Last Friday my colleague Timote Georges and I were in the southwest of Haiti meeting with leaders representing the 1,200 farm families that we are assisting to start farming again following the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew on October 4th.
In partnership with Project Medishare, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) is providing the seed, tools and training these farmers need to get going again. Crop destruction ranged from 75 to 100% in this region of Haiti, which traditionally accounts for more than half the country's total food production.
One by one the farm leaders we met with gave reports on the situation in their communities. They explained that because of the loss of their current crops, there is less food in the local markets and prices for what food is available have gone up. And with their incomes disrupted, these farmers are unable to afford seeds for the next planting season in late January and early February.
The leaders were unanimous in thanking us for arranging a food distribution the previous week by the World Food Programme. Speaking for the group, a senior leader noted, "You are the only people who have helped us since the hurricane. Please accept our great thanks."
Following the meeting, Timote and I were shown some farms in the area.
Edmond Cesar (photo above) farms a half hectare of land and lost 100% of his mixed crop of cassava and pigeon peas to hurricane destruction. "This is all that is left of my nice cassava crop," he said, holding up a dead plant as we toured his farm, "and now I am grateful for the help of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance to give me seed for my next maize and bean crops." With no income from the crop he just lost, Edmond explained that he does not have the money to purchase seed to plant for the next season. His only form of savings was in the form of two goats, which he would normally have sold when faced with this kind of emergency, but they both died in the hurricane.
After leaving Edmond's farm, we walked over to meet Gardy Lemar (photo left). He took us to what I assumed was a dried river bed. "Where I stand was a good field until the hurricane, and now it is covered in gravel brought by the flood waters," he said. "Nothing like this has ever happened before." Behind him was a stand of napier grass that was flexible enough to survive the storm; known locally as elephant grass, it is used mainly as fodder for livestock.Gardy gave a big smile and asked if we might be able to help him clear the gravel so he could farm this part of his land again, but unfortunately that is beyond the scope of what the SFA can manage. We will, however, be providing him with maize and bean seeds for another section of his one-hectare farm where he lost his previous crop but had no gravel deposited.
While much has been reported on the damage to farms caused by Hurricane Matthew, what goes unreported is the quiet dignity, firm resolve and extraordinary capacity for hard work that characterizes the smallholder farmers of Haiti. The donations received by the SFA allow us to provide the strategic assistance to ensure that these characteristics remain the greatest resource for building a better Haiti.