Improved Staple Crops

corn and beans

Improved quality seeds, specially selected for disease resistance and climate adaptability, along with high germination rates, can mean the difference between success and failure for local farmers whose livelihood depends on subsistence farming. In an effort to improve crop yields and farmer income, the iF Foundation has implemented a series of pilot projects in northern Haiti to provide local farmers with the opportunity to increase and stabilize incomes from more productive, resilient and sustainable varieties and farming approaches. Foundation staff provides ongoing training on improved agricultural techniques and farm management giving the participating farmers the best chances for success.

Maize, a key staple crop grown in Haiti but traditional cultivation methods make it highly unprofitable; a farmer is guaranteed to lose money on every crop. The Foundation has undertaken several corn-related initiatives to “change the math” of corn in Haiti:

  • a pilot project with 83 farmers, reducing the planting distance and only planting one seed per pocket increased yields by 400% while lowering overall seed cost
  • a pilot project is currently underway supported by Abbott & Cobb, a Pennsylvania-based seed company, to test four varieties of tropical sweet corn; traditional varieties are intended to be milled and consumed as grits and command a very low price at the farm gate; sweet corn can be sold as fresh produce and make corn production a highly profitable business; if the trials is successful, we will gradually introduce these varieties to our farmers as seed becomes available
  • flint corn  has a relatively low protein content (3-4%); Quality Protein Maize, or “QPM”, originally developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico in the late 1990s, is a high quality, high yielding variety of corn which contains up to 13% protein depending on growing conditions and soil; traditional Haitian corn yields  up to 0.8 metric tons per hectare where the QPM can yield 3-4 metric tons per hectare; The iF Foundation, in collaboration with ORE in the south of Haiti, has been working to adapt the QPM to the high clay soils found in our catchment area; with higher crop yields and improved nutritional value, QPM has the potential to empower local farmers to become food secure and to reduce poverty

Beans are the highest value row crop being grown in Haiti. However, it is also one of the riskiest crops to plant because it must have water at critical times during the cultivation cycle. Protracted drought in Haiti has resulted in complete bean crop loss since 2013. However, even in good years, losses can be 75%. To mitigate the risk and make beans a viable crop for beneficiary farmers, the Foundation is introducing drip irrigation to the Northern Plain of Haiti. To maximize the return on investment, we have been evaluating different bean varieties:

  • in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia, the Foundation conducted trials on 45 lines of bio fortified beans; these high iron beans are all natural hybrids; we have identified four varieties which are well-adapted to local growing conditions and will produce enough seed to support farmers as drip irrigation is expanded
  • the Foundation has obtained a bean variety, XRAV-40-4, that was developed by the USDA in trials conducted in a number of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries; this variety is resistant to most of the plant diseases found in Haiti; we are in the process of obtaining other varieties of seed from the LAC trial that also exhibit good drought tolerance characteristics

rice

Approximately 25% of iF farmers plant rice. For those having access to irrigated land, this is a good cash crop though there are many ways to increase profitability without asking farmers to change the way they plant. Since 2013, we have been evaluating different approaches to harvest and post-harvest processes. Using a simple rice reaper, we can reduce time to harvest a typical field from several days to two hours. Mechanical threshers can process one ton or more per hour eliminating days of beating the stalks against the ground and reduces damage to rice grains. We will soon be testing a rice seedling transplanter that eliminates the need for hand planting and reduces planting time from 1 day to 45 minutes for the average farm. All of these mechanized solutions save time and money. Other rice initiatives include:

  • the Foundation conducted a comprehensive assessment of drying parameters for all local varieties of rice; improper drying can result in significant post-harvest losses (up to 75%); mill too moist, you get paste; mill too dry, you get powder
  • the Foundation introduced a Dominican variety, jaralagua, to local growers; this variety produces more rice per hectare, has better flavor than the TCS10 and Prosequisa 4 varieties introduced by USAID and Taiwan respectively, and more rugged grains; in tests using our rice mill, we have been able to reduce breakage to less than 15% compared to 60% which is typical for mills in Haiti; this compares quite favorably with rice imported from South America (up to 20%); local merchants are now specifying jaralagua when buying local rice for resale
  • in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia, the Foundation conducted trials on 110 lines of bio fortified rice; these high zinc lines, like the beans, are all natural hybrids; we have completed trials on irrigated land; mountain land trials will be completed by December 2016; once CIAT has evaluated the degree to which each line as retained the high zinc characteristic, we will start multiplying seed

peanuts

Peanuts have been the greatest success story to date for the iF Foundation and beneficiary farmers. At the start of 2014, no farmers were planting peanuts in our region. Successive crop failures, low yields and limited access to markets made peanuts a loss leader on par with corn. Starting with twelve farmers in March 2014 (all men), peanuts have become a “must-have” cash crop with revenue as high as $758 from a one-acre field. For the peanut season completed in August 2016, 313 farmers including 67 women planted peanuts. Land under cultivation with peanuts increased from 3.52ha in 2014 to 123.84ha in 2016. Local production went from zero in 2014 to 27 tons for the just-completed harvest. What changed the dynamic of peanut farming from loss leader to profit center? The key steps:

1. introduction of better seed with higher germination rates
2. training to plant in rows
3. training on proper application of fungicide and making it available at the proper time
4. training on proper harvest and post-harvest processes to minimize loss
5. provision of proper bags to training on proper drying to avoid aflatoxin contamination
6. free testing for aflatoxin in our lab (aflatoxin is a metabolic byproduct of the Aspergillus mold; it is highly toxic to animals and is a suspected carcinogen in humans; contamination levels >10ppb make these peanuts unsellable to institutional buyers)
7. linkage to markets including large institutional buyers; the Foundation serves as a commodity exchange brokering the sale and insuring transparency/fairness in the transaction

We continue to work on addressing the deficiencies in the production cycle that suppress profitability. Our goal is to establish a $400 per season baseline for net profitability with a long-term target of $750-800 per acre per season. This may seem modest to some but most Haitians live on less than $1 per day. Even the baseline net income will permit families to eat every day and send their children to school.

Current peanut initiatives:
• multiplication of the 06G runner variety from Georgia in conjunction with the rollout of drip irrigation for more farmers
• evaluation of other peanut varieties; successful trials and multiplication complete for the Carolina Black and Virginia Carwile varieties
• introduction of mechanized harvesting and threshing; farmers sacrifice up to 60% of total crop value to dig up and thresh peanuts; this is done manually by paid workers and requires 7-10 days per acre; using an inverted digger shaker and a mechanical thresher, almost all the expense is avoided and the entire harvest process is completed in less than two hours