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Jerrica St Vil standing in her black bean field. (Photo: World Bank)

Sowing seeds for COVID-19 resilience in Haiti

Jerrica St Vil standing in her black bean field. (Photo: World Bank)

Editor’s note: The following is a feature from the World Bank’s website highlighting how the coronavirus pandemic has been a double-edged sword for the Haitian people — creating health and food security crises. Since the onset of the virus in the French-speaking Caribbean country, the World Bank has played an integral role in alleviating conditions. Here, the hemispheric bank captures the experience of two farmers in Haiti’s Southern Plain.

Jerrica St Vil, a community health worker, and Abelard Jeremie, a pastor, both live in rural areas of Haiti’s Southern Plain, one of the most important food production regions in the country. Although they both have other vocations within the community, they have always relied on agriculture as the main source of income for their families.  

Food insecurity, the other crisis

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of food insecurity in Haiti is heightened. Even before the pandemic, nearly 35 per cent of the Haitian population already needed urgent food support (World Food Programme). Now, the pandemic threatens to worsen this situation, due to external threats such as the volatility of global financial markets, decreased migrant remittances from overseas, and the closure of the border with the Dominican Republic, which limits access to food supply.

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to worsen conditions in Haiti due to external threats such as the closure of the border with the Dominican Republic, which limits access to food supply. (Photo: TeleSur)

Although the local agriculture sector contributes only up to 45 per cent of Haiti’s food needs, it is essential to sustain production to avoid further food insecurity. Agriculture is also the principal source of income for many rural families. Jerrica and Abelard have felt the need to invest more in their agricultural production during this crisis, both to respond to the growing demand for food in their country, and also to sustain their own livelihoods during this difficult time. However, they face challenges to sustaining or increasing their production such as a lack of good quality seeds and fertilizers, as well as the resources and technical assistance for plowing and irrigation of land.

Following recent financial crises and social unrest in Haiti, along with setbacks such as droughts, many farmers’ finances are exhausted. Most farmers have few resources for the agricultural services and inputs as well as limited access to markets. The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem, with declines in remittances, and rising prices but decreasing access to agricultural inputs and services.

“During the last planting seasons, we recorded a decrease in productivity, which has consequently caused a drop in our income,” said Jeremie.

St Vil added, “Because of our decreased income, we did not have enough savings to sustain the next cropping season.”

Increasing food production and farmers’ income

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Pastor Abelard Jeremie inspecting his cornfield. (Photo: World Bank)

To reduce the risk of food insecurity during the pandemic, the World Bank rapidly released financing of US$9.5 million for the Haitian agricultural sector, following the action plan prepared by the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment. These funds, mobilised through the Contingent Emergency Response Component of the Haiti Resilient Productive Landscape project, aim to revive agricultural production. Working in coordination with other donors, support in the form of subsidies, technical assistance, and inputs to farms are being provided for the spring and autumn planting seasons in the South and Nippes departments. This support will strengthen and improve nutrition, food availability in both urban and rural areas, and the resilience of vulnerable families.

The coordination team, including representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, has worked closely with local partners to conduct the needs assessments, supervise seed distribution, and provide technical assistance. The team also took the opportunity to raise awareness about COVID-19 and measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic among farmers.

A farmer in Haiti prepares a plot of land for rice farming. The local agriculture sector contributes only up to 45 per cent of Haiti’s food needs agriculture is also the principal source of income for many rural families. (File photo)

“Our community welcomed this project with joy. This support is important for us because members of the entire production chain, including farmers, agricultural workers, merchants, and consumers will benefit,” said Abelard.

A total of 17,600 farmers in the departments of Nippes and the South will receive a subsidy. Inputs and services to improve their productivity, such as seeds including corn, beans, sweet potato cuttings, vegetables, seedlings, fertilizers, manure, and humus are being provided, along with assistance with land preparation and technical support to sow 11,500 hectares during the next two cropping seasons.

“I received seeds to grow corn and peas. I also got support for plowing and fertiliser. Today, my plants are already starting to grow,” said Jerrica proudly.