Resilience through innovation in Haiti

Simple and affordable water management and cropping techniques help farmers adapt to natural disasters and a changing climate

Innovation doesn’t need to be complicated. Rural communities in Haiti are finding new ways of minimizing crop losses and increasing income by implementing simple water management techniques. ©FAO


Derniella Noel was hoping that, this year, she could produce enough fruits and vegetables on her land in Maïssade, a commune in central Haiti, to make a decent income and feed her family of five. But again this year, it wasn’t possible. So, she decided to take on work as a veterinary officer and a teacher as well.

Over the past few years, Derniella, a 49-year-old mother and lifetime smallholder farmer, has seen the climate change significantly. Combined with recurrent natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and drought, farming no longer generates adequate income for her family.

Haiti has been increasingly battered by natural disasters and the effects of climate change on this island are blatant. Rural communities have had to deal with high risk of crop losses and the lack of resources to cope with climate variability. Like Derniella, many farmers have been forced to diversify their activities and find alternative sources of income to support their families.  

Water management has been of particular concern. With less rain than in past years, farmers have been needing to find other ways to irrigate their crops. This has been one of the main issues the Strengthening Agricultural Adaptation (SAGA) project, implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has been helping farmers navigate.  

“Climate change affects us enormously. It becomes more difficult for us to cultivate our gardens because of the lack of proximity to water. To water our plots, we have to walk for up to an hour to reach the river and draw water from it,” Derniella said.

As one effective solution, the SAGA project, funded by the Government of Quebec, helped farmers implement a drip system using plastic barrels, known as “drums”. One or more barrels are placed at an elevated location and connected to hoses or pipes that distribute water to the crops below. Each drum holds 208 litres of water, and farmers can be easily construct and maintain them with limited resources. This system is a low-cost and simple method of irrigating small plots.

“Once we had filled the plastic barrels, we could spend several days without going to the river to draw water,” Derniella said.

The project is helping Derniella Noel (left), Tilus Baudelaire (right) and other Haitian farmers come up with new ways of storing water and irrigating fields. ©FAO

For smallholder farmers who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and represent the majority of Haiti’s rural population, solutions like this are key.   

“We have been experiencing the effects of climate change for several years,” said 38-year-old Tilus Baudelaire. He too has seen his production decline over the past few years.

“The rainy season has become very irregular. For those of us who practice market gardening, this disrupts our activity a lot because market gardening can’t be adapted to rainfall patterns but depends on regular irrigation either using pumps or using the drip system with plastic barrels,” he said.

In Haiti, SAGA has been working with partners on the ground including the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (Centre d’étude et de cooperation international - CECI) to help farmers adapt to climate change, extreme weather events and market fluctuations. Through farmer field school groups, farmers are learning how to implement integrated water management techniques and use cropping calendars so that production can continue even when the rains fail or drought ensues.

They are also learning practical business and marketing approaches, such as pooling resources to purchase agricultural inputs and services and conducting group sales of harvested products.

Tilus describes, “Through the SAGA project, we learned several techniques during our training sessions, including effective water management to avoid [water] waste.”

“We also learned how to prepare the ground. We cannot practice watering just any old way. The drip system through plastic barrels, introduced last year, is better suited to small plots of land.”

This drip watering system pushed up yields by about 50 percent when compared to other water supply methods.

For Derniella, higher yields on her farm have boosted her income, and she is more independent and better able to provide for her family. Eventually, she hopes she can focus on agriculture without having to work many jobs at the same time.

“The SAGA project has been very good for us. We will continue to share this knowledge in all the farmer field schools of our community to help better manage market gardens and produce vegetables for sale but also for family food.”

The use of new techniques and cropping calendars are helping farming communities adapt to climate change while stabilizing income from farming. ©FAO

Tilus, too, no longer depends only on the rainfall for water for his land thanks to the techniques he learned during his training.

“Before we worked in a conventional way. Now we know how to treat the soil, treat diseased plants, when and how to spray our gardens. When we work with precise techniques, we use fewer resources. So, the project has helped us by providing technical knowledge on sustainable practices in agriculture,” Tilus said.

SAGA's focus on smallholder farmers, with a particular focus on women and youth, and community-based approaches in Haiti are crucial not only for the food security and livelihoods of the rural population but also for the resilience and sustainability of the whole agrifood system in the country.

With the support of the Government of Quebec, SAGA has been working since 2018, helping communities build their resilience and capacity to adapt to climate change in Haiti and Senegal. This year, the project is being extended to Côte d’Ivoire.

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2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality, 13. Climate action