Cherilien raised a potato into the sunlight for a gathering crowd of Haitian farmers and visitors to see. Cherilien explained that he normally produces 110 pounds of potatoes each year, but this year he produced 440 pounds.
Cherilien disappeared into the group of farmers as another Haitian farmer, Marisette, chimed in, “We used to not have good yields, but now we have good yields.”
Cherilien, Marisette, and other farmers joined representatives from USAID and the government of Haiti at the Wynne Farm, a mountaintop training facility for farmers in Haiti, to discuss their successful Spring 2010 crop season. USAID announced that crops averaged an increase of 75 percent over the previous year for sorghum, corn, beans and potatoes.
The good news is giving farmers hope despite the recent decline in Haiti’s agricultural sector. Sixty percent of Haitians are employed in agriculture, and still, a whopping 23 percent of Haitian imports are food. Experts cite many reasons for the struggling sector from erosion and deforestation to Haiti’s mountainous geography.
A photo taken at Wynne farm by my colleague, Kendra Helmer, shows rows of vegetables wrapped around a mountain ridge. The landscape looks like something out of a Salvador Dali painting, and one can imagine that farming these steep slopes challenges even the most sure-footed agrarians.
So, how did the farmers who gathered at Wynne Farm defy the odds? Because they are hard working, of course, but also because they are participating in the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources program. WINNER, for short, is a five-year, $126 million program funded by USAID to increase productivity in the country’s ailing agricultural sector.
WINNER advisers at Wynne Farm work with Haitians to teach them innovative farming techniques, strengthen farmer associations, and provide access to expertise and vital supplies (seeds, fertilizers, credit and tools). Among the more impressive features of Wynne Farm is the greenhouse, the training ground for farmers to learn innovative techniques like vertical agriculture.
WINNER works in other parts of the country, too, with more than 250 community-based organizations that represent 50,000 small farmers. The program is increasing food productivity, dredging and widening rivers, constructing small dams and water catchments, treating ravines, and reforesting the land.
Mark Feierstein, USAID’s new Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, was present at Wynne Farm to announce the exciting news about WINNER’s increased productivity, but truth be told, he seemed more interested in hearing from farmers like Cherilien and Marisette than talking himself. One thing he made clear was that agriculture will remain a priority for USAID’s work in Haiti – a sentiment that seemed to conjure a sense of relief and hope among the farmers.