Agricultural Potential of Haiti

February 22, 2010

In a bid to increase food stability and employment among the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have fled to the countryside following last month’s devastating earthquake, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is calling for international donors to invest $700 million in Haiti's struggling agriculture sector.

The program, designed by Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, is scheduled to last 18 months. It is already racing against the clock as the planting season that yields 60 percent of the country's crops begins in March.

Deforestation, erosion and failure to rotate crops have also degraded much of Haiti's agricultural land over generations. Farmers make up about 60 percent of Haiti's population, but agriculture accounts for just 27 percent of the poor nation's GDP, according to the most recent State Department data. Even before the quake, more than 75 percent of the country's food was imported.

"Haiti will never be food self sufficient and there is no point in trying to make it so,” said Alain de Janvry, a professor of agriculture and resource economics at the University of California, Berkley. “But agriculture should provide more income for many more people.”

"[Haiti's] agriculture has the potential to produce high-value crops for the U.S. market -- tropical fruits, vegetables. That potential has not been captured," said de Janvry, who advised the country to produce some staples for national consumption, while growing cash crops to help finance importation of land-heavy crops, such as rice.

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