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Officials Plan to Improve Haiti's Food Supply after Earthquake

In Jacmel, an area south of Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, crops of sugar cane, corn and beans are maturing. They will be ready to harvest in a few weeks. But the earthquake has damaged the irrigation system providing them with water.

Javier Escobedo, who traveled to the area to assess the damage for the UN food and agriculture organization, says he sees hopeful signs among local farmers.

"I was surprised because, in particular the women were in the fields, putting water in the fields. They were saying, 'I want to save our food.' That is encouraging, to see how [the farmers] stand up again after this tragedy."

While hundreds of thousands of Haitians are surviving on emergency food aid, officials are beginning to consider how to get food production in Haiti up and running again.

Repairing damaged irrigation systems and roads top the 'to-do' list for reconstruction.

Seed shortage

Escobedo says farmers also face a looming shortage of seeds. With food in short supply, seeds that would have been used to start next season's crops will likely be eaten instead. And he adds that the seed business suffered in the quake as well.

"The commercial traders of seeds are closed," he says. "One of the biggest providers collapsed. So, there's going to be a gap in the provision of seed."

To fill the gap, he says, Haitians will need to import tons more bean and maize seeds than normal.

Urban exodus increases rural food demand

Escobedo adds that the mass migration of hundreds of thousands of people out of Port-au-Prince to the countryside has created another problem.

"These people are consumers," he says, "They are not producers. So, it's going to [create a great deal of] pressure on the land. They need food."

Haitian agriculture minister Joanas Gué agrees that the exodus will increase the food demands in the countryside. And he says farmers will need to change how they distribute and sell their produce because Port-au-Prince will no longer be the primary market for the rural areas.

Backyard gardens

Escobedo says one strategy FAO and others are proposing to ward off hunger in the coming months is to supply people with seeds and planting boxes to grow some lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. These backyard gardens can help ensure a source of food and even provide a little income when the garden produces a surplus.  The FAO had previously promoted these simple container gardens to help tens of thousands of Port-au-Prince city dwellers improve their diets.

Haiti had serious problems with food security before the earthquake. More than half the population was undernourished. Agriculture minister Joanas Gué will be traveling to Washington and Rome next week to ask donors to support a $700 million proposal to improve food production in the country.

Gué says he will advocate for the plan to boost agricultural production in Haiti once and for all, making food more available. But especially important, he says, will be working for the long term to create strategic food reserves that will enable the country to quickly respond in times of crisis, such as this one.

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