO partners, has set up vegetable gardens providing nutritious food for 18 900 of the most vulnerable households.

FAO has helped the Ministry of Agriculture develop an investment plan for the reconstruction of the sector, and has provided technical assistance in watershed management and provided support to the Coordination nationale de la sécurité alimentaire.

Cholera, Tomas add to burden

The cholera outbreak in the "rice basket" region of northwestern Haiti and the November floods triggered by hurricane Tomas, which damaged farming infrastructure and up to 78 000 hectares of crops, have added to the burden of poor rural families. The hurricane, and the subsequent flooding, caused the disease to spread further in these areas, precisely those where many of those displaced by the earthquake had taken refuge.
 
FAO and local authorities are working to provide appropriate hygiene information to farmers in isolated rural areas, where many households lack access to accurate information and adequate medical care.

FAO has also provided emergency assistance to 36 000 hurricane-affected rural families, or around 180 000 people. Support includes distribution of 100 tonnes of beans, 10 tonnes of cowpeas, 200 tonnes of maize, 700 kg of vegetable seeds, 200 tonnes of rice, 68 000 banana plants and 36 600 agricultural tools.

This support was facilitated by FAO's 2010 hurricane contingency plan which - in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture and cluster partners - pre-positioned stocks of seeds and tools in four strategic locations around the country to quickly restore agricultural production in affected areas. The support program also included a national radio campaign with spots on hurricane preparedness measures that aired on 22 national, local and community radio stations.
 
Looking ahead

FAO is currently shifting from direct input distribution to seed multiplication and other more sustainable activities as it moves from emergency assistance to longer-term rehabilitation support.

The agency is assisting small farmer associations in maize and bean seed production to ensure the supply of quality seeds and the promotion of seed fairs and voucher schemes. Its objectives also include supporting sustainable watershed management, urban agriculture linked to nutrition interventions, water and soil conservation, food processing, farmer field schools, support to local purchase for milk production in collaboration with the World Food Programme, agro-forestry activities, and the creation of employment in rural areas.

Reducing risks

Reducing risks related to natural disasters is one of the key components of FAO's three-year emergency and rehabilitation programme in support of the government's investment plan for growth of the agriculture sector and the FAO National Medium Term Planning Framework. 

Disaster risk management, one of FAO's global strategic objectives, is central to the reconstruction plan.

"Natural resource and watershed management activities need to go hand in hand with measures to improve agricultural productivity by enhancing access to land, inputs, water and markets," said FAO's Representative in Haiti Ari Toubo Ibrahim.

In the coming year, almost two-thirds of FAO's activities will be geared towards watershed management and reforestation efforts, Ibrahim said.
 
Activities are currently under way to improve environmental conditions and livelihoods, but lack of funding for agriculture has severely hampered efforts to provide immediate support to affected populations, while building foundations for longer-term interventions.

"An effective, sustainable response requires a comprehensive approach that increases community resilience to likely threats, while helping people cope with the crisis at hand," said Peterschmitt.  "It also requires funding."