Thoughts from a ‘Mercredi de Réflexion’
What is the ‘Mercredi de Réflexion’? The ‘Mercredi de Réflexion’ is a monthly meeting organized by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Haiti Country Office that tackles relevant topics for the country’s development and economic growth. These meetings bring to the table sector specialists, academics, politicians, and members of the civil society to explore different points of view on a topic of choice.
On Wednesday, March 31st, 2021, the ‘Mercredi de Réflexion’ focused on the future of agriculture in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region, the pandemic’s impact on the Haitian Agricultural sector, and the opportunities that lay ahead. Dr. Michael Morris from the World Bank, Mr. Pierre Karly Jean Jeune from the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Gael Pressoir from Quisqueya University, and Mr. Carl Dejoie participated in the event as panelists. The event was moderated by Mr. Kesner Pharel and attended online by more than 120 national and international guests.
The agricultural sector in Haiti is key but has been underperforming.
Agriculture plays an essential role in the Haitian economy. It accounts for more than 20% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and constitutes the primary revenue source and employment, particularly in rural areas. Approximately 50% of the Haitian population is employed in the sector. Agriculture is also vital for food security and nutrition among Haitian households.
Productivity levels in Haiti for the sector are among the lowest in the world. Agricultural productivity in Haiti is low and has seen little growth in the past 50 years. Although the reasons for this disappointing performance are complex, some of the productivity constraints include poor rural infrastructure, insecure land tenure, lack of investment and access to technology, poorly developed input and output markets, and frequent and severe climatic shocks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the sector. The pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis have left Haitian agricultural households with less access to means of production (capital, credit, etc.) and even more limited governmental assistance than usual. Further, due to the mobility restrictions and the closure of major ports, Haitian farmers have met increased challenges in selling their products to local and international markets. These restrictions had serious impacts on food supply and the country’s food security condition, which was already precarious before the pandemic. So, what can be done to alleviate this crisis?
Technological innovation and targeted policies could radically change the sector’s trajectory going forward.
Recent research at the University of Quisqueya in Haiti, mostly funded by IDB, suggests that it could be possible to double agricultural production in the country in the short run with a limited number of innovations and adapted mechanization. However, these practices must be accompanied by strong policies and incentives that support applied research and development and better regulate the agricultural and agro-industrial sectors.
Possible actions that can be taken to unleash the region’s agricultural and food systems’ vast potential are also highlighted in the World Bank’s latest report, “Future foodscapes: Re-imagining agriculture in Latin American and the Caribbean”. Drawing from this report, in the context of Haiti, policymakers should focus on the modernization of agro-logistics infrastructure- including post-harvest infrastructure – to reduce food loss. Another high priority area is the deepening of financial markets in rural areas. A modernization of the land administration systems would also have significant impact on the performance of the sector, given the uncertainty and disincentive to invest that are related to land insecurity in the country.
With the goal of revamping agriculture and boost productivity post-COVID-19, the government of Haiti is rolling out some key policy initiatives to support the sector. The Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Rural Development has released a strategic plan to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the agricultural sector. Also, some specific project funds have been reoriented in 2020 to support the production of short-cycle crops to meet the country’s immediate food demand during the pandemic. Within the context of the Government post-COVID-19 Economic Reactivation Plan (PREPOC in French) 2020-2023, the government also plans to prioritize a transformation of agriculture and boosting of agricultural productivity. A total of US$317.8 million (7% of the total envelope) is allocated to the agricultural sector through the PREPOC.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptive impact have highlighted the vulnerability of the agricultural sector. Business as usual is no longer an option, but the pandemic and its related crisis offer the opportunity for deep change. New prospects for the sector’s trajectory should be defined and led by Haitian policymakers, in partnership with academics, civil society, and international organizations. Together, these actors should explore effective responses as the ones outlined during the ‘Mercredi de Réflexion’. They would therefore address the diverse challenges and jointly seek to achieve the end goal of promoting a more efficient and sustainable food system in Haiti, with the main objective of guaranteeing food security to its citizens.