food insecurity in Haiti
Since 2011, Oxfam Livelihoods Program has been influential in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley, working with rice farmers in the region. Due to extreme food insecurity, a vast majority of families in Haiti rely on local agriculture for survival. Oxfam’s Haiti Livelihoods Program aims to increase rice production, improve production techniques, empower local farmers and decrease food insecurity in this small country.

The poverty rate in Haiti falls just below 60 percent, with 24 percent of Haitians living on less than $1.23 per day. Only 6 percent of the Artibonite Valley’s inhabitants are unaffected by hunger, and 43 percent are extremely food insecure.

The Program

This is in large part due to the natural disasters that plague the country. Within the last ten years, Haiti has experienced hurricanes, floods, droughts and an earthquake, ranking fifth among countries most likely to have a natural disaster. Approximately 98 percent of the nation is at risk to experience one or more of these disasters, as well as epidemics. A lack of sanitation and health services increases the risk of fecal waterborne diseases, including cholera.

Oxfam began its Artibonite Valley Livelihoods Program in 2011 following the earthquake that struck the country the year before. Up to 80 percent of the nation’s rice is produced in this valley, making its success and growth crucial to reducing food insecurity in Haiti. Additionally, food production, processing and marketing are essential components of Haiti’s economy, employing more than 70 percent of the population. Oxfam states that they are helping Artibonite’s residents to “overcome barriers and realize the potential of the valley.”  

The program relies on partnerships with local organizations, including government agencies, NGOs and microfinance institutions. Oxfam has been working with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that program accomplishments have long-lasting effects.

On a local level, Oxfam works with local farmers groups, women’s associations, water users organizations and training centers. The process of improving systems of agricultural production, processing and marketing includes upgrading irrigation and drainage canals to decrease flooding, training youth in the mechanical skills needed for agriculture, helping farmers expand and diversify their sources of income, improving access to agricultural credit and promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

The System of Rice Intensification

The SRI is a critical component of improving farming systems around the world, enabling farmers to produce more food in a way that is cost-effective and sustainable, using less water, seeds, fertilizer and labor. This increase in production helps meet local food needs, helping to reduce food insecurity in Haiti. SRI also decreases pollution and the negative effects agriculture can have on the environment. Farmers in Madagascar, Vietnam, Cambodia, India and Mali have adopted SRI methods.

Recommended SRI practices include spacing rice seedlings farther apart and transplanting them when they are young to reduce crowding and strengthen root systems, using integrated pest management instead of herbicides, applying water intermittently rather than continuously, using organic matter to enrich the soil, aerating the topsoil and removing weeds with manual weeders.

As SRI requires no additional machinery and farmers can easily make site-specific adaptations that will meet their needs, SRI is affordable for small-scale farmers, in addition to being environmentally friendly and aiding in the reduction of food insecurity. An evaluation of the Livelihoods Program from 2011 to 2014 found that SRI had succeeded in more than doubling rice production in some farms.

Program’s other methods

The Artibonite Valley Livelihoods Program also employs other methods for transforming Haiti’s environment and improving conditions for its inhabitants. Oxfam has been facilitating networking across geographic areas to improve cross-learning and coordinating, improving the technical, business and administrating capacities of community organizations, raising awareness among Haitian consumers on the importance of local production and supporting the newly developed National Federation of Haitian Rice Producers.

Oxfam also addresses gender inequality in Haitian agriculture by ensuring women are participating in all activities and by holding workshops on gender issues, advocacy and campaigning. In 2014, the program was found to have improved women’s roles in the public and economic spheres and increased their decision-making within their households.

Possible improvements of the Program

The 2014 evaluation of the Livelihoods Program did, however, note a few areas in need of improvement. First, the program did not help increase the competitiveness of the goods produced, causing farmers to have continuing difficulties selling their products. The program also did not provide solutions for access to fertilizers, seeds and irrigated water.

Recommendations for program improvement include ensuring all projects are locally-appropriate, increasing the adoption of SRI by working with the Ministry of Agriculture and distributing data on SRI techniques, creating a reliable system to monitor crop yield and looking for more efficient and affordable farming equipment.

Overall, Oxfam’s Artibonite Valley Livelihoods Program has made great strides in improving rice production and continues to be an integral part of decreasing food insecurity in Haiti and improving the overall livelihoods of its residents.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Farmers Save the Bees in India“Save the bees” has become a trendy cause, although one that holds much greater weight than most people seem to realize. The reality is that the virtually global decline in bee populations has a hefty price tag: in India alone, the nation’s decline in bee population costs agricultural production an estimated $726 million per year. In a nation where 75 percent of the population are smallholder farmers, people whose very lives are resting on their crop yields, an annual loss of that amount means the difference between life and death.

Further, a whopping 34.4 percent of the nation’s cultivated hectares of land depend on bees for pollination. This dependency is especially significant for certain plant species in particular, some of whom see productivity decline 80 percent in the absence of pollinators. For an agricultural system that cycles 99 percent of its fruit harvest back into domestic consumption, such a massive decline in productivity does not just mean economic degradation; it means a rise in food insecurity as well.

Seeing as the farmers depend on the crops, and the crops depend on the bees, the decline in bees is quite explicitly linked to the capacity of farmers to survive, and possibly thrive. In essence, then, bees in India are a crucial component to lifting individuals out of the cycle of poverty. Save the bees, save farmers, save lives.

Such is the mantra of Under the Mango Tree, a social enterprise that trains Indian farmers to become beekeepers and purchases the farmers’ organic honey through fair-trade farm cooperatives. By cultivating bees on their property, farmers have the capacity to increase their crop productions anywhere from 50 to 100 percent (depending on the plant and bee species). This increase in yield, plus the extra revenue from fair-trade honey sales, has the capacity to increase farmer incomes by more than 50 percent, a figure that can and does change lives. The strategy also, of course, augments India’s bee population by providing hives places to flourish, all of which aids agricultural production on the whole.

The successful implementation of this program is working to truly save the bees in India. Yet, it is important to note that the bee population needs help beyond the Indian borders. If the world wants to maintain its traditional agricultural systems and sectors, it needs to support its smallest workers.

Kailee Nardi

Photo: Flickr

Indian Business Model Can Minimize Food Insecurity in Africa

The US Agency for International Development is attempting to replicate the success of an Indian business in Africa. The effort is part of a three-year program called Africa Lead, which is associated with the US government’s Feed the Future initiative. Africa Lead aims to train Africans in innovative ways to tackle food security issues in their communities. USAID is sending Africans to Fazilka, a border city of Punjab in Northern India, to train with Zamindara Farm Solutions (ZFS). The company attempts to serve as an all-needs agricultural supply company, and its business model is unique and groundbreaking.

ZFS leases farm equipment with trained operators. This allows the owners of smaller farms, which are extremely prevalent in both India and Africa, to avoid taking out loans to make unnecessary investments inexpensive equipment. As a banker from Uganda who took part in the training program, Nicholas Abenda, observed, “Owning machines in not mandatory” for smaller farmers in Africa. The company also sells new farm equipment and provides maintenance and parts. It also offers education on the most efficient farming methods and on farm economics. It currently has operations in roughly 500 villages in India.

The ZFS business model has multiple advantages. It allows small farmers to avoid going into debt to purchase expensive equipment. Many farmers who make these types of investments are ultimately unable to repay their loans and become overwhelmed by debt. The ability to have access to the equipment without going into debt improves farmers’ financial stability. This allows agricultural production to become cheaper, which can increase farmers’ profit margins and decrease the price of food. Additionally, this business model encourages more farmers to use yield-boosting technologies that they otherwise may not have access to. USAID sees this business model as an innovative way to minimize food insecurity in underfed African communities.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: The Hindu, The Times of India, Africa Lead
Photo: The Hindu