To this day, about 75 percent of Haitians live below the poverty line, with less than US$2 a day. More than 50 percent of them live in extreme poverty with less than US$1 a day. When asked about their number one priority, respondents to the survey11 carried out between October 2010 and February 2011 among 15,000 displaced people living in camps, identified employment as being their first preoccupation, before other needs such as housing or access to education. Before the earthquake, over 70 percent of the population did not have a steady job. Formal employment represented only 5.1 percent of available jobs, and the unemployment rate was 40.6 percent – affecting 1.8 million people.
The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 25 percent of which comes from agricultural production, had increased by 2.9 percent over the 2009 fiscal year (October 2008 to September 2009). It contracted by approximately 5 percent in 2010, with a GDP per capita of US$671. For the 2011 fiscal year, the real GDP growth is estimated at 6.1 percent.
|© UNOPS/Marc Lee Steed|
Before the earthquake, the World Bank ranked Haiti 151st over 183 countries for the ease of doing business. The tax collection rate, at around 9 percent, is below Afghanistan’s. The government acknowledges the obstacles to private investment, created in part by the absence of property titles and an unfavourable business start-up environment. A few months ago, rising to this challenge, President Martelly announced the creation of the Presidential Advisory Council on Economic Growth and Development. Large-scale investments started in 2011, including the building of the new Northern Industrial Park, on the outskirts of the city of Cap-Haïtien. This Haitian government’s project benefits from an important support from the United States’ government and the Inter-American Development Bank. Already, one private investor has a project to build a textile factory and hire up to 20,000 people. Haitian authorities hope that additional investments will allow the creation of a total of 60,000 jobs.
Markets are currently well supplied with food products, but prices have risen and remain higher than in 2010. The consumer price index shows that purchasing power had decreased by 9.5 percent in July 2011 over the same period in 201012. Preliminary results from a survey carried out in 2011 by the National Coordination for Food Security (CNSA), in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other partners, indicate that 4.5 million Haitians – 45 percent of the population – suffer from food insecurity. Of this number, 800,000 people face severe food insecurity, which means that they do not have regular access to basic food.
Progress and Results
- Since 2010, hundreds of high-intensity of labour projects were implemented, creating temporary employment for almost 400,000 Haitians including, on average, 40 percent women. Salaries, paid in cash and food, have helped restore or build basic community infrastructures, complete urgent mitigation works in high-risk areas and improve Haitians’ food security. These activities are implemented in collaboration with the government, local authorities, the United Nations, particularly the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), WFP, FAO, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and NGO partners.
- In 2011, MINUSTAH, in collaboration with local officials, facilitated the opening of the country’s first two Youth Counselling and Employment Offices, managed by two local NGOs in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien. Throughout the year, MINUSTAH worked with marginalised communities to create economic and social opportunities, allowing them to get away from violence and the influence of gangs. As a result, more than 1,300 young people, including 500 women, are attending a vocational and social reintegration programme. Of all the youth trained in 2010, 73 percent have since found employment in the private sector.
- With the help of the International Labour Organization (ILO), 250 people, including trainers from eight vocational centres in Port-au-Prince and micro-entrepreneurs in the construction and services sector (of which 50 percent are women) were trained in business management techniques. Twenty young construction workers were also trained in site organisation, preparation of estimates and construction of para-seismic and para-cyclonic buildings.
- FAO offered its support to 500 artisanal seed production groups, to ensure the provision of quality seeds to small farmers, benefiting over 125,000 households.
- FAO also developed an important training component on urban and peri-urban agriculture. Thanks to this initiative, 34,000 families now have a vegetable garden that allows them not only to diversify their diet, but also to sell excess production.
- In collaboration with several donor countries, the United Nations Agencies and NGOs, WFP has increased the quantity of food purchased locally and targeted for the national school feeding initiative. This measure aims to stimulate local agriculture and markets and to create solid links between the school canteens and the country’s agriculture sector.
TRANSFORMING AGRICULTURAL LAND IN THE HAITIAN FAR WEST
A new project, in a region the Haitians call the Far West, helps farmers produce more food.
Jean-Rabel is a small town located almost at the end of Haiti’s North peninsula. The capital is only 300 km away, but it is a seven-hour drive with bumpy dirt roads half of the way. In 2009, Haitian authorities estimated the population of Jean-Rabel to be about 10,000 people. In the surrounding countryside, 120,000 more are busy cultivating small lots. “We grow corn, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables”, explains Arsénio Védrine, a farmer of Vieille Place, a small town in the area. Year after year, farmers are facing the same problem: the rain, which does not fall often enough. When it finally does, the water trickles down the dried-out soil of the hills and flows into the sea.
“We started working in the North after a severe draught”, says Rainer Schmid, devoted to increasing agricultural production in the region for 11 years. He directs projects from the German non-governmental organisation Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action), a partner of the World Food Programme. “A lot of food must be imported here, he says. With the irrigated perimeters, we manage to have a more regular agricultural production. Each new production will now lower the pressure to import food.”
In Vieille Place, a few kilometers outside of Jean-Rabel, Rainer Schmid recently started a new project financed by the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, WFP, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and his own organisation. The project has three objectives: increase agricultural production, reduce the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters, and above all, improve families’access to food. To carry it out, its promoters count on the construction of dry walls and the planting of tens of thousands of trees over 4,000 hectares, while below, a brand new irrigation system will ensure the provision of water to 150 hectares of agricultural land.
“Now, the rainwater will stay on our lands, and we will be able to grow beautiful fruit, says Julienne Alexis, one of the hundreds of workers building walls on the mountain. Her colleague Arsénio Védrine agrees: “We will benefit from this wealth for a long time.”
In exchange for their labour, the workers are paid the equivalent of US$5 per day, in money and food. This is the minimum wage decreed by the Haitian Government. “We buy fruit, food and other daily life necessities, adds Julienne Alexis. It helps us lead a normal life. The economic activity already started to grow, it’s good for the community.”