USAID assessment finds vegetable seeds are plentiful in Haiti

Haitian farmers have plenty of seed for traditional crops and new types of seed should not be brought into the country unless thoroughly tested under local conditions, says a recent study by relief and development agencies funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Back in June, Haitian peasants threatened to burn any vegetable seeds showing up in seed stores that were donated by the Monsanto Co. Peasant leaders said the hybrid seed, not bred for local conditions, would upset agricultural environments and make farmers more dependent on unwanted seed varieties from outside of the country.

Monsanto defended its contribution, which included varieties of corn, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, spinach, tomato and watermelon, saying it came to help Haitian farmers who may have been unable to purchase seed because of shortages in the months after January’s devastating earthquake.

While the controversy has died down with no major altercations, a recently completed assessment of seed availability found that plenty of seed for traditional crops exists. The report recommended that seed from outside of the country not be introduced unless thorough testing is conducted and that local markets be allowed to function normally.

The assessment, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance, involved 10 relief and development agencies, including Catholic Relief Services. The 124-page final report offered 44 recommendations to help Haitian farmers, including ways to invest in small farmer-driven variety, seed and agricultural marketing systems.

A key finding is that plenty of seed is available as farmers finish planting traditional crops such as corn, beans, squash and melons this month. The major challenge facing farmers, however, is household finances and the ability to afford the cost of seed.

The cash shortage among farmers is fueled by the relocation of people who fled earthquake-ravaged regions and moved in with family or friends in rural communities.

Any seed donations should be adapted to local conditions, fit farmer preferences and be “at least as good” as what farmers normally use, the report recommended.

The assessment also suggested that investing to assist women’s groups in agricultural enterprise efforts will help build the rural economy.

A USAID spokeswoman said the full report is expected to be posted soon.

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