Technical assistance to the PLUS project: Final report of the South-East Consortium for International Development (SECID) and Auburn University
Shannon, Dennis A.
Lea, John Dale (Zach)
MetadataShow full item record
DescriptionThis project is focused on improvements to Haitian agriculture.
SECID provided technical assistance to the Productive Land Use Project (PLUS) by various means, including a tree Germplasm Improvement Program, an Agroforestry Research Program, an On-farm Agronomic Research Program, an Information Clearinghouse, a Marketing Program, a Hillside Agriculture Assessment and the creation and support of a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) System. It also conducted special studies using consultants and local staff and provided technical backstopping services. SECID's primary clients were the two implementing agencies of PLUS, CARE International and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), who were charged with working directly with farmers. Technical support and information were also supplied directly to USAID and to the "Haitian Bleu" Coffee Project of USAID, as well as to others seeking information and advice. Following is a summary of the major achievements of SECID. Preliminary Studies: A review of prior USAID projects in Agriculture revealed mixed results for adoption of improved varieties and soil and water conservation practices tested and promoted by the predecessor projects, Integrated Agricultural Development Project (PDAI) and Agricultural Development (ADS) II Project. A long-term strategy was recommended for agricultural research and extension projects. A series of Farmer Needs Assessment Surveys were conducted to identify priorities for PLUS in terms of technologies that would bring about sustainable increases in farmer income and crop production by hillside farmers. These surveys confirmed that past efforts in soil and water conservation had not led to long-term widespread adoption of these practices. Extension of these practices had not been accompanied by adequate research support. One of the innovations arising from this survey was the testing of contour barriers of perennial crops (bann manje in Creole), instead of multi-purpose trees. The roles of livestock should be considered when designing conservation interventions. A number of other interventions were recommended. Crop Varieties: Between 1993 and 1996, on-farm trials were conducted in collaboration with CARE and PADF in different parts of Haiti. Variety trials with bean, cowpea, peanut, maize, sweet potato, cassava served to identify varieties with higher yield and/or other characteristics superior to local varieties. Bean varieties that performed well both in hot lowland conditions and the cool environment at high elevation allow seed exchange between farmers at low and high elevation. Sweet potato varieties introduced through these trials allow farmers to harvest tubers in two seasons per year rather than just one. The introduced cowpea varieties not only yield more than local varieties, but have resistance to storage pests, resulting in greater shelf life for the grain. A survey of yam production areas in Grande Anse revealed a large number of varieties in at least 5 species of Dioscorea. An inventory of crop varieties in Haiti was also conducted. Farmers are eager to obtain new and better crop varieties. Higher yields are readily obtained through selection. Variety testing and provision of improved crop varieties should be a part of future hillside agriculture projects. Crop Management and Protection: An on-farm study was conducted to determine ways to reduce black rot (Rosellinia bunodes) in tubers of yam (Dioscorea spp.) grown as an understory in forest stands. Both pruning of forest canopy to allow more light penetration, or application of lime to the soil were effective in reducing the incidence of the disease and the percentage of unmarketable tubers. Canopy pruning also increased tuber yield by 3.4 metric tonnes per hectare. In a survey of yam production in the Grande Anse, the most important constraint cited by farmers was the insect larvae commonly referred to as maroca. Farmers believed that having pigs root in the fields after harvest helped to reduce maroca incidence. Several diseases and other pests were also cited by farmers. Following a survey of banana and plantain diseases in Haiti by a specialist in banana diseases, SECID imported several disease-resistant varieties, which were multiplied and tested in on-farm trials. Information was provided on control of insect pests in vegetables and other crops. Consultancies on cocoa production problems led to the establishment of demonstrations for proper management of cocoa plantations. Consultants recommended improvements to coffee production and processing in order to increase quantity and quality of beans harvested and processed. Agroforestry and Soil and Water Conservation: Research on hedgerow species for contour alley cropping revealed that Leucaena leucocephala produced the most biomass and was the best source of nitrogen at low elevations, while Acacia angustissima was the best at high elevations. Delonix regia provides an alternative at low elevation, where browsing by livestock results in destruction of leucaena hedgerows. Because D. regia is lower in N content, an alternate source of N should be supplied with this species. Optimum management of leucaena hedgerows at low elevation for sustained maize production was obtained with three prunings per season, with prunings being applied to the soil. Soil application of prunings resulted in improved soil quality as indicated by higher contents of organic C and N. Alley cropping with leucaena trees gave higher and more stable maize yields over the long term than did rock walls, contour canals, grass rows or no conservation barriers. In droughty seasons, yields of rock walls, contour canals and grass rows averaged lower than no-barrier control treatment. Lower yields were partly the result of loss in cropping area on a shallow soil. Recommendations on water harvesting and on repairing and protecting an irrigation system at Marigot were made by a specialist in soil and water conservation and irrigation. Future projects should continue to promote contour hedgerows for soil and water conservation and provide better training in management of hedgerows. This should be accompanied by promotion of alternate sources of livestock feed, such as feed gardens, so that hedgerows may be reserved for soil improvement. Future projects should put more effort into water harvesting as a means to improve farmer welfare and agricultural sustainability, particularly in drier areas of the country. Trees and Tree Germplasm Improvement: Trials testing different genetic sources (provenances of introduced species and half-sib families of selected mother trees) of important indigenous and exotic tree species were conducted in different environments in Haiti. These trials identified tree varieties with superior growth and habit for planting by Haitian farmers. Trees of the best provenances or families grow faster and produce more wood than unselected sources of most species. Seed orchards established by SECID provide a valuable source of improved tree seed for increasing farm-level productivity and income and for maintaining a genetic diversity in endangered species in Haiti. Continued maintenance and use of these orchards is being assured by PADF. Under the project, SECID published a book, entitled "Bwa Yo - Important Trees of Haiti" provides valuable information on many trees of value in Haiti. A study of the impact of tree planting provides important information on farmer decision-making with regards to trees and confirms that tree planting projects have not only had an economic and environmental impact, but has changed farmer attitudes with respect to tree planting. They have also increased habitat diversity. Tree planting by farmers should be continued. Greater effort should be placed on high value species. The seed orchards established by SECID should be developed by future projects into a seed industry to supply no only the local market but for export to other tropical countries. Information Clearinghouse: The Information Clearinghouse of SECID enabled PLUS project staff to access information from previous projects, from the scientific literature and from other sources of technical information. Besides responding to individual requests for information, it also published a newsletter to provide project participants with technical information and to inform them of project activities. Key to its success was a well-stocked and indexed library and a professional able to access and interpret technical information for the benefit of participants. Future projects will benefit greatly by having an Information Clearinghouse. Market Research and Marketing Support: Marketing became the primary focus of SECID following the closing of Tree Germplasm Improvement, On-farm Agronomic Research Program, Agroforestry Adaptive Research and the Information Clearinghouse. In addition to market studies, marketing activities focused on increasing farmer income through changes in crop marketing channels to improve cost-efficiencies. The SECID approach was to organize farmers to market their products as groups rather than as individuals and to market directly to large-scale buyers rather than through the more costly traditional channels. The more direct contact with the largest domestic buyers allowed farmers to capture a large proportion of the traditional marketing costs. Additionally, the more direct marketing channel allowed large scale buyers to better communicate quality requirements to farmers. This coupled with the increased farm-level price resulted in marketying sytems that delivered higher quality product to large-scale buyers and rewarded farmers with increased revenue. For example, innovations in mango and cacao marketing have resulted in significant increases in farm-gate prices and are transforming the organization and efficiency of the middlemen, resulting in higher prices to farmers, as well as improvements in the quality of mangoes and cacao reaching exporters. A marketing cooperative, ServiCoop, was established to facilitate export of cacao, coffee and other products, and has played an important role in increasing farmer income. ServiCoop has become one of the major exporters of cacao, and has been instrumental in raising prices paid to farmers and cacao quality delivered to international buyers. SECID and ServiCoop have been successful in targeting coffee to the European Fair Labeling Organization as well as the organic coffee market. Marketing and technical assistance was also provided to Haitian Bleu coffee, supported by USAID's Coffee Project. SECID also assisted farm groups to apply the direct marketing approach (with similar results) to the export of non-traditional export crops such as dried immature sour orange, breadfruit, kenep, yam, malanga, and Haitian pumpkin. Marketing programs initiated but not yet successful were with okra, hot pepper, pigeon pea and dried beans. SECID's greatest success in the domestic market resulted from a study in food technology, which determined that the flat-bread, kassav, could be made from dried meal rather than freshly harvested roots. This change in processing is transforming the kassav industry and increasing revenues for both farmers and processors, because of the reduced costs associated with transporting dried meal, rather than of whole tubers and increased flexibility because the dried meal can be stored, whereas fresh roots cannot be stored. Another innovation, sun-dried plantain chips, was also successfully marketed. An important aspect of the marketing program has been institutional strengthening. Training was given to staff of PADF and CARE as well as to farm groups. Topics included marketing, harvesting, product assembly, selection and processing, record keeping, accounting and management. Management skills are one of the most limiting factors for production in Haiti. SECID also facilitated the formation of cooperatives. Marketing should be a major component of future projects, because it has the potential to significantly and sustainably increase farmer income. It provides the incentive for improvements in crop management and land use husbandry that might be difficult to achieve on their own account. A successful marketing approach involves teaching farmers to organize group marketing enterprises. Farm groups must be trained to negotiate and successfully fulfill marketing agreements with large-scale buyers, with a special attention to quality control standards. Such training involves harvest management, quality assurance, and transfer of product to and payments from buyers on a timely basis. Monitoring and Evaluation: A M&E System was designed for PLUS by SECID in collaboration with its partners, CARE, PADF and USAID. This system went through many modifications and refinements, as a result of conflicting interests including the alternate uses of funds for project implementation vs monitoring. The initial design of the system was too ambitious for the level of resources provided. Designs of the M&E system were further complicated by complexity of small-scale farming in Haiti, by the complexity of the technical packages provided by PLUS, changes in funding levels, and reporting times. By the end of the project, the performance indicators were reduced to five: (1) Percent increase in agricultural income, (2) Percent increase in crop yields, (3) Percentage of improved agricultural practices being maintained, (4) Number of participants using sustainable practices, (5) Number of trees planted. Data were obtained from an annual survey of farmers. This survey provided an indicator of farmer satisfaction with project activities, but its accuracy in measuring project impact is in doubt. There is signficant trade-off between M&E System quality and level of funding. Future M&E systems should be designed more systematically, with review and approval of both methodology and funding by project implementors and by all levels within USAID with authority to do so. Modest goals should be set and more than one method should be used to obtain acceptable M&E results. Hillside Agricultural Assessment: In its efforts to address agricultural production and environmental degradation problems in Haiti, USAID has assisted the hillside agriculture sector through various initiatives. These initiatives have evolved over the years from simple agro-forestry and small holder agricultural efforts to the current focus upon community based development and marketing of its natural resources, on a sustainable basis. A number of other donors and international Non-Governmental Organizations have joined USAID in this approach. In the spring of 1999, USAID/Haiti commissioned SECID to perform an assessment of Haiti's hillside agricultural sector. The Assessment, supported by all agencies and donors throughout the country, sought what effective progress had been made to increase hillside farmer revenues and to preserve the hillside environment. The purpose of the report, which was translated into French and widely distributed within Haiti, was to offer some preliminary findings, conclusions and recommendations, to assist USAID and its development partners to better assist Haitian Hillside farmers break the cycle of their environmental and employment problems and their dependency upon outside assistance.