Haiti's future food supply at risk in wake of Hurricane Matthew
Devastated crops, livestock will take years to recover
In the fields of Les Cayes, Haiti, people burn debris left behind by Hurricane Matthew two weeks ago. Along the main road, crews reinstall knocked over telephone poles. In a nearby village, a man yanks at the sheets of tin that were his roof.
But beyond the cleanup, beyond the grieving over the close to 1,000 dead, beyond the concerns about the growing numbers of people afflicted with cholera — beyond all that are worries about food.
Not just about securing immediate food relief for those who are hungry but also about rebuilding this breadbasket region of the nation after Matthew wiped out crops and livestock.
This is a place where the poor lived off the land, and bringing back that way of life won't be easy.
Famine a 'real risk'
Could a famine be possible here?
"Yes, it is a real risk," says Pierre Marie Boisson, an economist with the Haitian Sogebank.
The hurricane's effect on the food supply was threefold: crops for food, crops for income and livestock have all been devastated.
"We will have a massive amount of cash — I mean, not as massive as after the earthquake, but massive cash coming from abroad, and that will sustain them," he said from the capital, Port-au-Prince. "Then, when that dries up, you may have a situation where there is no supply."
In this region, people sustain themselves with the harvest from the mango, coconut, plantain and breadfruit trees. Haitians make a lot of things out of breadfruit — flour, bread, pizza dough — and a breadfruit tree takes three to five years to grow.
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Herve Cherubin, the country director for Heifer International, an international charity working to end hunger by providing livestock and crop support, calls it an ecological disaster.
"The entire production system is messed up," he said, adding that around half the crops here were destroyed.
"You have a food security problem. People have less food to eat," he said.
And there's a secondary problem looming: revenue. What little income people made from selling surplus crops they would use to pay for schooling and other things.
"So it is really like a domino effect," Cherubin said. "Price, revenue and nutrition. It really affects almost everything."
Cherubin estimates it will take at least three years to get back to some kind of agricultural normalcy, and in the meantime this region which used to provide 80 per cent of its own food will now have to import around 80 per cent and grow the other 20 per cent.
Losing livestock like going bankrupt
And it's a similar problem with the livestock that was injured or killed in the hurricane.
"In Haiti, we say that the animal is like credit or like the bank account for the owners," said Harry Charles, a veterinary specialist with Heifer International.
"It is the total economy of the owner," he said, likening the loss of a livestock animal to going bankrupt. "That is what it represents."
For the Cadet cousins in Saint-Louis-du-Sud, it has meant a complete wipeout of their way of life.
Fritznel Cadet lost his plantain crops as well as his livestock (three goats, some chickens, a turkey and one cow).
"It really put me in desperate straits," he said in Haitian Creole, as he stood in the middle of a devastated field of plantain.
He has noticed that the price of produce at the local markets has increased fivefold.
Esperadieu Cadet bought his land in 1986 and worries that he is too old now to start again.
"It was such a serious storm," he said in Creole. "I felt like I was having a heart attack and I felt so much indignation. I'm getting older now and I can't work my fields," he said.
"It hurts me a lot because I have never been in a position to ask people for help. I have never had to beg for things before."
Back in Port-au-Prince, economist Boisson is more optimistic than the locals and thinks that Haiti will get it right this time when it comes to rebuilding the economy of the southwest.
"Right now, Haiti is more ready than it was six years ago, when there was the earthquake," he said.
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"After the earthquake happened we had a lot of money but, in my opinion, a lot of it was wasted," he said, adding that officials learned lessons in the aftermath of the earthquake and are now better equipped to manage this kind of emergency.
"The money is not the real problem," he said. "If we really have a plan to rebuild the country, we will find a way."