Sweet Potato Helps Families Through Hurricane Season in Southeast Haiti

For Haitian farmers, the period from June to October brings both opportunity and risk—it is the country’s second agricultural season, but it is also hurricane season. In 2008 farmers in the Southeast Department communes of Côtes de Fer, Bainet, La Vallée and Belle-Anse lost most of their plots of maize, beans and sorghum to strong hurricane winds. In an area where food insecurity was already widespread, the lost crops and impassable roads left families without enough food to feed themselves. In Baie d’Orange, for instance, a communal section of the town of Belle-Anse, poor families’ reserves of food were quickly exhausted and children in particular bore the brunt of the ensuing famine.

To reduce vulnerability in these communities, ACDI/VOCA worked with the Ministry of Agriculture’s National Program for Food Security (NPFS) to identify and introduce a short-term variety of sweet potato in the four Southeast communes most affected by storms in 2008. The initiative is part of the USAID-funded PL 480 Title II Multi-Year Assistance Program (MYAP) in Haiti, which aims to reduce food security in the Southeast Department. Since it is planted underground, sweet potato is less vulnerable to the effects of gusty hurricane winds. Furthermore, the short-term potato variety can be harvested as early as 2 ½ after planting, compared to the six months required for the local variety. ACDI/VOCA arranged to harvest the new variety of sweet potatoes in the four communes during the peak of the 2009 hurricane season (August and September) as part of its hurricane-preparedness strategy.

Drawing on last year’s lessons, and as part of a carefully planned operation with the NPFS in June 2009, ACDI/VOCA distributed 500,000 cuttings of sweet potato variety Ti Savien to more than 200 farmers in the four Southeast communes and provided training on proper cultivation and pest control. By the end of August, some plots were already being harvested. One of the farmers, Paul Solvert, was pleased with the harvest, saying, “It has been a while since I have seen potato production in this area. This year, it is true, we have not yet been hit by a cyclone and the rain has become more infrequent, but I was able to get a fair amount from my potato garden, which allows me to feed my family.” Mr. Solvert lives in La Biche, a communal section in Côtes de Fer that is especially vulnerable to hurricanes. During a MYAP meeting on environmental awareness and education, Mr. Solvert showed off a bag of his freshly harvested potatoes to illustrate the success of his potato production, partly thanks to the assistance given especially by farmers in the region.

Although the potato harvest has not yet been completed in some communes, such as Anse à Pitre, the demand for the variety has already begun to increase. Mr. Pierre Desamours from Coral Lamothe, in the commune of Belle Anse, wished that he could get the variety, remarking, ''If I had the opportunity to have some cuttings of this variety of potato, I would be able to do lots of things for my family.'' To meet this demand, the project plans to get cuttings from the plots currently being cultivated and distribute them to about 750 producers during the month of November 2009. By the end of the 2010 hurricane season, the program plans on expanding to nearly 5,000 growers across seven Southeast communes (Côtes de Fer, La Vallée, Bainet, Belle-Anse, Thiotte, Grand Gosier and Anse à Pitre).