Haitian farmers need more support, says UN agency

Assisting the most vulnerable small farmers in Haiti through distribution of high quality seeds

15 July 2010 – Although swift food aid and agricultural supplies helped to ward off a post-earthquake food crisis in Haiti, funding shortfalls for farmers is hampering efforts to boost food production six months after the disaster, a United Nations agency cautioned today.

“Most of the response has been focusing on the urban aspect of the crisis, but the international community must not neglect rural areas if they want to overcome the massive effects of the earthquake in the country,” said Etienne Peterschmitt, Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

More than 200,000 people were killed in the magnitude-7.0 quake which struck Haiti on 12 January, with 1.3 million more people left homeless and key infrastructure destroyed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other areas.

Mr. Peterschmitt called for greater investment in agriculture and job creation in rural areas to “stem the flow of displaced people back into Port-au-Prince and to support food security” throughout the impoverished country.

FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture distributed agricultural supplies to 72,000 farming families in earthquake-hit and rural areas ahead of the critical spring planting season, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s agricultural production.

This assistance has helped more than 360,000 people both produce and consume their own food, while selling the surplus for health and education expenses.

Along with its partners, FAO aims to reach an additional 80,000 rural families during the summer planting season with tools, fertilizer, water pumps and high-quality seeds to boost local food production.

An additional 10,000 households will receive assistance in vegetable gathering as part of FAO’s urban agriculture initiative in areas around Port-au-Prince, Ganthier and Cabaret.

In a related development, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who visited Haiti earlier this week, said that he saw “confirmed that alongside the authorities, we have really accomplished a huge amount – much more than we sometimes get credit or give ourselves credit for.”

Despite the circumstances being “as difficult and complex a starting situation as any humanitarian organization can recall,” he said that schools have reopened, cash-for-work programmes have helped hundreds of thousands of people, and protection has been provided to the most vulnerable.

“Overall we got a lot more right than wrong,” Mr. Holmes said at the New York launch of a report on Haiti by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making of key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners.

“Yet as always in operations of this kind, and given the scale of what was and is needed in Haiti, I could also see the magnitude of the task that remains, even on the humanitarian side, let alone the gargantuan task of reconstruction,” he added.

The report, unveiled in Haiti on Monday, stressed that the humanitarian needs of people affected by the earthquake remain immense, and pointed to shelter as one of the main challenges needing to be addressed.

The most important lesson learned, it said, was the need to better understand and work more effectively with the various actors from outside the humanitarian context, including the military and the private sector.

“The global humanitarian architecture must be critically reviewed to ensure that it is not implemented in such a way as to preclude such partnerships which are critical to the most effective response,” the publication noted.


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