Farming First – Haiti’s farmers showcase resilience in the face of Covid-19 pandemic

Original article appeared in Farming First on Thursday September 1st 2022

Haiti’s smallholder farmers have demonstrated how they defied the Covid-19 pandemic to continue to produce and export goods, thanks to long-term investment in food systems.

Acceso has been supporting Haitian farmers, providing technical training, support and market linkages, since 2014. After helping peanut farmers to improve production and reduce the risk of contamination, Acceso and partners launched Lavi Spicy Peanut Butter, a product created entirely in Haiti using peanuts grown by local farmers, in 2019.

The peanut butter sold is inspired by Sergeline René’s family recipe (Photo: Gemma Handy)

On a recent visit to the country, Acceso Board members heard how, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and additional logistical hurdles sparked by ongoing civil unrest, Lavi has already exported 40,000 jars into the homes of families across the US and Canada.

Lavi peanut butter is now exported to stores across the US and Canada (Photo: Gemma Handy)

Lavi is produced in Haiti’s Central Plateau at the Sant Pwodiksyon Nourimanba facility near Cange, which is owned and operated by global organisation Partners in Health (PIH) and employs 21 local people. It is supplied by more than 10,000 growers across the country, whose produce is bought through Acceso at fixed prices to sell to local and international buyers. Around 750 farmers produce the peanuts used to create Lavi.

A critical part of the process is ensuring the peanuts are free of poisonous, cancer-linked aflatoxins. The produce undergoes rigorous toxin-testing to meet US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards.

Each jar of Lavi has a QR code that consumers can scan to trace the peanuts all the way back to the farmer.

“It’s really difficult to pass the FDA barrier to export from Haiti,” said Sergeline René, sales and administrative director at Acceso Haiti. “The QR code is an important part of our traceability.”

A staple food for centuries, peanuts are endemic to the Caribbean nation, including Haiti. Around half of Haiti’s 11.6 million people rely on farming to make a living with the vast majority operating smallholdings of less than five acres.

The peanuts are also used to create healthy snacks for local schoolchildren (Photo: Gemma Handy)

Some of the peanuts are also used to create healthy snacks for local schoolchildren to fight malnutrition, said to affect tens of thousands of youngsters under five.

Peanut planter Wilky Baldé has been farming for 30 years after learning from his parents growing up in the Central Plateau.

“The problems are numerous; we have had no access to fertilisers, insecticides, seeds or agricultural credit,” he said. “Our yield has decreased and some farmers have had to cut down trees to sell as wood planks; the result is that our land has been eroding into the sea.

“Because we lack the means to provide irrigation, most farmers like me are always hoping it will rain.”

Farmer Wilky Baldé says his income has doubled (Photo: Gemma Handy)

Having a guaranteed buyer for his peanuts has seen his income almost double, he added.

The Covid-19 pandemic coincided with a succession of crises including the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, followed by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake a month later which killed more than 2,000 people and caused widespread destruction in the southwest.

“What’s happening in our country makes me feel sad and frustrated. But with Haitian-led solutions and visions, I believe we can get out of this, get back to roaring agricultural production and help our country grow,” said Max Prosper-Fortuna, of the non-profit Haitian Centre for Leadership and Excellence, a partner of Acceso through the Haiti Food Systems Alliance.

“Peanuts are rooted in our culture. Haitians are very proud of our peanuts; they have better taste and quality than any from overseas.”

Farmers like Simon Manes have benefitted from technical training to help them increase their yields (Photo: Acceso/Paramo Films)

Frank Giustra, founder of Acceso, said: “The resilience of Haiti’s farmers in the face of extraordinary challenges is both impressive and inspiring. It only serves to motivate Acceso yet further to continue to rebuild food systems to work for farmers, allowing them to fulfil their potential and create thriving rural economies.”