The fabled water system of Plaine du Cul de Sac, a vast farming valley near Port-au-Prince, has been covered in mud and debris for decades, its canals buried by the eroding soil from the deforested mountains that haunt Haiti. Silt and sediment covered the water system by “more than three meters,” hampering a USAID-financed restoration project that local people hoped would restore the region to agricultural prosperity. Erosion, mud slides, blocked canals, and flooding abound in Haiti—especially during hurricane season. Poor people burn the trees off the hillsides to create farmland or to produce charcoal to sell to the city residents. With the roots gone, rains wash away the topsoil. The Plaine du Cul de Sac once was one of Haiti’s key breadbasket areas but has suffered considerably from soil degradation. Reviving agricultural production there is seen as critical to generating jobs and feeding a hungry country that was among the first to experience urban rioting during the food crisis last year.
The restoration project was rescued by a village elder who remembered when the water flowed and indicated exactly where to find the buried canals. Water had last run freely sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s according to the elder, who reckoned time not by a calendar but by who occupied the Haitian presidency. It was a bit before the first Duvalier, the elder said, referring to the much feared “Papa Doc.” Now, with the elder’s advice and with $800,000 in USAID financing, the amount of arable land in the Plaine du Cul de Sac has grown from 1,300 hectares to 4,000 hectares in less than a year, and as many as 30,000 farmers will now have the prospect for a better life.
Sixteen kilometers of primary canals and 46 kilometers of secondary canals are being refurbished in the Plaine du Cul de Sac by a USAID partnership with the International Organization of Migration and the Cooperative Housing Foundation, with the support of Saint-Ange Darius, mayor of Croix des Bouquets, a town located just outside Port-au-Prince.
Darius said the future of his town depends on those farmers:
If they do not do well, it could result in a very restive city center. The mayor, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and local users of the water resources are working together on the restoration.
For the complete report go to http://www.usaid.gov/press/frontlines/fl_jul09/p1_haitifarms070903.html