Imagine a life in which you go work all day and come back with just enough money to pay for food for your family. A life in which you do not easily have enough money to cover the school fees of your children or to pay for basic medical care. Imagine a life in which, despite hard work and great efforts, your opportunities to improve your condition are very limited.
Well, this life exists. More than 50% of Haitians, about 5.5M people, live in food insecurity, the majority of which live in rural areas, where most households survive from subsistence agriculture. Farming areas are very small, and productivity is low.
This situation cannot be easily improved. Farmers who wish to apply more productive practices and to invest in better agricultural inputs and technologies face multiple constraints. Financial and credit markets are inexistent or prohibitive in most rural places and the supply of agricultural technologies is limited in Haiti.
Now, let’s assume that technological supply existed; high risks still undermine the incentive for investments. Imagine saving for months or years to buy expensive but promising crop seeds and then heavy rains wash away your crops. In minutes, all your hard work would literally go down the drain. Would you be really willing to take that risk?
Aware of these challenges and the need for a change, between 2011 and 2018 the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture implemented the Technologies Transfer to Small Farmers Project (PTTA), with the financial support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). In total, USD 40 million were invested, with the objective to contribute to a sustainable improvement of small farmers’ agricultural income and food security in the North and Northeast departments, where agriculture had a high potential for intensification.
The main tool of the project was the provision of technical packages adapted to the local characteristics, aiming to improve agricultural productivity. Farmers were given a voucher which financed 80% of the total cost of the package. Through a one-time intervention, PTTA aimed to remove the main constraints to technology adoption: lack of access to credit, incomplete information, and risk aversion.
At the end of the implementation of PTTA, a total of 35,553 farmers received the vouchers (more than originally expected), and 19,357 of them successfully adopted the provided technological packages.
Nonetheless, based on the impact evaluations conducted, only the agroforestry packages led to a significant increase of the value of production (+38%) and to the generation of higher income (+63%). The other packages (mainly focused on annual crops like rice and vegetables) did not generate any significant improvement.
Why would agroforestry packages yield such astonishing results, whereas the results for the other packages were disappointing?
Indeed, the annual crop packages did not lead to any innovation and therefore did not improve farming practices. Farmers were already using most of the proposed technologies. Moreover, some technological packages need a productive natural environment and some investments are crucial preconditions to increase the likelihood of additional income generation. Irrigation systems deficiencies, for example, did not allow for more productive practices for rice production. Finally, some operational delays in voucher distribution might have also limited the application of appropriate agricultural practices (seedling date) and therefore the improvement of yields.
The good news is, though, that most packages (74% of the total) were focused on agroforestry and 14,500 farmers could therefore increase their income by 38%, on average.
Imagine the meaning of that increase in income for those people. Less stress to take care of their families or the possibility to generate savings and invest in better technologies in the future, for an even higher productivity and income generation.
Now, do you want to hear some even better news? The lessons learned from PTTA have been considered in the program design of the Technological Innovation Program for Agriculture and Agroforestry (PITAG, in its French acronym), which is a de facto second phase of PTTA. PITAG, approved in 2017, strives to provide packages to over 65,000 farmers, focusing on applied agronomic research and climate smart agricultural technologies. The new program is expected to achieve even better results than PTTA did and to increase the income of more farmers, generating, at the same time, positive environmental effects and contributing to the mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
This collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture of Haiti and the IDB is therefore a good example of evidence-based policy making, grounded on rigorous monitoring and evaluation of policy interventions and the sincere willingness to learn from the possible mistakes made in the past.
If you want to hear more about the implementation of PITAG and other similar experiences in Haiti and the region, well, stay tuned!