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Aid agencies should move away from emergency help to farmers in Haiti: CRS joint assessment

CRS participated in a Seed System Security Assessment (SSSA) in ten regions of Haiti to determine the impact of the January 12 earthquake on households and agricultural livelihoods, including possible changes in assets, land holdings, labor availability, income generation activities, crop profiles and seed use.  

PDF of full report

The joint assessment, which was carried out in May by ten organizations,  also analyzed acute seed security issues, monitoring farmers’ seed procurement strategies and examining the effects of aid given. As a third thrust, the SSSA focused on chronic seed security problems, including insights on seed/grain markets, agricultural product transformation and access to modern varieties. The assessment considered a total of 993 comprehensive farmer interviews, plus 35 focus groups, key informant interviews, and also commissioned studies on special topics.

Essential findings and recommendations are indicated below. A description of all 44 recommendations from the assessment is available here.

I. Immediate effects of earthquake on households and agriculture

The immediate stress was formidable: household size swelled from 6.44 to 8.68 persons and almost half of households (48%) reported steep drops in food consumption, decreasing from 2.48 to 1.59 meals per day. However, rural household sizes have begun to normalize (now at 7.18 overall, a 10.44% increase over pre-earthquake levels), and other key indicators show that earthquake effects are minimal or stabilizing. Land area under cultivation has decreased by a mere 3.13% since January 12, and labor available for agriculture by 0.30%, across all households. The major lingering overall agricultural trends focus on petty commerce: rural commerce, managed principally by women, has decreased by up to 90-92% in the cases monitored.

II. Acute seed security findings

In the season immediately after the earthquake, farmers overall sowed less seed than normal, a drop of 15.9% across crops and regions. This reduction was largely due to financial constraints but also linked to land tenure concerns, routine health-related problems, and acute stresses such as drought. In fact, the highest seed use drop occurred in drought-stricken areas of the Northwest (declines of 35.9% in Bassin Bleu) and not in the epicenter of earthquake impact (declines of 13.3% in Léogâne). Seed availabitilty did not emerge as an important cause of declining seed use (only 4% of some 12114 responses).o

For the second growing season post-earthquake, which is staggered by crop and region, farmers plan to increase the amounts they sow (15.3% above normal) across sites sampled. There is heavy orientation to re-stimulate the agriculture sector and especially to focus on income-generating opportunities. The epicenter areas are also showing considerable rebound; for example, in Léogâne, seed use is projected to be only 2.8% below normal. Overall, acute seed security issues are minimal — aside from those associated with general diminished purchasing power.

III. Chronic seed system concerns

The large majority of seed security constraints identified are deeply chronic ones. Unlike nearly everywhere else in the world, “eating one’s seed” is not a signal of distress in Haiti; it is a normal practice, particularly for crops such as beans. Farmers routinely buy some 75% of their seed from local markets, a considerable expense for the many already hovering at the poverty line. Further, farmers generally cannot access new varieties, an array of other needed inputs, or even regular technical advice. Only 14% of farming households have had access to any new variety over the last five years, and the February/March 2010 emergency distribution alone provided 53% of these introductions.

There is virtually no dynamism in seed systems across major crops, with few new sources supplying seed to farmers (rice is an exception), and little agricultural transformation. The major area of agricultural innovation in the past five years is horticultural crops, which are especially important for income generation. Fertilizer use was also higher than expected; 28% farmers used mineral fertilizer this season — a relative gain reflecting the improved availability of inputs, especially due to aid interventions.

Overall, small farmer systems have been static for years and new variety introduction is minimal. Farmers’ current heavy reliance on markets for seed raised particular concerns about the economics of routine seed use, as the average farmer spends at least $US 60-70 per season. Markets could provide a vibrant entry point for strengthening seed systems, but they need to be linked strategically to a range of quality and information innovations.

IV. Recommendations

The assessment concluded that there are no short-term emergency seed security problems, aside from those linked to finances. Right now, there should be a move away from the emergency focus in agricultural interventions. Specific recommendations are made in terms of new varieties (not to introduce them under emergency programs) and to ensure review of emergency programs after any three years of continuous implementation.

The bulk of the recommendations focus on short- and medium-term developmental actions. They recommend significant investment in small farmer-driven agricultural systems. Specific actions are proposed, addressing areas such as:

  1. Development of decentralized crop variety screening programs (using networks of NGO/university partners and led by MARNDR);
  2. Creation of cost-effective decentralized seed production and marketing systems (moving away from institutional clients—and toward a wider client base of small farmers);
  3. Catalyzing of input delivery through outlets where farmers routinely buy goods;
  4. Testing of business models for market chains that both enable value-addition and are low-risk for farmers;
  5. Development of farmer-oriented market and variety information systems, building especially on two-way communication options;
  6. Stimulating of initiatives that enhance capital creation and agro-enterprise development, particularly targeted at women.

Click here for the full report that includes all 44 recommendations.