Food Crops

Food Crops

Food crops fared somewhat better than cash crops in the 1980s, as prices for cash crops dropped, and economic uncertainty increased. Nonetheless, real per capita food production declined, and the country continued to import millions of tons of grains. The trend toward increased production of food crops had negative ecological consequences as the planting and the harvesting of tuber staples accelerated soil erosion. Haiti's peasants were already underfed. It was therefore unlikely that farmers would grow tree crops in place of staples without appropriate incentives.

Peasants cultivated a variety of cereals for food and animal feeds, notably corn, sorghum, and rice. Corn, also referred to as maize, was the leading food crop; it was sown on more hectares-- 220,000 in 1987--than any other crop. Farmers in southern departments grew corn separately, but elsewhere they mixed it with other crops, mostly legumes. Total production averaged approximately 185,000 tons during the 1980s; yields increased in some areas. Drought-resistant sorghum often replaced corn during the second growing season as the leading crop, but total hectares planted and total production averaged only 156,250 and 125,000 tons, respectively. Rice became an increasingly common cereal, beginning in the 1960s, when increased irrigation of the Artibonite Valley aided larger-scale farming. Rice production, however, fluctuated considerably, and it remained dependent on government subsidies. An estimated 60,000 hectares of rice yielded an average of 123,000 tons, from 1980 to 1987.

Tubers were also cultivated as food. Sweet potatoes, one of the nation's largest crops, grew on an estimated 100,000 hectares, and they yielded 260,000 tons of produce a year in the 1980s. Manioc, or cassava, another major tuber, was mix-cropped on upwards of 60,000 hectares to produce between 150,000 and 260,000 tons a year, much of which was for direct consumption. The cultivation of yams, limited by the lack of deep moist soils, took up only 26,000 hectares. The tropical Pacific tuber taro, called malangá in Haiti, grew with other tubers on more than 27,000 hectares.

Haitians also cultivated dozens of other food crops. Red, black, and other kinds of beans were very popular; they provided the main source of protein in the diet of millions. As many as 129,000 hectares provided 67,000 tons of beans in 1987. Banana and plantain trees were also common and provided as much as 500,000 tons of produce, almost entirely for domestic consumption. Although the flimsy trees were vulnerable to hurricanes and to droughts, rapid replanting helped sustain the crop. Mangoes, another tree crop, were a daily source of food, and they provided some exports. Other food crops included citrus fruit, avocados, pineapples, watermelons, almonds, coconut, okra, peanuts, tomatoes, breadfruit, and mamey (tropical apricot). In addition, Haitians grew a wide variety of spices for food, medicine, and other purposes, including thyme, anise, marjoram, absinthe, oregano, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, garlic, and horseradish.

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