Feeding Haiti drop by drop

Women farmers embrace new irrigation system to heal soil and boost vegetable output

Dilaire, Haiti, 25 May 2009

Huguette Charles,  President of “Tet Kolé Fanm Dilaire” a rural women’s association in the village of Dilaire in Haiti’s north-eastern tip,  made sure on the day the ‘foreign’ experts arrived to explain how to operate a new irrigation system she had full quorum.

All 35 members of the came to hear FAO agronomists explain how to operate the drip system that was to be installed on a carefully prepared quarter of an acre of land. “We will be able to grow vegetables, not only enough to feed our families but even to sell at the local market and get a steady income”, Charles told the assembled group.

FAO has introduced a pilot drip irrigation system in this remote spot just a few miles from the border with the Dominican Republic, under an EU-funded project that aims to boost agricultural production whilst at the same time making better use of natural resources.

Drip irrigation uses less water and does not wash away the top layer of fertile earth. The tubing and other equipment to lay out the irrigation network was a donation in kind from the Dominican Republic where the environmentally-friendly irrigation technology is already being used.

Prior to the training session, FAO agronomists had dug a well and installed a pump for the women’s group. They also advised the woman to fence their plot to avoid theft and carefully prepare horizontal beds on the slope of the hill for the hoses of the drip system to rest upon. The FAO agronomists told the women to expect much larger yields, as long as the system was operated on time, at the same time every day.
FAO’s prime concern in north-east Haiti is to avoid erosion in an area that still has good soil for farming.

Volny Paultre, a senior FAO agronomist, explained to the women farmers of Dilaire that drip irrigation does not wash away the top layer of fertile earth and helps to economize water. “It gives farmers independence from the rainy season,” he said.

According to Paultre, the drip system will allow three harvests a year and thus thee times more output of produce than the traditional way of farming. He invited the woman of Dilaire,to prove he’s right and make their plot a showcase and a model for the whole region. “The women of Dilaire have proven they can be trusted”, said Huguette, “we have been successful with other FAO projects before.”

Paultre said his main goal is to enhance food output by introducing simple but efficient new farming methods and, in the meantime, save water and combat erosion..

Just across the border from Dilaire, in the Dominican Republic, over 40 farmers associations have already embraced drip irrigation farming and now sell their vegetables all over the region, even in Fort Liberté.

“I’m hoping that in a few years from now this region has an output of vegetables, similar to that of the neighbors” said Paultre.

If the women of Dilaire have anything to do with it, people living in the Dominican town of Dajabon on the other side of the border will be buying vegetables grown in Haiti.