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Irrigation in Haiti: Farmers hope for multiple harvests

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Garde Tilmark and Gregory Mordaly unload gravel at the Colora irrigation project. Ami Vitale/Oxfam America
Garde Tilmark and Gregory Mordaly unload gravel at the Colora irrigation project. Ami Vitale/Oxfam America

“QUELQUES PHOTOS” shouted the subject line of the email.

Someone’s excited, I thought, as my brain registered the caps but stalled at the French.

It was Yves Guillame Chancy, the technical manager of PROBINA , an Oxfam Quebec partner in Haiti, and when I opened his message and clicked on the attachments I saw why. High in the hills of Colora, a farming community several hours’ drive northwest of Port-au-Prince, construction of the small irrigation system Chancy had been overseeing was now finished and he had sent pictures to show me.

“The last time in Belladere you see the men at work—and today an idea of the finished work,” said Chancy in his short, but proud message. His enthusiasm was infectious. I grinned. Watch the work here.

Down below, water would be snaking through more than 60 acres of fields bringing the promise of abundant crops to about 150 farmers. And instead of just one harvest a year, some farmers said they would be able to coax three from their fields now that they’ll have a reliable source of water.

“It means my family will have more food and a harvest to sell and our kids will go to school,” said Laventure Benad. In Haiti, where nearly 8o percent of the country’s 9.6 million people live on less than $2 a day and 38 percent of them over the age of 15 are illiterate, the new reality Benad hopes for is no small feat. And it’s the kind of step forward that will be essential to replicate if Haiti is to recover from the devastation left in the wake of January 12 earthquake.

Though that disaster happened far from Colora, its effects have been felt deep in the rural farming regions to which hundreds of thousands of displaced residents from the capital fled. Their arrival has strained the resources of the friends and family they have relied on there.

Agriculture is key to the Haitian economy—it employs about two-thirds of the country’s workforce—and finding ways to boost its output will be important for the nation’s recovery.

No wonder Chancy was excited to report that the irrigation project was complete. Farmers said the increased harvests would allow them to gain financial independence—to afford their own seeds and fertilizer.

One day in mid-May, they clustered about the stream that serves as the source of the irrigation and watched as a small team of men chipped rocks into gravel, shoveled muck from a channel, and heaved boulders out of the way. There were no backhoes or jack hammers on this rugged hillside, only sweat and determination—the resources Haiti has always relied on, and the same ones that could keep this small irrigation system functioning for the next 50 years.

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