Farmers clear a path to repurpose Kanal Madanm, the local waterway essential to irrigate small farms in the Gonaives Plain, on March 12, 2024. Photo Onès Joseph

Overview:

Farmers in the Gonaives Plain, galvanized by the Ouanaminthe Kanal la Pap Kanpe (#KPK) canal construction movement, have joined forces to start cleaning and rehabilitating the irrigation system essential for farming in their community.

Onès Joseph
Haitian Times Contributor

GONAIVES — Out across the rolling plains of the Artibonite Valley, once known as the breadbasket of Haiti, lie countless farming communities outside Gonaives. Villages and towns whose various crops – including bananas, corn, sorghum and a wide range of vegetables and spices – would be sufficient to feed the country again. If, that is, drought and the government would allow their lands to thrive, farmers say. 

Now, fed up with persistent decline, farmers here are following in the footsteps of their fellow Haitians in Ouanaminthe to build their own canal.

“Exhausted from waiting for the central government, we chose to unite and voluntarily contribute our efforts to revitalize the system in the plain,” stated Francy Lézier, president of the Zone 3 Irrigants Association Committee.

“If we enhance the agricultural sector, everyone will see that we aren't as impoverished as some may believe,” he added. “Us farmers, we don't want to rely on foreign aid to feed our children and send them to school. Our land is fertile. All we require is water to withstand the dry seasons.”

Since the Ouanaminthe canal construction relaunched in September 2023, the idea that farmers throughout Haiti can take charge of building their own irrigation system – without waiting on the central government in the capital city – has spread across the country. Farmers in the provincial Gonaïves Plain, about 92 miles north of Port-au-Prince, have received the same signal.

If successful, a rebuilt canal in the Gonaives Plain may have a significant impact on Haiti, a third of whose population is currently facing a hunger crisis. Daniel Dupiton, an economist, said farms in the Gonaives Plain have the potential to produce two to three tons of corn annually alone.

“Just like the Artibonite Valley, which has a significant potential to produce rice, the Gonaives Plain also holds immense potential to yield food largely consumed by Haiti's population and contribute to the nation's exports,” Dupiton said. “What we require is water to irrigate more land and security to facilitate the transportation of our crops to the marketplace.”

Clearing and rehabilitating the Madam Canal

Lézier told the Haitian Times the irrigation system built for the Bélanger-Pont Tamarin community was constructed during the Duvalier years, when 39 electric pumps were installed. However, years of mismanagement and inadequate maintenance resulted in irreparable damage to these water pumps. Then, the late President Jovenel Moise's administration installed 28 new solar-powered pumps as a replacement.

Farmers in Haiti’s Gonaives Plain clearing a pathway connecting the La Quente River and Kanal Madanm on March 4, to facilitate water flow into their farms. Photo by Onès Joseph

But those efforts are not enough to meet the needs of today. Water to irrigate their farms remains a significant challenge for the farming community, primarily due to inconsistent seasonal rainfall. Engineer Jérémie Evincé, a Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development representative in the Artibonite Department, said of the 5,000 acres of land in the Gonaives Plain, 2,615 acres can be irrigated with a pumping system, 1,033 acres by gravity and the remaining land by the river flow.

A canal known as “Kanal Madanm,” (Madam Canal), is the main source for that remaining 1,200 acres of agricultural land. The waterway, however, has been obstructed for some time due to insufficient maintenance, reducing the water flow needed.

Pooling their efforts together, they initiated early March activities, including clearing rivers and canals, aimed at reinforcing their irrigation systems to reduce the negative effects of drought on the agricultural sector in the region. The initiative has drawn farmers from various communal sections, including Bélanger-Pont Tamarin, which is the first section of Gonaïves, he said.

Despite their determination and hard work, the farmers said they had to halt their activities recently because they lacked the appropriate tools and money.

“We've reached a tipping point where we had to stop because we lack the crucial materials, tools, and financial resources needed to continue the work,” Lézier said. “We urge all sectors to support our efforts, allowing us to secure sufficient water to increase regional harvests, which will subsequently boost national production.”

Evincé, the government official, said the country’s leaders understand what is needed to support farmers and enhance agricultural production. He did not say what or when the government would take action.

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