Port-au-Prince, Haiti

From seed to sold

In central Haiti, MCC is partnering to train local farmers in sustainable agricultural practices

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – This photo essay explores the agricultural process of growing rice and other products, from planting to the marketplace. MCC partner PDL (Partenariat Developpement Local) is working to accompany local farmers in central Haiti.

PDL was founded by Cantave Jean-Baptiste (pictured above) in 2009. The organization’s primary objective is to act as a partner to rural communities in Haiti’s Artibonite, Centre and North departments, training them in community organization and sustainable agricultural practices as well as other types of social, economic and environmental work.

Together, PDL and the agricultural cooperatives, or gwoupmans, it supports are changing the standard of living in the countryside. As a result of PDL’s projects, these cooperatives are developing autonomy and resilience as they continue to learn and grow with the help of PDL.

PDL works with farmers in the Artibonite, Centre and North departments of Haiti who are growing food to be processed and sold in local markets. In this area, with PDL’s help, farmers have formed cooperatives to sell this produce.

While the majority of the damage after 2016’s Hurricane Matthew occurred in the South, Artibonite, and Northwest regions, the North also experienced sustained rains for more than two weeks. This resulted in a 95 per cent loss of bean crops in affected areas, meaning many farmers sustained significant personal losses after the storm ravaged the land.

The black beans pictured above are being dried on a flat platform for several days until they are ready to be stored. They can stay in storage for several months until an order is placed to purchase them. The gwoupmans then sell these beans at markets, as well as to schools.

One of the results of MCC’s partnership with PDL is that PDL is now providing locally sourced foods to MCC-supported schools that provide a hot meal — including beans like these — every day to their students, who are some of Port-au-Prince’s most vulnerable. This relationship benefits both parties, providing economic stability for farmers and nutritious meals for schoolchildren.

How rice goes from field to market

Step One: Several months after planting, the grains of rice are ready to be harvested.

One of the most important crops the gwoupmans plant is rice, which is a staple food for most Haitians and, for some people, will be the only meal of the day.

Haitians eat rice in different ways. Plain white rice, rice mixed with beans and a kind of fermented rice called diri national are all popular in Haiti.

Step Two: After the rice is harvested, it is set out to dry. While beans are placed on a flat surface, rice is placed on sheets on the road. This is so they are closer to the grinding mill after they finish drying. The process takes about five hours.

Drying the rice is an important step in the process from seed to sold and can be affected by a number of factors. One of them is humidity. The micro-climate in this area is cool and wet, with less sunshine than elsewhere, which is not as ideal for drying. If rice is stored before it is fully dried it can spoil, resulting in significant crop losses. Insects and pests also contribute to decreased yields.

Step Three: After the rice is dried it is taken to a grinding mill. At this point of the process the rice enters through the top part of the mill and the grain is removed from the hard outer shell. It also removes most rocks from the grains. This machine can produce two full bags of milled rice in an hour.

Step Four: Now the rice is ready to be bagged, sealed and sold at the market.

PDL’s work has seen food security enhanced in the areas where it operates, with almost 7,000 people having access to food for longer periods of time.

According to the World Food Program, about half of Haiti’s population is malnourished and 22 per cent of children have stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition. The situation is even more serious among the country’s most vulnerable children and young people, both in rural areas and urban centres. These children are among those served by the MCC-supported schools that receive local food from PDL.

Step Five: These large sacks of rice are ready to be transported to the packaging site to be properly bagged, sealed and sent to market. The bags help keep pests and rodents out of the rice, which needs to be carefully stored and monitored during every step of the journey from seed to sold. Insects can eat rice and seeds during storage ahead of the next planting season. One of the major losses farmers experience is losing seeds and needing to buy them again for the next season.

Even once the rice is processed, bagged and ready to be sold, there’s still the potential for dampness or rodents getting into the storage.

Step Six: Sacks of rice are loaded onto a motorcycle to be transported to market. The dirt roads are bumpy, and driving on them can be a challenging experience. The wet season creates puddles, and canals of streaming water can cause significant damage to the roads. In the dry season, roads are smoother but dustier. Drivers also have to watch out for stray livestock such as goats, pigs and chickens. All of this means getting the rice from the grinding mill to the market can sometimes take much longer than expected.

Step Seven: After a long journey from the soil, the rice is ready to be sold. Behind Door 6 is the kiosk where members of a PDL-supported gwoupman will sell their different kinds of rice and beans.

Five gwoupmans are currently working with PDL. They represent more than 6,000 farm families benefiting from greater access to markets, better pricing for produce and stronger connections in the Port-au-Prince region.

Step Eight: This kiosk in a market in St. Raphael is not the only place the rice will be sold. Many of the products are sold directly to customers, such as local restaurants or MCC-supported schools in Port-au-Prince. In 2017, one pound of rice grown by the farming cooperatives supported by PDL sold for 65 cents US.

Once the sacks are purchased, the rice will have completed its full journey from seed to sold!

Elizabeth Peters is Communications Assistant with MCC Haiti, where she has been serving through SALT since August 2018.