Haiti - Agriculture : The Greenhouses Revolution
The use of greenhouses is a common practice in many countries but unknown in Haiti until recently. Participating farmers, who previously were ready to abandon their increasingly challenging trade, are producing larger yields and are trading their produce more efficiently and for higher profits. That bounty includes lettuce, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, leeks, beets, carrots, strawberries and flowers such as chrysanthemums and gladioli. These are now sold locally to supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and farmers markets.
About 60% of Haitians depend on agriculture for their income. But making ends meet is difficult and, until recently, agricultural productivity has systematically declined over the last three decades. The January 2010 earthquake prompted the Government of Haiti and its partners, including the U.S. Government, to put into place a new, comprehensive development strategy for guiding medium-term agricultural investments. USAID contributes through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, as a major part of this effort.
USAID has introduced agricultural training and better technologies, rehabilitated rural infrastructure, strengthened trade and marketing skills, and established farmers’ cooperatives to be able to form partnerships between farmers’ associations, private companies and other parties.
One effective productivity booster has been the adoption of greenhouses by smallholder farmers like Dorlean. Introduced by Feed the Future West, the greenhouse model is a tunnel-like, lightweight structure made of wood, PVC pipes and a plastic cover resistant to UV rays. Some greenhouses use local materials such as bamboo for support. A water-efficient drip-irrigation system is used, while some farmers’ collectives also catch rainwater to irrigate their crops. Because the flower and vegetable pots are arranged vertically, the farmers can produce more within a smaller space.
An average Haitian flower producer using traditional methods makes $170 per year on a surface of 1,000 square meters; a farmer who owns a greenhouse can generate between $1,500 and $2,500 annually, depending on the crop, on only a 70-square meter area—a staggering difference.
A 70-square meter greenhouse typically costs about $3,000, including the greenhouse structure, pots and drip-irrigation system. So far, Feed the Future West has supported the construction of 300 greenhouses in Haiti, and several farmers associations are now funding and building their own greenhouses and providing construction training and assistance to other associations.
In addition to increasing incomes for rural Haitians, Feed the Future also helps reduce farming’s impact on water and land—precious resources on the island nation. Feed the Future West has been working with farmers harvesting vegetables, flowers and fruit to promote sustainable agriculture on hillsides by focusing on protected and vertical agriculture through small, drip-irrigated greenhouses.
"Our project teaches farmers how to build and manage a greenhouse, as well as provides them with financial management and business development pointers so their business can be self-sustaining," said James Woolley, senior agronomist for USAID/Haiti.
Steve Olive, deputy mission director of USAID/Haiti, said that the support through Feed the Future has turned a page for a growing number of Haitian farmers, from subsistence workers to entrepreneurs who are now creating trade connections with local supermarkets, hotels and factories. There is potential for a transformational change in the agricultural sector, but he added that more remains to be done. "Poor roads and lack of efficient transportation inhibit farmers’ full business potential".
Since 2010, USAID, has helped build nearly 170 greenhouses, and another 130 are being installed. This has freed up space for high-value tree planting to combat deforestation, with more than 1.9 million trees planted in 2012. Feed the Future has introduced improved seeds, fertilizers and new technologies to approximately 13,000 Haitian farmers and provided training for over 1,600 master farmers—over a quarter of whom were women—to improve their skills and income potential.
By the end of the program in May 2014, Feed the Future West aims to install 1,000 greenhouses, setting an example for sustainable hillside agriculture in Haiti.
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