Time frame: Sept 2021 – Feb 2023
Developed together with PDL, Groundswell International and the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, the study presents a comparative economic analysis of agroecological versus conventional farming in the Northern Plateau of Haiti.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Latin America and the Caribbean region and has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world (WFP, 2023). Food insecurity in Haiti is fuelled by a rise in gang violence and worsening civil unrest, which has led to disruptions in market functioning and supply, exacerbating the upward trend in international staple food prices (Famine Early Warning System Network, 2023). While Haiti was once richly forested and highly biodiverse, its colonial, plantation economy was based on an extractive model that has continued after independence in 1804 (Groundswell International, 2017). Government and international donor programs intermittently extend projects around the countryside, but there is limited coordination between these programs, and the agricultural sector is largely characterised by the absence of government extension services and needed investments (Murray and Bannister, 2004; Bellande, 2010; Groundswell International, 2017; IFAD, 2022b). These factors are further compounded by climate hazards, political instability and a depreciation of the Haitian gourde against the US dollar (Famine Early Warning System Network, 2022).
To end the vicious circle of poverty, lack of investments into farming and poor agricultural productivity, the NGO – Partenariat du Developpement Local (PDL) – is embracing agroecology to strengthen peasant associations across the north of Haiti’s Central Plateau basin, with the vision that enhanced rural prosperity is a key cornerstone for revitalising the entire country.
Central to agro-ecology is the agency of farmers and their organisations to experiment, innovate, adapt, and spread agro-ecological principles and practices to local ecosystems. Techniques include, but are not limited to, the use of contour barriers, composting and use of manure, integration of crop residue instead of slash and burn, maintaining permanent soil cover, inter-cropping and crop rotations, agroforestry, the planting of living fences to protect against free grazing and development of community seed banks. More importantly, it is the process of farmer-focused research and development, as much as any specific set of techniques, that is prioritised when implementing and upscaling agroecology.
While funding remains a major challenge to up-scaling agroecological farming, regulatory and fiscal policies are needed to incentivise change. In particular, clear governance structures, land tenure rights, well-targeted subsidies and participatory decision-making processes, backed by evidence that agro-ecology pays-off. Needless to say, many of the valuable ecosystem services provided by agro-ecological farming systems – e.g. restoration of water and carbon cycles and enhanced disaster risk resilience – remain hidden, as they are not transacted in markets. Even when products are sold, such as timber, fruits and nuts and agricultural produce – the economic returns that are generated are not necessarily known to farmers and even less, to policy makers. This situation leads to under-investment in agroecology, often coupled with counteracting policies.
In collaboration with Groundswell International & PDL, Altus Impact therefore developed a comprehensive assessment tool – using household surveys and focus groups – in 2021 and applied it in the Northern Plateau of Haiti to assess the implication of agroecological farming on household incomes and wellbeing. The survey catered to both conventional and agro-ecological model farmers (total 330 households), that are members of peasant associations, within the communes of Saint Raphael, Mombin Crochu and Pignon respectively, counting approximately 5,000 households and 3,000 peasant association members.
Focusing on the value of produce from their main parcel of land and deducting input and labour costs, average net income is in the order of $1230 to $1595 per hectare for agroecological farmers (pending on the community), compared to $615 to $805 per hectare for conventional farmers. Statistical analysis revealed that agro-ecological farmers have higher land productivity, due to agro-ecology, but also because they spend more on quality seeds and agricultural labour for weeding. In terms of land use practices, intercropping, was found to be the main driver of increased land productivity. A typical agro-ecological farmer, holding everything else constant, has a gross crop income that is US$437 higher than an average conventional farmer.
As for the perceived benefits, an overwhelming majority (98%) of the interviewed farmers stated that they will continue to undertake agroecological farming and plan to expand the area they have dedicated to agroecology. Agroecological farmers were also found to have higher land productivity, as measured by satellite imagery, using the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).
So why are not all farmers doing agroecology? Agroecology is more labour intensive, especially in the first years, until the benefits of improved soil health kick-in. In addition to the need for financing new investments (labour, equipment, tree seeding and other inputs), agro-ecology also requires new skills that caters to farmers own preferences and endowments.
Overall therefore, agroecology is a promising approach to tacking poverty and food security in Haiti, which would create significant economic stimulus throughout the northern region, help lower the reliance on imported food and bring many co-benefits (carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, and ecosystem based disaster risk resilience, etc) to be analysed in a future study. Large-scale adoption however, will require innovative financing, public-private-NGO partnerships and an enabling environment backed by economic and social support from the Haitian government. Several policy recommendations are provided in the study, to lay the foundation for further action and impact.