I recently had the pleasure of returning to Haiti. I always enjoy my visits; each is a rich experience. The trip was sponsored by Partners of the Americas, specifically the Farmer to Farmer Program. The Farmer to Farmer Program improves economic opportunities in rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean by increasing food production and distribution; promoting better farm and marketing operations; and conserving natural resources. The program is supported by Congress and the Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the United States foreign assistance program. Farmer to Farmer brings together agricultural professionals and practitioners from the U.S. and the Caribbean. Volunteers from the U.S. work with farmers and agribusiness owners in Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic to identify local needs and design projects to address them. Partners is a private, nonprofit, non-partisan organization with international offices in Washington, D.C. For additional program information visit www.partners.net.
This was my third visit to Haiti through Partners of the Americas’ Farmer to Farmer Program, prior visits occurred in 2006 and 2008. My most recent visit took place May 9–23. The project I continue working on is the "Haiti Small Animal Project," specifically rabbits and food safety. Rabbit production has become quite popular in Haiti. During this visit, I noticed a great deal of improvement in the small animal production; however, opportunities for progress remain in the areas of food safety standards for all meat products. On this volunteer assignment, I traveled to Cap Haitien, in the north of Haiti, to provide trainings on meat quality and food safety. While there, I conducted two seminars with Haitians involved at all levels of the value chain, "from farm to fork," providing training on the importance of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and stressed the importance of meat quality standards for Haiti’s future. Other activities included eight farm visits to rabbitries located in various communities in and around Cap Haitien; a visit to an abattoir (processing facility) for cattle, hogs and goats; and tour of a huge farmers market and two stores. Because I speak no Creole (native language, a variation of French), I generally have one of my associates do the translating during most activities.
As you will see from the following report by another volunteer, the scale of rabbit production in Haiti is rather impressive.
Farmer to Farmer supports 790 rabbit production units, five of which are managed by Makouti Agro Enterprises (Makouti) in Northern Haiti. These rabbit production units average 300 rabbits per year, of which 120 are sold, 41 are consumed domestically by the families…. These rabbitries benefit from selling does and bucks (breeders), rabbit meat (fryers), rabbit feet (for keychains) and rabbit skin (to extract glue when appropriately harvested).
Prices for rabbits vary depending on rainy and dry season, but average $3 per pound for fryers in the rainy season to $7.50 per lb. for fryers in the dry season. These price fluctuations are due to the diminished supply and increased production costs during dry seasons when water and forage are less prevalent. The average fryer weighs between three and four pounds. Thus, the average sale for a fryer ranges from $12 to $30. Breeders (rabbits used for starting new rabbit farms) sell on the average for $15 per buck and $20 for does; these prices generally remain constant throughout the year.
At these prices… the average rabbitry at a minimum has the potential to generate gross annual sales of $1,220 per rabbitry. Existing data in the country indicates the average rabbitry generates net sales of $775 per year…
While this may not sound like much money to people in developed countries, in Haiti the per capita income is less than $2,000 per year, so to make net sales of $775 per year is a significant income for most households. I cannot take credit for all the progress that has taken place within Haiti over the past few years, but can savor the fact I played a role along with an array of other experts provided by Partners of America.
I consider these visits to the Caribbean to be a "working vacation." Most of my activities occur with people who are associated with Makouti, a cooperative with 170 members and member groups focused on vegetable production, processed food products, honey, small animals, eggs, root crops and more. Makouti provides marketing services, technical assistance and has established its own label and product line. Their current product line includes honey, chocolate, coffee and jellies. Makouti is a model of development in Haiti being successful where others have failed.
During this visit, I learned Makouti had recently run short of meat rabbits to market. Upon further inquiry, their leader explained the problem is twofold: 1) As a gesture of good will during the month of December (prior to Christmas and New Year), they had marked down all meat rabbits to half price, expecting this to ensure people would have some meat product for their families during the holiday; and 2) right after the earthquake in Port Au Prince, when food supplies were running short, Makouti had given away meat rabbits to those in need of food. Once they explained this to me, I better understood and appreciated why meat rabbits were is short supply.
Working with the people of Haiti is an enriching experience, I feel like I gain a significant amount of insight on the country, the people and their culture in comparison to the knowledge I share during seminars and other outreach work. Everyone I work with makes me feel so welcome I feel as if this is my home-away-from-home. Next month I will share more about other aspects of my visit to Haiti.
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.