Women farmers play a vital but unheralded role in agriculture in Haiti. They provide much of the labor, and often bear the primary responsibility for selling staples such as maize and beans. And they do all of this while working to overcome frequent natural disasters, poverty, and political instability. Yet these women’s voices are usually left out of leadership-level conversations in their communities, local governments, and industry.
Haiti MAIS (Maize Adaptive and Innovative Solutions), a program funded and managed by the Haitian Company Papyrus S.A., in partnership with RTI, is working to improve opportunities for women farmers from the grassroots up. The program focuses on practical education for farmers, while prioritizing women’s economic empowerment. By improving the value chain for maize and beans—from farms to markets—we are supporting Haiti’s farmers, especially women, to benefit from higher productivity and cushioning the agricultural sector against the shocks and stresses like hurricanes, drought, and climate change.
Strengthening Resilience to Shocks and Stresses
Designed as a five-year program, Haiti MAIS went through some early challenges. Both the recent political turmoil and the COVID-19 pandemic posed a number of obstacles that made start-up challenging. Nonetheless, thanks to our team’s experience leading other economic growth programs in Haiti, together with Papyrus’ local network, our comprehensive plans are well on their way and we are rapidly making headway.
Haiti MAIS works in an area of southern Haiti that was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, which struck as a Category 4 storm in 2016. At farmer field schools, extension agents are teaching farmers techniques that will increase crop yields so they have more than enough maize and beans for their families and can sell the excess. We promote drought-tolerant seeds, designed to withstand extreme weather, along with climate-smart agricultural practices. These changes will allow more farmers to withstand future natural disasters and ultimately produce enough so that Haiti can increase its resilience and reduce its dependence on imported crops. Through it all, RTI’s embedded gender and governance team member is working to ensure that women are supported and connected to leadership opportunities. MAIS’s recently launched governance initiative, “Sud Soudé”, is bringing together local policymakers and agriculture industry stakeholders in a series of recurring consultative dialogues to develop a common vision for the future of the agriculture sector in southern Haiti.
Data Driving Development
Underpinning the program is a data-driven approach to management and reporting. The MAIS team uses a digital application expanded from the previously developed digital application for the SMASH program to enter data about how partner farmers are progressing in their training and application of best practices. The data collected through this application provides a real-time snapshot through dashboards of our progress towards our goals, and provides a foundation of information to promote a shared understanding of farmers’ challenges to discuss during Sud Soudé fora.
Despite the early challenges, MAIS farmers are already experiencing boosts in yields and making new connections to markets, benefits that in turn strengthen their ability to access new support systems, such as financial credit and mechanization services. Together, these steps help build farming households’ resilience capacities, enabling them to better manage the complex risks they face and adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses more quickly.