Sowing seeds for hungry Haitians
FAO helps 500 000 farming families grow crops
4 August 2008, Rome/Port-au-Prince - In readiness for the new planting season, FAO has started distributing urgently-needed seeds and tools to Haiti’s most vulnerable farmers to help them cope with the rising cost of food, fuel and fertilizer.
Some 600 tonnes of seeds, including beans, maize and sorghum as well as tools such as hoes and machetes are being distributed for the July/August planting season under FAO’s ongoing international Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP). The aid will reach about 70 000 farming families in the poorest parts of Haiti.
The US$4 million operation is being funded by the Government of Spain, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and FAO itself. If sufficient funds become available, more distributions for the next two seasons, in October/November 2008 and February/March 2009, will target another 400 000 families.
FAO made Haiti a priority of its emergency response to the global food crisis. Launched in December 2007, the ISFP now covers 57 of the food deficit countries most vulnerable to high prices. In conjunction with its partners, FAO identified the priority intervention areas in Haiti to support a Governmental action plan.
The global food crisis has hit Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, particularly hard. One out of every five children is chronically undernourished. More then half of the population lives on less than US$1 per day – half a meal at current prices. In April desperate crowds took to the streets, eventually forcing Haiti’s Government to step down.
“The food riots did not come as a surprise,” says Javier Escobedo, FAO’s Emergency Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Haiti was already in a deep crisis, when farmers were badly hit by floods last year. The international price increases made matters worse.”
But alleviating urgent needs only is not enough, underlines FAO’s Representative in Haiti, Ari Toubo Ibrahim. Agricultural production must get back on its feet. And the time could now be right, he says: “This crisis may present a unique opportunity to reverse the state of neglect of Haiti’s agriculture.”
In the long term, Haiti will have to focus on increasing the production of local crops like maize, sorghum or cassava, Ibrahim says. Not only do Haitian producers have a potential to feed much more of the country's population, they can also generate surpluses and incomes.
Moreover, if Haiti wants to protect its soils from ever more devastating floods, it needs to put a stop to its alarming deforestation. With less then 4 percent (or 105 000 ha) of its land area covered by forests, Haiti is losing almost 1 percent of its forest cover every year, according to FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2007 report.
FAO is also working on a US$10 million programme funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the October/November planting season.
More is needed though: to cover the needs of almost 500 000 vulnerable families for the next three seasons a total of US$64 million is required. “They need help urgently to produce,” Ibrahim says.
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