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UN: Agriculture Key to Haitian Recovery

The U.N.'s agricultural agency warns that if Haiti's crucial spring planting season is missed, the country will be dependent on international food aid for a much longer period of time.  Seed, fertilizer and equipment are urgently needed before that window closes in April.

food situation was already fragile in Haiti well before last month's earthquake, with the country importing more than half its cereal needs.  In 2008, tropical storms tore through the Artibonite Valley, the region of the country known as Haiti's bread basket. That year was also marked by deadly food riots that brought the government down.

And now the food supply is threatened again in the wake of the devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million others homeless.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that farmers must be able to meet the spring planting season equipped with seeds, fertilizers, livestock feed and vaccines, as well as agricultural tools, saying it is an important step in the country's long term recovery.

FAO Emergency Response Manager Alexander Jones spoke with VOA from Haiti.

"Haiti has two main agricultural seasons - some areas also have a third - but the main agricultural season, the spring season, requires planting between late March and early April," said Jones.  "That season produces 60 percent of all the crops in the country. If we miss that season, we will be dependent on food aid for a much longer time," he said.

Jones said that if the spring season is missed, farmers will have to wait for crops from the summer planting season which would not be harvested until January or February 2011.

More than half of Haiti's 9 million residents live in rural areas. Although farming accounts for only a little more than a third of the GDP, it is the country's single largest employer, providing work to about 60 percent of the population.

The United Nations has asked for $562 million in emergency assistance for Haiti for six months. Of that, FAO asked for $23 million for agricultural projects, but only about seven percent of that funding has been pledged or received.

Next week, the U.N. is expected to revise that appeal based on post-disaster assessments to include needs for the next 12 months. FAO's Jones said his agency and other agricultural NGOs would ask for a total of about $60 million to see them through the year.

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