By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
A 2-year grant from Buddhist Global Relief is enabling Oxfam to expand its program in Haiti providing training in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of rice cultivation developed specially to benefit poor farmers.
Haiti is one of the poorest and most food insecure countries on earth. It is exposed to natural disasters—especially hurricanes and flooding—and suffers from a legacy of neglect, exploitation, and marginalization. The country’s plight was made even more severe by a powerful earthquake that struck the capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010. The quake demolished homes, ripped apart families, and left much of the population in utter destitution. Rural Haiti, home to the majority of the country’s population, is even more impoverished. Nearly 90% of rural Haitians subsist on $2 a day, and two-thirds on $1 a day.
Rice is a staple food for Haitians and a critical source of income and employment. Yet national rice production has been virtually stagnant for the past 40 years. Once self-sufficient, local rice production now accounts for less than 20% of consumption.
In 2011, Oxfam launched the multi-dimensional “Artibonite Valley Livelihoods Program” to improve the livelihoods and lessen the vulnerability of men and women in the rural Artibonite Valley and throughout Haiti’s rice value chain. The program seeks to strengthen local organizations; improve systems of production, processing, and marketing; increase access to agricultural input/service credit, and empower local stakeholders, especially women, to play an active role in influencing the local, national, and international policies that affect them.
A critical component of the program is promoting changes to the systems of local rice production to make them more efficient and thereby increase the income and food security of local rice farmers and their families. Central to this effort is the promotion of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of rice cultivation developed specially to benefit poor farmers. SRI requires no additional inputs; instead rice farmers apply a slightly different set of techniques that result in more productive rice plants that are more resistant to climate extremes, pests, and diseases. As a result, yields can increase by 50%-150% within 1-2 cropping seasons. At the same time, farmers save money on inputs to rice production, on average saving 75% on seeds, reducing water use by 30%, and cutting the use of chemical fertilizers in half.
Beginning in 2013, Oxfam launched a major effort to enhance its SRI promotion efforts in the Artibonite Valley. Currently, Oxfam has been working with local partners to provide SRI training and support, agricultural input/services credit, and a variety of other services to roughly 150 farmers. The farmers have been organized into two crop blocks that together comprise roughly 40 hectare of irrigated rice paddy.
A 2-year grant from Buddhist Global Relief is enabling Oxfam to expand the number of farmers receiving SRI training and related services within the two crop blocks. Specifically, this grant will enable Oxfam and its local partners to provide comprehensive SRI training to 30 additional farmers—both women and men; establish low-interest revolving credit funds for the purchase of agricultural inputs and services; purchase labor-saving agricultural equipment that is vital for SRI production; make improvements to rice processing facilities; and rehabilitate local irrigation canals. This work and the lessons learned will serve as a basis for expanding the work to six additional blocks, strategically located throughout the valley, over the next three years.