Haiti: UN agricultural agency kick starts irrigation clearing programme

Quake debris blocks irrigation canals south of Léogâne, Haiti

8 February 2010 – The United Nations agricultural agency has launched a scheme for some 600 Haitians affected by the Caribbean country’s devastating earthquake to quickly clear irrigation canals in a bid to save this season’s bean and maize crops, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced today.

FAO is providing a small payment for each worker and 600 hand tools for the task that will remain the property of farmer’s organizations in the rural areas near Léogâne, the coastal city at the epicentre of the quake which struck Haiti on 12 January.

“For the farmers around Léogâne the earthquake could not have come at a worse time,” said FAO Emergency Coordinator in Haiti Alex Jones.

“Damage to irrigation works threatens their current crops not yet harvested, while breakdowns in the supply of seed and fertilizer inputs may limit planting in the main spring agricultural season,” added Mr. Jones.

An early FAO assessment in the agricultural area around the Haitian farming town that was almost completely destroyed found that earthquake debris and subsequent landslides had blocked canals threatening crops that were just weeks away from being ready to harvest.

Further inspection found that there had been substantial damage to vital infrastructure such as canals and feeder roads in and around Léogâne, which has an estimated 80 per cent of its buildings destroyed.

FAO has also provided financial support and technical assistance, as well as mobilizing a Canadian Army backhoe – a piece of heavy earth-moving equipment – for some of the large-scale removal.

The clearance operation is slated to continue for about a week, and next Monday a small team of FAO experts will start a full and accurate assessment of the damages, needs and plans for agriculture and food security rehabilitation, which will feed into the larger Post Disaster Needs Assessment, coordinated by the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In addition, FAO is working to secure funding to help poor Haitian farmers make the spring planting season, which accounts for 60 per cent of the country’s national harvest.

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