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A farmer holding a machete at Guito Chère-Enfant's farm in Dondon, a northern commune, on April 24, 2024. Photo by Onz Chéry for Go West Now

Overview:

The UN World Food Program has expanded its purchase of locally grown food products in Haiti, providing approximately 20,000 farmers with a reliable market.

CAP-HAÏTIEN — In spring 2021, Guito Cherenfant's wife, Chata Valcin, found herself stranded for eight days in Grand-Gilles, a rural commune approximately 14 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, after a truck tipped over on a steep hill, causing severe traffic. She was en route from her hometown, Dondon, to Cap-Haïtien to sell yams and plantains grown by the couple. Tragically, all of the produce spoiled during this delay.

This incident was not an isolated one for Cherenfant, who had lost his produce to road accidents multiple times. Despite his deep-rooted connection to farming and genuine enjoyment of it, the fear of wasting time and resources often made him hesitate to plant. This sentiment was shared by many other farmers in the northern region, with some even opting to leave farming altogether.

Farmers from Dondon, another rural commune 22 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, found renewed motivation to plant when the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) began buying locally produced food for community distribution about three years ago. Selling their produce directly to the WFP within their commune meant they no longer faced the risk of losing their products due to road accidents. Furthermore, such accidents, which often resulted in traffic and fewer customers at local markets, no longer impacted their sales.

“Everybody's getting back to farming because they see that it's for our interest locally,” Cherenfant said. “And there's less risk. Now we plant our yams and there’s a guarantee that we will sell them.”

Farming, a longstanding pillar of Haiti's culture and economy, has seen a decline in recent years due to a combination of factors including poor road infrastructure, ongoing and escalating gang violence in Port-au-Prince, and ongoing political instability. These challenges have led to an increased reliance on imported food among the Haitian population. The World Food Programme (WFP)'s initiative to purchase and distribute locally grown food plays a significant role in revitalizing Haiti's agricultural sector.

“That’s encouraging us to plant. When they return my children from their schools for pastdue tuition, I go sell a basket of yams to WFP—the same food my children will eat in school. It’s helping us. This program was supposed to be in place a long time ago.”

Guito Cherenfant, farmer

Another initiative to enhance agriculture in Haiti is the construction of an irrigation canal in Ouanaminthe. Additionally, the migration of numerous residents from Port-au-Prince to rural communes, driven by escalating gang violence, could potentially strengthen farming across the country. These developments have sparked a sense of hope among some residents.

WFP is leading the way

In 2023, the WFP tripled local food purchases, injecting an average of $1 million USD monthly into farmers' pockets during the school year. The international program, which provides hot meals to schoolchildren, has been a significant source of income for local farmers. Jean-Martin Bauer, the current WFP director in Haiti, stated that the UN agency has collaborated with approximately 170 farming organizations, benefiting around 20,000 farmers nationwide.

“We need to help farmers survive this period,”said Bauer, referring to the current crises Haiti is battling. “We don’t want them to go out of business. They need to stay operational. They need to keep doing what they’re doing because one day things will get better in this country.”

The WFP was established in 1961 and began operations in Haiti in 1969. Initially, the WFP solely distributed imported food. However, according to Bauer, the program has significantly shifted its approach, with 80% of the food it now serves in Haiti being locally produced.

“This year, we have made our first purchases of local sorghum—”petit mil” in French, or “pitimil” in Haitian Creole,” Bauer posts on his LinkedIn account profile. “Pictured here is a lot of 23 tons grown in the northeast of Haiti. It will be distributed through the school meals program in the Greater North. What are the benefits?”, he rhetorically asks before outlining the following:

  • “By purchasing local foods, we are supporting 170 local farmer organizations with 20k members, bringing much-needed income at a time of crisis.”
  • “Shorter, local supply chains are more resilient than the longer ones we traditionally used. Even when the country's main port is not operational - as it is now - we can still deliver a school meal to over 200k children daily.”

The WFP escalated its distribution of locally sourced food, particularly after it began serving hot meals in schools across Haiti in 2015.

Many schools in Dondon, including the one attended by Cherenfant's three children, aged between 4 and 12, receive food from the WFP. Since Cherenfant began selling his produce to the WFP, he has experienced less financial strain in paying for his children's schooling.

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  • nature, paysan, haiti farming,
  • nature, paysan, haiti farming,
  • nature, paysan, haiti farming,

“That’s encouraging us to plant,” Cherenfant said. “When they return my children from their schools for pastdue tuitions, I go sell a basket of yams to WFP—the same food my children will eat in school. It’s helping us. This program was supposed to be in place a long time ago.”

WFP also distributes hot meals to needy adults.

Selling to WFP versus selling at the marketplaces

Farmers across Haiti, including individuals like Cherenfant who transport their goods on donkeys, deliver their produce to various WFP locations. This is also true for organizations. One such farming organization in Dondon that collaborates with the WFP is the Cooperative Agricultural Coffeemaker Gabart Levaillant, also known by its French acronym, CACGAVA. Despite its name suggesting a focus on coffee, farmers like Cherenfant bring various products to CACGAVA.

The Cooperative Agricultural Coffeemaker Gabart Levaillant (CACGAVA)’s headquarters in Dondon on April 24, 2024. Photo by Onz Chéry for Go West Now

Hubert Etienne, a member of the farmers' committee at CACGAVA, has been selling his produce to the WFP for approximately two years. Raised in a family of farmers in Dondon, Etienne primarily cultivates coffee, plantains, yams, corn and beans. Before selling his produce to the WFP, Etienne primarily marketed his goods at local venues. However, he noted that earning a sufficient income from local market sales was not always guaranteed.

“For the market, people from other communes need to come in,” Etienne, 54, said. The roads might get blocked, so customers might not show up, but with WFP, we have a guarantee that we will sell our products.”

Etienne shared that he earns between 2,000 gourdes ($15) and 3,500 gourdes ($26) weekly from selling his products to the WFP, which is more than he would typically earn from market sales.

Rose Bien-Aimé, another member of CACGAVA’s farmers’ committee and Cherenfant’s mother, earns approximately 7,500 gourdes ($56) from selling around six packs of plantains and 10,000 gourdes ($75) from selling about two basins of yam. She stated that while her earnings are comparable to what she used to make at the local market, selling to the WFP offers more advantages, such as not having to endure long hours under the harsh sun.

“This is really helping,” Bien-Aimé, 62, said. “Back in the days I used to carry heavy loads to go sell very far away but now because of this selling center when I have yams and plantains I just bring them here.”

Rose Bien-Aimé sitting at the Cooperative Agricultural Coffeemaker Gabart Levaillant (CACGAVA) headquarters on April 24, 2024. Photo by Onz Chéry for the Haitian Times

Farmers need more assistance for sustainable production

While many farmers find selling their products to the WFP more beneficial, they still face challenges in growing the desired quantities of fruits and vegetables due to a lack of funds and resources. Consequently, they are appealing to the WFP for further assistance.

“If there’s too much sun, we lose our products and if it rains too much we also lose our products; but if we have materials that would help us protect our farms,” Etienne said.

“Donations or loans will help us,” Etienne added. Let’s say if we used to plant 10 yams, could they help us plant 20? That way, we’ll be planting more. That would be good for us and WFP.”

Email me at [email protected]
Onz Chery is a Haiti correspondent for Go West Now. Chery started his journalism career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He later wrote for First Touch, local soccer leagues in New York and Elite Sports New York before joining Go West Now in 2019.

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2 Comments

  1. What an outstandingly well researched and inspiring article. You should submit it to Solutions Journalism.

  2. We complement the summary of the WFP program where there is a Preference on Buying Products locally rather than importing pre-processed or package goods. THIS does subsidize some producers.

    However, this does not maximize WFP funds.
    How so?

    With the same amount of spend, WFP would augment Productions of the same goods by 4 to 5 folds!
    Such a volume plan, Prices would be Lower. This impacting the society at large.
    Higher production will increase employment and have a greater impact on the society in Haiti.

    For years, these WFP budgets have s7bsize poverty, favor8moze sourcing from a few suppliers without a focus on resolving the sufficiency of production.

    Yes, an hand-out is better than nothing. But years of self-service hand-outs create also a society who cannot keep up.

    WFP néeds to wear a hat of development not just a Humanitarian heart.

    Eddy Lahens
    Ann Fe LakayPibon EcoSystem of
    11thdepartment.org

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