Agriculture is seen as Haiti’s best hope for recovery, but agriculture in Haiti is mainly performed by small scale farmers who can't afford to buy seeds or other inputs.
Agriculture is also challenged by the degradation of soil nutrients. Several non-profits, including FAO, give Haitians funds, seeds, tools and technical assistance to enable the production of agriculture. One such program is called Zanmi Agrikol. The reforestation of Haiti is seen as a key step, by helping to preserve the soil as well as preventing flash floods.
USAID's WINNER project, administered by Chemonics International, is “... designed to comprehensively build Haiti's agricultural infrastructure, capacity, and productivity by ... building and strengthening Haiti's agricultural foundation, particularly in the areas of Cul-de-Sac, Cabaret, Mirbalais, Archaie and Gonaives and is backed by $126 million in funding from the U.S. Government over the next five years.”
French agronomist David Millet said the WINNER project will not address the real needs of Haitian farmers. Speaking with AFP, Millet said "Aid agencies come with no connection to the fields, with their assumptions of what's needed and without asking the locals."
U.S. Navy Photo by Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Jason Richard Stephens/Released)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Feb. 2, 2010) Earthquake survivors receive 25 pound bags of rice from Save the Children in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. There are 16 locations throughout Haiti that will be participating in one of the largest humanitarian food distributions in history. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the nation Jan. 12.
The WINNER project also supports reforestation and sees Jatropha as an excellent way to address both soil erosion and energy issues at the same time. An evaluation identified 25,000 to 33,000 hectares of land in Haiti suitable for Jatropha.
While acknowledging the need for replanting mountainsides and hills, for which the report said Jatropha is ideal, the authors recommended against planting Jatropha on steeper slopes, describing them as "logistically difficult," because “... the project is unlikely to succeed, as relatively low diesel prices and taxes, lack of biodiesel incentives, high labor costs, lack of jatropha development and planting knowledge and training are too high barriers for the project to succeed.
Therefore the team recommended the WINNER project to fund the planting of jatropha as a slope stabilization measure in Cul‐de‐Sac and Gonaives watersheds, with farmers owning the trees after planting and contributing in labor. Two 500 ha pilot plantation areas were proposed, one in each watershed.”DAI and Chibas are also working to foster the Jatropha biofuel industry in Haiti. Chibas, a Haitian non-profit, was hired by Chemonics to assist with the Jatropha project. DAI sponsored a Haitian meeting of Jatropha interests in Haiti last summer, a conference organized by Chibas. D1 Oils will oversee the plantation trials, and will train Haitian farmers on how to grow the shrub.
Business Development Director for D1, Vincent Volckaert, who was reached via email, said “Chibas will be implementing some of the trials we proposed to WINNER.”
Pwoje Espwa - Hope for Haiti
A picture of plants in the nursery of Pwoje Espwa. Children take turns working in the garden project so that they all get a chance at seeing how the planting of seeds with the right mix of water and compost can produce food. This is important in a country that was once the agricultural center of the Caribbean exporting to Europe and North America but is now purchasing most food products from the Dominican Republic and the states.
A document created by Chibas in 2007 reveals that Chemonics, D1 Oils and Chibas were pushing for Jatropha planatations in Haiti since 2006. USAID only awarded Chemonics with the WINNER contract in 2009, a discrepancy that has not been explained. In that document, Chibas stated “WINNER will provide financing and technical assistance for Jatropha plantation and processing, working with farmer associations and private enterprises.
– We will be assisted by D1-BP Fuel Crops Limited, which has 220,000 ha of Jatropha curcas under cultivation in South East Asia, Africa and India.
– WINNER Interventions: Planning and evaluation phase; Cultivar improvement ; Agronomy research (nursery trials, inter-cropping, pruning, fertilization); Out-grower management systems (extension manuals, training of extension officers, etc,); dissemination of appropriate processing technology (expellers).”
Reforestation and production of renewable energy are two ideas floated by former President Bill Clinton as a way for Haiti to prosper while providing the West with carbon credits, an idea put forward by DAI last year. The plan involves planting Jatropha along with other trees.
Volckaert did not respond when asked if Monsanto’s donation of $4 million of hybrid seeds to the WINNER project would be sold to farmers who decide to plant Jatropha. He did say, however, “Subsistence farmers should never replace their food crops by Jatropha, that is not the intention. But Jatropha could be grown on degraded land and as a reforestation tree." Volckaert emphasized that Jatropha is not the main thrust of the WINNER project, saying "The Jatropha evaluation is only a small part of the larger WINNER project that focuses on the rehabilitation of a number of water catchment areas.”
According to the WINNER Jatropha evaluation, the goal of the trial plantations is to create a success, which will then encourage the spread of Jatropha plantations throughout Haiti. “... Once we have been able to show the success of Jatropha in the more accessible areas, then we could envisage expanding...” D1 anticipates Haitian farmers who plant Jatropha could realize a maximum of 3,388 gourds per hectare in a year, or approximately $84.17 US. USAID said Haiti’s annual average income per person was $400 in 2000.
Not all Haitian farmers support growing Jatropha. When asked why Haitian farmers would resist growing Jatropha, Volckaert said “There is an over-availability of ngo’s in Haiti and Haitians have learnt to live with it. I know Haitians that change religion on the spot based on “where can I get what”. I can get a job at the Baptist mission, so I’m Baptist. That ngo is handing out food-aid for work on a road, and then I’m working on the road for them. etc. Haitians are so used to receive aid that limited initiative remains. I spoke with farmer groups in the rural areas and they all realize the problem with deforestation and erosion. When I ask: “ and what is your farmer group doing about it?” the answer is always: “we wait for you to give us money and then we will plant trees.
So I’m pretty sure that the initiative to oppose Jatropha is not coming from the farmers themselves, but if you encourage them with an incentive to oppose it, they will surely do so.”
Volckaert, said that only 100 acres in Haiti had been planted to Jatropha thus far by anyone. He added that he thought there wasn't much interest in Haitian Jatropha biodiesel. However, a US-based company, Sirona Fuels began planting Jatropha in Haiti last year. When preparing the WINNER Jatropha evaluation report, Volckaert and his co-author said “We have seen considerable interest in the use of Jatropha for Biodiesel production in Haiti. This interest was also demonstrated with the successful organization of the first Jatropha conference in Haiti organized by Chinas.”
The hiring of for-profit corporations which appear to have a secret agenda to develop a Jatropha-based biofuel industry in Haiti raises many questions about USAID intentions for Haiti. Not least is why is a USAID program selling seeds to farmers when it is known those farmers lack resources to purchase inputs?
The answer might be found with Sirona Fuels. The company requires its Haitian farmers to grow beans in between Jatropha rows, and provides micro-loans to farmers to enable them to buy into the biofuel push. The intercropping is required because it takes Jatropha approximately three years to mature, and Sirona doesn’t want its farmers to opt out when they realize they will not receive any benefits from growing Jatropha right away.
After hundreds of man hours, and millions of dollars have been poured into Haiti, the majority of Haitians are still extremely poor. But the hundreds of aid organizations and their hundreds of employees are earning a living "helping" Haiti. One could readily infer that development assistance is not for the benefit of Haitians.
This article is Part II of a two-part article. You can access Part I here.