June 2008
For What It's Worth

Lessons Learned from the Challenges of Agriculture in a Third World Country

by Robert Spencer

When it come to agriculture production many of us are unaware of the challenges faced by farmers in third world countries. Although we complain about costs of items, like diesel fuel, t-post, fertilizer, etc., at least we have access to them and at a relatively reasonable price. I recently spent 15 days in Haiti as an agriculture specialist and was reminded of how good we have things here in America. In a country like theirs, they have to import everything; fuel, t-posts, etc. are primarily brought into the ports via ships. They have no access to fertilizer, lime, pesticides or herbicides. Gas was seven dollars a gallon when I was there and went higher after two days of nationwide protests regarding the high cost of food and gasoline. Also, high rates of unemployment are a serious problem in Haiti; there is little industry and therefore limited job opportunities.

This visit was a follow-up to my original visit which took place in October/November of 2006. The objective of the first visit was to share the concept of meat quality assurance and lay the groundwork for development and implementation of a meat quality assurance program for the production phase, along with working with sanitation and meat inspectors on similar concepts, and to address marketing opportunities. The purpose of the most recent visit was to review previous information, evaluate progress, and convey concepts and practices relevant to meat quality assurance at the production and processing level plus how it all relates to enhancing marketing opportunities and expansion.

I spent two weeks in the northern part of Haiti, in Cap Haitien and surrounding areas. The population of Cap Hatien is about 755,000. My primary assignment was to work with potential and existing rabbit producers, an organization known as Makouti Agro Enterprises (Makouti), and other associates. My role was to serve as an expert in meat quality assurance and conduct training sessions on insuring quality meat products from production state, processing phase and marketing aspects. While rabbit production was the primary commodity discussed, other forms of livestock production (beef, pork, poultry, goat, etc.) were also addressed. It was interesting to identify many of their concerns and questions during the training sessions.

During these two weeks, activities included visits to individual farms and farms run by faith-based organizations; training seminars with potential and existing producers; training sessions for those having an interest in meat processing and sanitation; quality assurance training; informal meetings with Makouti leaders; and several visits to potential market sites. I also visited an orphanage for young boys; the Jesuit-run institution is making a serious effort to educate the boys and teach them how to produce their own food. The orphanage is hoping to produce enough rabbits to sell the excess meat to the local community.

Makouti, its partners and local producers have made significant progress during the past one-and-a-half years. During my previous visit there were less than 100 rabbits with a limited number of producers in production. Significant challenges like nutrition (limited availability of pelleted feed) and limited availability of cage building materials were the primary issues. They now have almost 1,000 rabbits in production, numerous existing and waiting producers, and they are able to import pelleted feed along with cage building materials.

Rabbits are a viable form of livestock for many households with limited land. The rabbits can be harvested to feed family members and friends, and excess can be sold to other neighbors. The manure collected beneath the cages can be utilized as an organic form of fertilizer for gardens. Keep in mind many households have limited access to water and electricity, and without guaranteed access to electricity most household are unable to refrigerate or freeze meats and leftovers.

Another aspect about Makouti that impresses me is their ongoing efforts to diversify into other areas of agriculture enterprises.

During my previous visit, Makouti was strongly pursuing fruit and vegetable production, and a few forms of livestock production (cattle, goats and hogs); and beginning to pursue rabbit, coffee and honey production. They now have significantly expanded into all these areas, especially the latter, and are beginning to venture into chocolate (cocoa) production and further processing. Also, they have developed quality-packaging materials and an organizational label that is very recognizable and easily associated with them by consumers. Their various enterprises and educational efforts are helping develop job opportunities and providing financial resources for their members, their families and local communities. They are also bringing about agricultural sustainability and economic opportunities for much of Haiti. If this was in the U.S., it would be considered a form of risk management. From this perspective, Makouti should serve as an agricultural role model for any country, including the U.S.

Makouti is currently working with members of the Department of Health to standardize meat certification and quality-control. Additional training is needed for producers in the areas of food safety, meat quality, rabbit dissection/processing and other topics. This organization is also venturing into training for such skills as carpentry and auto and truck mechanical repair. Given the various challenges faced from time to time, Makouti and its members have made significant progress. Their innovations and success are very impressive. Their story is an inspiration for any underdeveloped country.

I hope this article gives you a greater appreciation for what we have in this country. Haiti is a country where jobs are scarce, a cup of raw rice costs one dollar, gas is seven dollars a gallon and soil erosion is a serious problem. Despite the circumstances, the people are great to work with; they make the best of their situation and really appreciate the help they receive. I have a lot of respect for the people and have enjoyed both visits.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.