Land Use and Farming Technology

Land Use and Farming Technology

It is difficult to understand the complex variations in land tenancy without an appreciation of land use and peasant attitudes toward land. More mountainous than Switzerland, Haiti has a limited amount of cultivable land. According to soil surveys by the United States Department of Agriculture in the early 1980s, 11.3 percent of the land was highly suitable for crops, while 31.7 percent was suitable with some restrictions related to erosion, topography, or conservation. The surveys revealed that 2.3 percent was mediocre because of poor drainage, but was acceptable for rice cultivation, and 54.7 percent was appropriate only for tree crops or pastures because of severe erosion or steep slopes. According to estimates of land use in 1978, 42.2 percent of land was under constant or shifting cultivation, 19.2 percent was pasture land, and 38.6 percent was not cultivated.

The use of purchased inputs, such as fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, and irrigation, was rare; farmers in Haiti employed traditional agricultural practices more than did farmers in any other part of the Western Hemisphere. Although Haitian farmers used increased amounts of chemical fertilizers in the 1970s and the 1980s, their use of an average of only seven kilograms per hectare ranked Haiti ahead of Bolivia, only, among Western Hemisphere countries. Peasants applied mostly natural fertilizers, such as manure, mulch, and bat guano. Large landowners consumed most of the country's small amounts of chemical fertilizers, and they benefited from subsidized fertilizers imported from the Dominican Republic and mixed in Port-au-Prince. Five importers controlled the 400,000 kilograms of pesticides that entered the country each year; malariacarrying mosquitoes and rodents in the rice fields were the main targets of pesticide application. Most rural cultivators used small hand tools, such as hoes, machetes, digging sticks, and a local machete-like tool called the serpette. There was an average of one tractor per 1,700 hectares; most farmers considered such machinery inappropriate for use on tiny plots scattered along deeply graded hillsides. The insecurity of land tenure further discouraged the use of capital inputs.

The amount of irrigated crop land in the 1980s, estimated at between 70,000 and 110,00 hectares, was substantially less than the 140,000 hectares of colonial times. Of the nearly 130 irrigation systems in place, many lacked adequate maintenance, were clogged with silt, or provided irregular supplies to their 80,000 users. By the 1980s, the irrigation network had been extended as far as was possible.

The minimal amount of research on agriculture and the limited number of extension officers that MARNDR provided gave little assistance to already low levels of farming technology. Foreign organizations, such as the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, carried out the most research. Foreign organizations also provided more technical assistance in agriculture than the government.

Peasant attitudes and limited access to credit also helped to explain the traditional nature of farming. Most observers blamed agricultural underdevelopment on peasants' individualistic nature, their proclivity toward superstition, and their unwillingness to innovate. Small farmers also lacked access to credit. Informal credit markets flourished, but credit was not always available at planting time. When credit was available, it was usually provided at usurious rates. The country's major public financial institutions provided loans to the agricultural sector, but this lending benefited less than 10 percent of all farmers. Major credit sources included the Agricultural Credit Bureau, agriculture credit societies, credit unions, cooperatives, and institutions created by nongovernmental organizations.

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