Farmers building their own irrigation system from the Farinen River for their community near the Dominican Republic border in Fort-Liberté, Haiti, on April 29, 2024. Photo by Edxon Francisque

Overview:

The agricultural sector in Haiti's Northeast Department is confronting significant hurdles as Dominican products dominate local markets.

FORT-LIBERTE, Haiti — Ask nearly any farmer or vendor in this corner of northern Haiti why their inventories are filled with more products from the Dominican Republic than from Haiti, and the answer is likely to be about the same: There are not enough products in Haiti.

Chrislay Joazard, a fritay (fried foods) merchant, said: “I have to sell them sometimes because I can’t find enough local products on the market.”

Saintbert Alcide, a farmer and father of four children, said: “We are discouraged from planting on the farm because too many cheap Dominican agricultural products invade our market. The invasion of Dominican food products means we do not stand a chance to sell our goods, which are usually produced at a much higher cost.”

Franco Pierre, who transports goods on a three-wheel cargo motorcycle, said: “I'm aware that many of the products I transport are of subpar quality. However, due to the lack of supply from the agricultural sector in the Northeast, I have to transport Dominican products.”

Thelusman Pierre, a farmer who produces cassava in Karis, imports from Haiti's nearest neighbor have made things “extremely difficult” for him in recent years.

“Every time the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is closed, our products sell better,” observed Pierre. “We earn more money to care for our families and reinvest in preparing the field for better harvest in the coming season.”

The agricultural sector plays a vital role in Haiti's economy. According to the World Bank, the field provides 50% of employment and contributes 25% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $32 billion. Despite the sector being an economic pillar in the Northeast Department, local farmers say the increase in imports from the Dominican Republic and absence of fair trading policies have caused the sector to decline greatly.

In 2022 alone, for example, the Dominican Republic exported $1.02 billion worth of products to Haiti overall, compared to the $11 million Haiti sent to its closest neighbor. In 2023, according to a study published by Dominican Today, despite a drop of 13.68% in exports to Haiti by the end of the third quarter, the Dominican Republic continued to record a large surplus in the exchange between the two countries. This hammering has caused a reduction in income and increased poverty among farmers.

“The absence of a well-defined and well-oriented agricultural policy, low public and private investments in the sector, coupled with the free market economy since the 19th century, causes this deterioration.”

Entrepreneur Joseph Pierre Paul, Northeast Department Chamber of Commerce

Farmers, entrepreneurs and regional organizations’ officials have called for a comprehensive approach to addressing the impact of imported products on local agriculture and ensuring the sector's sustainable development. Several voices have raised concerns in particular about the unregulated influx of Dominican products on Haitian farmers and their families.

“The absence of a well-defined and well-oriented agricultural policy and the insufficient or lack of public and private investment in the sector, coupled with the liberalization of the economy since the 19th century, causes the deterioration of this sector,” said Joseph Pierre-Paul, president of the Chamber of Commerce, in Northeast.

“With the Haitian leaders’ lack of effort to support farmers, the country’s constant political instability and lack of accountability and transparency from decision-makers, the volume of agricultural production in the department continues to decrease every season,” Pierre-Paul told the Haitian Times.

Haitians near the border watching chucks loaded with crops from neighboring Dominican farms, heading to the local market near Dajabon on April 29, 2024. Photo by Edxon Francisque for the Haitian Times

Wanted: A vision and plans for sustainable development

Agronomist Jean Junior Auguste, coordinator of the Inclusive Blue Economy Project (I-BE), which aims to diversify livelihoods and promote the conservation of coastal natural resources in Haiti’s northern region, said the need is urgent for a sound public-private partnership in providing financial and material support to farmers.

“Besides imports, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an important role in the deterioration of this sector,” Auguste said. “NGOs do not have the vocation to develop Haiti’s agriculture because their actions are based on a strategy to preserve their existence and justify their presence on the ground by implementing short-term subsistence programs.”

Edwige Francisque, an agronomist working with farmers in the Kwakou plain of Fort-Liberté near the border, agrees with Auguste’s assessment and claim. “Haiti needs a strong government with a plan that favors its people and the country’s sustainable development,” she noted.

For his part, Clement Pierre, who heads the Association of Northeastern Traders Federation, has called on Haiti to develop standards and policies that favor the increase in local production. He urges the authorities to look for other trading partners to diversify the market and force the Dominican Republic to comply with agricultural production standards.

“We import quality products that have a major impact on the agricultural sector,” he said. “We can produce more than what we need to consume if we support our farmers enough.”

Agronomist Longuisse Simon, head of the Maribaroux Plain Irrigation Association, said a lack of scientific knowledge and modernization is also to blame for the deterioration.

“Dominican farmers, working in more favorable conditions and a supporting environment and system, have taken advantage of the Haitian market with their agricultural products invading the Northeast Department at much lower prices,” he said.

A 2010 study by Haiti’s Ministry of Economy and Finance revealed that 60% of the rural population works in the agricultural sector. Most local farmers practice subsistence farming and seasonal agriculture based on rainfall. With those farmers unable to meet local market demands, Dominican agricultural products fill the gap.

During the past 15 years, Haiti has considerably increased its imports of goods, with the United States and the Dominican Republic being the top two beneficiaries. According to Haiti’s Center for Facilitation of Investments [CFI], in 2014, the country imported goods for an amount that is seven times greater than its exports of $1.42 billion.

An analysis from the Dominican Association of Exporters (ADOEXPO) and reported by Haiti Libre indicated that during the first half of 2022, Dominican exports to Haïti enormously increased by 157 million with a variation of +30. 6% from the previous year. In seven months, Dominican exports to Haiti, especially food products such as bananas, flour, oil, egg and sugar, amounted to $678.2 million.

The report highlighted that trade between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is largely skewed in favor of the latter. The exchange between the two countries during that period was a split of 97.64% for the DR and 2.4% for Haiti.

Agricultural sector needs boost in the northeast

Many in the region, including Jean Junior Auguste, have called for adequate measures to enhance this sector. To them, boosting agriculture is crucial to combating hunger, unemployment and poverty. They say good strategies should include effective policies to control quality and reduce the influx of products from the Dominican Republic.

Auguste suggested several interventions for the sector. These include facilitating farmers' access to credit, providing modern agricultural equipment, offering training to increase production, improving agricultural roads, investing in irrigation systems, and promoting partnerships between the government, private sector and other civil society organizations.

Economist Bastien Venius emphasized the potential benefits of industrializing the agricultural sector.

“Collaboration between the private sector and the state to subsidize and mechanize agriculture could help counter the volume of imported products and compete with Dominican goods,” he suggested.

Meanwhile, farmers have taken several initiatives to sustain the agricultural sector. These projects include construction of an irrigation canal on the Massacre River, the remodeling of existing systems in the commune of Fort-Lberté and construction of an irrigation canal on Farinen River. Other efforts aim to construct channels that will facilitate the effective use of water from the Marion Dam.

Edxon Francisque is a seasoned professional with a diverse background in radio broadcasting. His experiences in radio diffusion include serving as a correspondent for Radio Nationale d'Haiti 105.3 FM and contributing to Radio Tele Kalalou International, an online media platform. Additionally, he has showcased his skills as a presenter for the journal Alliance Actualité at Radio Alliance Ouanaminthe.

Regarding academic pursuits, Edxon studied Economics at the State University of Haiti, demonstrating his commitment to a well-rounded education. Furthermore, he completed professional studies in journalism at the Ecole Professionnelle de Ouanaminthe in 2020. He has also engaged in communication studies at the Alliance Francaise branch in the North, annex Fort-Liberte.

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