February 2013
For What It's Worth

Just Another Week in Haiti

November 2012

The first 5 years of my visits to Haiti have primarily focused on meat quality and food safety as it relates to rabbit production and processing; much of it is based on HACCP guidelines. During the past year (year 6), I have added production quality, or as I call it "Animal Welfare," to my subject matter. This topic was the result of my realization of producers lacking a basic understanding of production essentials in regards to caring for their animals. Based on my observations, I decided to focus on specific areas including nutrition (vegetation, feed and water), care of newborns, shade and protection from harsh environmental conditions, sanitation and more. I felt this area was more important to know; without quality production, producers will not have adequate numbers for processing and marketing. It was obvious there were health and mortality problems, much of which could be attributed to poor nutrition, dirty or no water, direct exposure to elements and heat stress, poor sanitary conditions (dirty cages and accumulation of manure and urine under cages), and no shelter for newborn rabbits. I also realized much of this applied to other forms of livestock including poor nutrition (limited access to forage), inadequate access to water, continuous exposure to sun, etc. My theory is: as producers develop basic production quality skills, from there they can move forward with better results.

Robert Spencer and Anderson Pierre speaking to group in La Coline on animal welfare. The people have asked Spencer to come back and share more details on rabbit and goat production.


Producer in La Coline showing Robert Spencer teeth of a buck to verify his young age.

The first week of my visits included the following regions and communities: South, Port au Prince and Riviere Foride; and Southwest, La Coline and Passe Bois D’ome. The purpose of the visit to La Coline was to address meat goat production; in Passe Bois D’ome, the focus was marketing of rabbits; and, in Riviere Foride, we delivered rabbits and talked about basic considerations for rabbit production. This was my first time to address meat goat production in Haiti, but it is one of my areas of specialty. The people in La Coline were eager to discuss this topic so we had a good time interacting. The rabbit producers in Passe Bois D’ome have an impressive inventory of rabbits, but lack in marketing ideas; so Anderson Pierre and I spent a significant amount of time sharing ideas with them. The special needs school in Riviere Foride is new to rabbit production; we delivered 34 rabbits and conducted an educational workshop. The next day we returned to build rabbit cages then distribute cages and rabbits to those who had attended previous training.

Robert Spencer sharing ideas on marketing strategies with a group in Passe Bois D’ome. One of the producers told Spencer they have seen increased production as the result of allowing does to mature before breeding them.


Rabbits ready for transport from Passe Bois D’ome to Riviere Foride.

Rabbits being unloaded at new rabbitry in Riviere Foride.


One group of women from Riviere Foride leaving with their new cage and pair of rabbits.

I always enjoy my visits to Haiti and working with the Farmer to Farmer staff. They are like family to me and I consider Haiti my second home. Everywhere I visit, the people are so friendly and receptive to training. These factors keep me motivated with return visits and striving to improve situations through education and encouragement. As producers’ abilities to understand quality of production increases and their desire to apply this knowledge increases, their animals will remain healthy and more productive; thereby, leading to increased inventories, whereby they can start thinking about best management practices for processing and marketing. This has remained my primary area of focus for almost a year and, as I revisit communities from previous trainings, I see results and hear testimonials regarding improved situations and increased production.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.