Caption A garden by Papay Creek, vibrant and extremely productive even five months into the dry season. To the far left are mango trees, in middle are bananas and sugarcane. A field of newly planted banans is in the foreground. To the botom right you can see a conservation canal which cuts across the base of the slope to the right of the photo. The cliffs are between 60 and 80 feet high. The land occupied by the producing bananas and sugarcane is around an acre and the newly planted bananas in the foreground occupy another acre or 3/4. Looking onto the garden, we are looking in a generally westerly direction. Double click the photo to view it more easily. The creek, not visible, is to the far left, beyond the mangos.
Approximate location (for Google Earth users): 19 09 20, -71 58 38
The Garden Under the Cliffs
Agame, one of the workers in MPP's Road to Life Yard/Moringa project, invited me to visit his uncle's garden this past Tuesday, together with his uncle. The garden is planted on land his uncle rented from a neighbor. It's nestled between Papay creek (not in the picture) and the cliffs you see in the photo above (you can double click on the photo to view it more easily). Agame's uncle has bulit a very simple earthen dam to backup the flow of the creek which provides enough water that he can rent a pump occaisionally to keep the bananas and sugarcane well watered. In addition,, the garden has two "seeps" at the base of the cliff. "Seeps" are like springs, but with a very slow flow of water. At least half of the irrigation comes from the two seeps, which he carefully directs into canals, then plastic pvc pipes and then into a simple garden hose that he uses to water bananas and sugar cane on a daily basis.
This farmer has also dug a meter deep, 10 meter long canal cutting across a slope that leads from the top of the cliffs down to the area newly planted to bananas. The canal catches soil washing down the slope in the heavy rains during the five to seven month rainy season (approximately May-October). Agame's uncle explained that the importance of catching this soil before it washes into his fields is because the soil from the slope is of much poorer quality than the riverine silts he has by the creek. If he lets that poor soil cover his good soil, production will be reduced. The canal also serves a secondary but equally as important function. As soil and rainwater flows into it, the canal helps conserve and concentrate the water, forcing it to seep into the ground, rather than running into the creek and being lost downstream. The water which is absorbed into the soil then becomes available during the dry season to bananas and other crops he plants downslope.
Based on his experience with the bananas which are in production right now, Agame's uncle can expect to harvest some five hundred banana "racemes" from his new banana plot this year, with a potential gross profit of some HTG 125,000, or around US$ 3,000. (About 50% of Haitian live on less than $US 1.00 a day, a total of less than $365.00 a year). This farmer has also produced vegetables and field beans on this small piece of land. In January he harvested a good crop of black beans which he is looking to sell in order to buy a small pump of his own. He didn't give us a total amount for the bananas he's harvested this year so far, but he did note that the sugarcane provided around HTG 2,500 (about $US 60.00) in one recent harvest.
Agame's uncle has never studied agronomy and has had very limited access to any kind of extension services. Agricultural credit is also extremely rare in Haiti. Everything this farmer is accomplishing is with resources he has had access to from within his own family together with his own ingenuity, driven and guided by his inherent love of farming. Despite impressions and declarations to the contrary, Haiti is not poor because it lacks resources, but because the resources it has are poorly used, often as a result of bad policies at national and international levels. One of the most important resources Haiti has is the know-how, ingenuity and strength of its own farmers.
MPP is working at the local level to help farmer's such as Agame's uncle find technology and resources that can they need to protect the land and to produce more food. But it is also working to change national and international policies which limit and undermine the hard work of these same farmers.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has resources to provide information about how people in the US can help affect decisions made by the US government which in turn affect farmers such as Agame's uncle in Papay. Check out the Presbyterian Hunger Program site: http://www.pcusa.org/hunger/what.htm