Sunday, March 28, 2010

Agriculture and Haiti’s Overpopulation problems.

After learning about Haiti and the devastating destruction on the news, and through word of mouth, I decided to delve further into Haitian facts. I never realized how close we are to Haiti geographically speaking. I have never really thought about countries outside of the U.S. much before. But the fact that so many people are interested in talking about Haiti and current events I figured it would be a good time to do a bit of research to better learn more about Haiti. I learned that Haiti is only about 500 miles away from Miami Florida. I also learned that Haiti is one of the larger countries of the Caribbean. After doing more research I learned that at its closest point, Haiti is only 45 nautical miles away from Cuba. I thought that was an interesting fact. I also learned that the cause of the earthquake on January 12 was the Enriquillo Fault. The fault line fractured in 1751. This was caused by an earthquake off the southern coast of Hispaniola. Then in 1770 a 7.5 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince. The recent earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010 near Port-au-Prince was 7.0 in magnitude. The cause of this quake was seismic activity at the fault line. There have been two reported aftershocks since January 12.

Haiti is also known for being the western hemisphere's poorest country. This could be due to over population and lack of resettlement. Almost half, 47%, of the population live in cities. Talks of moving the capital are abundant in the news and a buzz on the internet. Many debate whether this is a smart solution and wonder if it is worth the costs. Many Haitian residents are escaping to other countries and the U.S.A. seems to be the first choice for Haiti's rich and middle class. Some even own secondary homes in the Dominican Republic. It has been estimated that about
250,000 people have left the capital for the
But the majority of Haitian's are stuck with no way out. Some fantasize about elaborate escapes such as stealing a boat and surviving a risky 400 mile plus journey to the U.S. People of Haiti numbering into the thousands pile onto ferries in the hopes of making it to America. Already some Haitians believe they are Americans. This is due to misunderstanding President Obama when he said That Haitians would not be "forsaken". Poor living conditions and temporary housing for earthquake survivors has become unsanitary and overcrowded. This could be due to relaxed usage of construction codes.

Besides moving and dispersing the population more equally throughout Haiti, agriculture is another solution that has become a focus for the future. Haiti's main export is sugar and coffee. Mangos have been added to Haiti's most important exports. But Haiti manly relies on imported foods rather than domestic to feed their families. This is a problem that needs immediate attention. This sounds like an easy fix. Get the Haitians to farm their own foods. Not so easy considering the attitude former plantation slaves have about agriculture. It has been said they turn away from agriculture in disgust. An understandable dilemma given the abuse, the inhumane and brutal circumstances slaves in Haiti were forced to endure.

Even so about 66% of all Haitians work in the field of agriculture. But this is mainly small-scale 'subsistence farming' meaning just growing enough food for their family to eat. Agriculture and farming only accounts for 30% of the gross domestic income or 'product' for the country of Haiti. It has almost no new jobs and none have been formed for over the past decade.

Haiti's history is that it was once a French colony during the eighteenth century. The majority of sugar and coffee consumed in European countries were grown on Haitian plantations. The nation's wealth was dependent on its two cash crops-sugar and coffee which is also true today. This required that thousands of acres of forest be destroyed to create soil to harvest these crops. It has been said only 2% of Haiti's original forests remain as the country is becoming a desert. It can be said that not much has changed. Sugar and coffee continue to be Haiti's chief export.

During the rebellion after their Independence in 1804 the Haitian Revolution lasted from 1818 to 1843, many of the plantations were destroyed. Land became victim to farmers who only knew the "slash-and-burn" method of farming. Moving into the 1900's, before 1950, Haiti produced more than 80 percent of its own food. This included the exportation of coffee, cocoa, meat and sugar. Since then the development of Haitian agriculture has become a low priority. By the 1980s and 1990s, pressure had been placed on Haiti by many nations to reduce their tariffs and open more of Haiti's markets to the world. All this has resulted in the overpopulating of large cities such as Port au Prince.

Personally I think Haiti would benefit from extensive changes in their methods of farming and forestation. Using 'slash and burn' methods of farming rape the land of its minerals and pH levels. They need adequate water sources and current farming methodology to get things right. This will take years to correct even if they started today.

The discussion of moving the capital is also a valid one. Considering relocating Port au Prince is the first step in the right direction for Haiti's culture and nation to restore it. It will offer new jobs for rebuilding and removal. Relocation will open up the economy and hopefully restore faith in the hearts of Haitian's. A spirit that is broken is as good as dead when it comes to the survival of a culture.

Geologist Tim Dixon is urging the Haitian government and its donors to at least consider moving the capital. "We feel we have enough knowledge gathered now to recommend that it should rebuild critical infrastructure farther to the north, out of harm's way." Dixon said. He is one of many geologists who are worried that the earthquake in January is in danger of a sequel.

Port au Prince is a large city with some two million citizens. Over population is one factor that contributed to the large number killed in January's quake. On the positive side of things, the quake can create opportunities for jobs, resettlement into a safer infrastructure, development, and safer living standards. However limited funds are a serious roadblock standing in the way of most Haitian's efforts in achieving such things. We in America have had a small taste of what a down economy can do to a country. And Haiti's situation is much worse. A lot of Haiti's problems are easier said than done. Will is useless without the means to enforce it. I think the outpouring of help and relief efforts given by many on a national scale is commendable and encouraging to all.

It has been estimated that it will take $700 million to restore Haiti's agriculture industry and secure food production. Rebuilding Haiti's agriculture has become a priority and a noted problem in need of change. It has been estimated that at least two million Haitians will require regular food aid until December. This could run into a cost of $280 million in food aid alone. This figure doesn't include housing and medical care.

In a positive light, Haitian Minister of Agriculture, Joanas Gue held a meeting recently with representatives of international aid organizations. He set up specific guidelines for international aid in the sector for the next eighteen months. An agreement was signed by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and Inter-American Institute for Agriculture Cooperation in support of the government's plan. I think the outpouring of help and relief efforts given by many on a national scale is commendable and encouraging to all. Let us all do what we can to help.

References: Article by Nazire St. Fort and Jeb Sprague: 'Haiti: Once Vibrant Sector in Dire Straits.' Article: 'Scientists: Why Haiti Should Move Its Capital.' By: Tim Padgett.

Also a secondary article by Jay Newton-Small: 'How Some Haitians Want to Save Port au Prince: Leave It Behind.' Under the search words 'Haiti' and 'Port au Prince'. Article: 'UN group urges $700 million investment in Haitian agriculture.' By: Adriana Brasileiro. Article: 'Haiti's $700 million agriculture blueprint' author unmentioned.

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