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.
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.