Planting Now: Agricultural challenges and opportunities for Haiti’s reconstruction

The massive earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 devastated rural areas as well as urban, destroying crops, farm buildings, equipment, and infrastructure. Indirect effects touched almost every corner of the nation, as 600,000 people migrated to the countryside, increasing pressure on already stretched food and fuel resources. Internal displacement worsened food insecurity, which affected six out of ten people even before the disaster.

There is wide agreement that reconstruction will have to focus substantially on agriculture. The majority of Haitians live in rural areas and depend on agricultural activities for their livelihoods. But agricultural development faces serious constraints: years of inattention from the government and donors, technological stagnation, severe natural resource degradation, the dominant position of subsidized US rice in Haiti’s markets, lack of credit and extension services, poor infrastructure, insecurity of tenure and bias against rural poor people in the land tenure and legal systems, growing dependence on imported food and food aid, and little value-added agricultural processing.

The compact between the state and its citizens is weak; corruption, neglect, and favouritism towards the urban elite have left many rural Haitians distrustful of the government. Too often, decision-making forums have excluded the voices of rural poor people. However, since 2006, the government and donors have given greater attention to agriculture and listened more carefully to Haitian citizens’ views.

The immediate humanitarian response to the earthquake had a degree of bias towards external food aid, although some donors emphasized procurement from Haitian farmers. Massive distribution of seeds, tools, and fertilisers in the earthquake zone and to those hosting displaced people bolstered prospects for 2010 harvests, although donors did not provide enough resources to assist all targeted households.

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