Rebuilding mountains one garden at a time

Haiti, January 12, 2015

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  • Farmers in Haiti's mountainous regions are learning how to take better care of the land and plant higher-value crops that will help them earn more income. Photo: Mercy Corps

In the lush, green mountains of Haiti, agriculture is the lifeblood of families — many of whom have passed down their land and farming techniques through generations. But something is threatening their rural way of life.

Trees have all but disappeared in Haiti — less than two percent of the land is currently forested. This rapid deforestation has consequences that spread far and wide. Over-planting and a lack of diversity in crops has caused the land to cave in on itself.

The dangerously-eroded soil makes the region more prone to devastating landslides, floods and crop failures. These consequences are not only hurting Haiti’s natural environment — they’re hurting the ability of rural families to earn a living.

Mercy Corps is working with farmers in Haiti’s mountainous regions to preserve and rebuild soil, introduce and improve farming techniques, and support the development of agri-businesses.

The Rural Resiliency program works with people living in the upper-mountain region of Commune Arcahaie. By incentivizing people to take part in conservation activities, we are stabilizing the land and helping individual farmers earn more income in the process.

Agriculture is central to the Haitian economy, but the success of rural farmers has been on the decline for years. In the mountains of Arcahaie, people earn 83-percent of their income from agriculture, but most of the population still suffers through a “hunger season” for anywhere between one and five months each year.

Declining local production has been caused by a variety of factors — environmental degradation, frequent natural disasters, and a lack of infrastructure, credit and insurance services for farmers.

To help local farmers bring life back to the land, we provide trainings for natural resource management — including soil conservation and planting trees.

Groups of farmers who attend the trainings and implement their new learnings qualify for cash loans and high-value plants, seeds and tree seedlings. By using this approach, Haiti’s mountains will slowly begin to flourish again, and farmers will have the tools they need to make a sufficient living off of the land.

Then, the farmers can introduce higher value crops such as plantain, manioc, yams, citrus, and sugar cane — creating diversified gardens that will stop and reverse soil erosion, provide greater income and year-round food, and foster improved practices of animal husbandry.

More than 1,400 farmers have improved their gardens so far. Renume Louissaint, 74, is one of the participants in the program. Here, he shares his experience.

“I have been farming and raising animals on these hills for more than 50 years. Farming is how I took care of my family. In the past, the earth provided for us, but for at least 10 years no farmer has been satisfied with their harvest.

There are storms and drought and I have gardens that I used to plant, but they have become so degraded that I have stopped farming them altogether. The credit program has helped me because there are times when the moment arrives to plant and I don’t have any money to invest in preparing my garden and buying seeds.

With the credit program, I know I can plant on time. Also, with the help of the agricultural volunteers, people in the community are now working their land with better techniques. This will allow the land to slowly become more productive again.

Because of the crops I received through the credit program, I now have more valuable crops and better variety in my garden. I will pass on these crops to other farmers and they will become just like me.

The money is credit, it is not a gift. Mercy Corps is helping me manage my garden like a business so that I can pay back the loans and make a profit that I can re-invest during the next season.

The credit program has also made the group that I am a member of [called OPD8] stronger — they can offer us more services — I no longer to have to stress about where I will be able to borrow money from to plant my garden.

I hope that next year my group is able to support more farmers investing in their land — because the credit program requires us to conserve our land, if more people participate in the program, our environment will become better protected for us all.”