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In Haiti, a Struggle to Get Crops in the Ground

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Spring is the time when farmers in Haiti plant about sixty percent of their crops. But this spring is a struggle with disaster.

The January twelfth earthquake flattened much of Haiti's capital and surrounding areas. It left more than two hundred thousand people dead and about a million homeless.

International recovery plans include helping Haiti expand food production. But many farmers lost their tools in the quake. Landslides buried equipment.

And now seasonal rains do not make the situation any easier. The rains continue through May and June.

Many farmers need money for seeds and fertilizer. Sabine Wilke of the aid group CARE says many also lack the money to hire help to prepare the land.

SABINE WILKE: "For the planting, they also need local labor. And since they do not have enough money to hire people, the work will simply not be done."

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says it has delivered tools and seeds to thousands of families in the earthquake area.

The quake was centered near Port-au-Prince. An estimated six hundred thousand people left for the countryside. Experts say it will be difficult to feed them. Food prices are high, and many people fled the capital with only the clothes they were wearing.

Gerald Murray at the University of Florida is an expert on Haiti. Professor Murray says many rural families have taken in relatives and friends who lost homes and jobs. "There may be enough to eat for a while," he says, "but before too long there may be hunger."

Farming is about sixty percent of Haiti's economy. But most food comes from imports.

Before the earthquake, the Haitian government and private groups were working to improve agriculture.

Deforestation has traditionally been a major problem for farmers. Few trees remain to protect soil from floods, droughts and severe storms.

In the sixteen hundreds Haiti’s French colonizers cleared forests to plant sugar cane. In the nineteen fifties, forests were cut down for wood and other products.

Poor technology and poor roads also reduced agricultural production. So did animal and plant diseases. Farmers moved to cities to do other work.

Professor Murray says the average farm in Haiti measures about one or one and a half hectares. And the fields are commonly divided between level ground and a mountainside.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson with additional reporting by Steve Baragona. I’m Bob Doughty.