15 March 2010, Port-au-Prince/Rome – A significant increase in national food production, rural employment and reforestation are the keys to a greener, more productive Haiti, said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf during a four-day visit to the country to launch with the government the critical spring planting season.
Diouf met with President Rene Preval and other senior government officials, including Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and Minister of Agriculture Joanas Gue.
Kicking off the spring campaign, Diouf and Minister Gue distributed seeds, fertilizer and tools to farmers at a ceremony yesterday in the village of Palmisse a Ven, near the epicenter in Leogane.
“Agriculture is the lifeblood of this country,” said Diouf. “We will continue to work with the government so that you have jobs, so that you have income and so that you can provide food for yourselves, your families and for the rest of the country.”
Similar distributions are under way in the South East, West and Artibonite. Between March and June, FAO plans to reach 180,000 smallholder farming families with 1,500 tonnes of seeds and fertilizers, as well as tools and other agricultural inputs.
The government would like to see an exit from large-scale food aid, but doing so will require boosting domestic production, reviving rural markets and creating value-added products to increase trade opportunities for Haiti.
A tree for every Haitian
During his visit, the Director-General also planted fruit trees with young people in the community of Croix-des-Bouquets, outside Port-au-Prince.
“Young people are the future, but trees are also the future, because it’s trees that over the long term will transform this mother earth, provide jobs, provide nutritious food for the population, make possible the economic development of the country,” Diouf said to several hundred enthusiastic youth in attendance.
“Not only will you plant trees, you will water them, you will protect them, because the Haiti of your future is a green Haiti,” he added.
Saying it was his dream to see one tree for each Haitian, Diouf pledged FAO’s support to the government’s campaign to plant 10 million trees, starting with fast-growing fruit trees that provide a quicker return on investment, and later including other tree species.
To this end, FAO announced last week the launch of its “Fruit trees for Haiti” initiative to raise funds for fruit trees in school gardens and to build awareness of the role of trees in protecting the environment and reducing risks from hurricanes, flooding and erosion.
Together for a new Haitian agriculture
During his visit, Diouf and Minister Gue signed the Leogane Declaration, signaling the commitment of FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development to work together on short-, medium- and long-term programmes aimed at increasing food production, supporting the integration of displaced populations in rural areas and building a revitalized, sustainable Haitian agriculture sector and promoting long-term investment.
They also visited the site of a cash-for-work programme to repair irrigation canals damaged by the earthquake. FAO hopes to transform these short-term emergency interventions into longer-term community-led efforts to improve watershed management and protect the environment.
“Every crisis situation presents opportunities,” said Diouf. “But one has to seize them.”