December 2006
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Cooperative Extension Specialist Visits Haiti

Robert Spencer, Cooperative Extension’s Goat, Sheep, and Rabbit Specialist, recently experienced a two-week visit to Haiti.

He had been contacted several months ago by Florida A&M University’s Farmer to Farmer Programs with a request to volunteer his services working with livestock producers for development of a quality assurance program addressing production and health issues associated with livestock production, processing, and marketing. Although Spencer had never been to Haiti, he volunteered his services as a representative of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. It was an adventure he will never forget.

Haiti is the most underdeveloped and poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Basic limitations are the result of a lack of long-term government stability and overall lack of infrastructure conducive to economic development. Road conditions are poor at best; availability of water and electricity is limited; housing conditions are substandard; healthcare is almost nonexistent; and educational opportunities are limited. Despite all this, be assured, the people are friendly and the food is good; just don’t drink the water.

Despite all the challenges this country and its people face, farming offers the best potential for many Haitians (citizens of Haiti). Unlike the United States, a high percentage of Haitians are active in agriculture production. Also unlike the U.S., small-scale farming offers a viable living for many farmers and their families. Numerous countries (including the U.S.) and various agencies are making concerted efforts to provide potential and existing farmers with various outreach and technical assistance to enhance agriculture and income enhancing opportunities.

Farmer to Farmer Program (USAID funded program) has taken the initiative and implemented such an effort with countries throughout the Caribbean. They have made significant progress regarding goat and rabbit production, but there are some opportunities for further improvements such as meat quality assurance. Attempts with any agriculture-related outreach effort in Haiti requires an understanding of their limitations and challenges. Spencer was able to focus on developing such a program that realistically addressed opportunities and was feasible to implement.

Current livestock production in Haiti includes cattle, hog, goat and rabbit production. The focus of Spencer’s efforts was to develop a comprehensive program that would address meat quality assurance of the indigenous livestock. Anticipated target clientele included potential and existing farmers, those interested in or associated with processing meat animals and meat products, and representatives of government health agencies.

The program also targeted representatives of restaurants, hotels and stores. Spencer developed an educational program that addressed various components of meat quality assurance and expressed the significance of the relationship of meat quality assurance from producer to processor, to the buyer and consumer.

Although this visit was a working project, it ended up being more like a working vacation. Spencer visited several farms where rabbit, goat, hog and cattle production took place.

Most of the farms visited had only a few animals, twenty or less, but many of these farms are located in or along the edge of Cap Hatien, a city with a population of over 800,000 poor people. Cap Hatien is located on the south side of Haiti, which shares an island with the Dominican Republic. There is a very limited amount of industry in Haiti, so farming offers strong potential income. Farming provides farm families with food, and excess production can be sold to provide significant income for many families.

Farmers in Haiti face similar situations to farmers in the U.S. Most of them work full-time jobs and farm part-time for supplemental income. They face the economic challenges of limited resources and costly production. They face the challenges of getting their product to market and marketing. They face the challenges of competition from other farmers who are willing to sell their product for a slightly lower price.

And, they face the challenges of insects and diseases in plant production and disease in animals. Most livestock producers do not have access to items such as feed for livestock, fertilizer, nor chemicals used for fruit and vegetable production. Instead they rely on available forages for livestock and composting for fruit and vegetable production.

Despite all this, just like farmers throughout the world, they continue to perservere.

Most agriculture products (meat & produce) end up in several markets – a farmers market that is huge in comparison to our local farmers markets, being bought at wholesale prices and sold by individuals from the front of their homes, or at restaurants that prefer fresh meats and produce. The farmers market has plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and cuts of meats openly displayed with no refrigeration or protection from curious flies. Alongside of the cut meats are the heads, and often feet, of the animals from which the meat came. In the mornings when sellers are taking their products to market, most processed animals are transported to market via wheelbarrows, which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "hauling your animals to market."

Keep in mind the only facilities that have the ability to refrigerate meat and produce are stores and restaurants.

Farmers markets and individual sellers have no capability to refrigerate the products they sell. You must also know that availability of electricity ends when the workday ends, around 5 p.m., and does not start back up until the next morning when they return to work. Stores must live with the fact they will not have electricity to run their coolers during the night, and most restaurants have generators they run for supplemental electricity from evening until morning to keep their freezers/refrigerators and cooking appliances operable. Their grocery stores compare to our convenience stores in size and available products.

After a week of visiting individual farms, demonstration and educational farms, and markets, Spencer’s second week included three days of seminars to educate producers, processors, and those associated with the food service industry about the concept of meat quality assurance, production practices that affect meat quality, food safety and food borne illness, best recommended policies and practices for meat quality assurance, quality control issues, and how to develop a meat quality assurance program.

The program was well received by all those who attended and they eagerly expressed their appreciation for the program and outreach efforts. This was a significant reward for Robert Spencer who was almost overwhelmed by conditions in Haiti. Spencer left Haiti with a new appreciation for the term "limited-resource" farmer.

It is expected the development and implementation of meat quality assurance programs will improve the quality of livestock produced, increase the quality of meat products resulting from livestock production, enhance marketability of meat products and facilitate expansion of sales. This will result in an increase in farm income per farm and family, and improve their overall quality of life and the economic conditions for their community. At the same time this program will develop a new confidence among those associated with the program and strengthen the relationship between producer, processor, buyers and those associated with the food service industry and their clientele.

The presentation of this program was developed with the concept of meeting the needs of each of person and group type in a way that was easily understood, adaptable, practical and affordable to implement. Spencer hopes that this program will be readily accepted and implemented by livestock producers throughout Haiti with successful results.

Spencer hopes he will be allowed the opportunity to continue his work in Haiti with repeated visits. He wants everyone to be aware of the needs and challenges farmers face in Haiti. For those who are interested, the farmers there need some basic supplies such as vegetable seeds, water and feed containers for rabbit production, and rolls of wire that can be used to make rabbit cages. If you are interested in donating such items please contact Robert Spencer at 256-776-6223 or e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Your interest is appreciated.