By James Rhoads
From my perspective as the agricultural development specialist for Meds & Food for Kids (MFK), a nonprofit manufacturer of peanut-based Ready-to-Use Foods in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, the goal of having a steady supply of locally-produced, aflatoxin-free peanuts is always at the forefront of my mind.
MFK is tied to 14 other factories, 12 in developing countries worldwide, through Nutriset’s PlumpyField network. We all share two main goals: 1) Treat and prevent childhood malnutrition through the manufacture of peanut-based Ready-to-Use Foods; 2) Promote nutritional autonomy throughout the network to reduce poverty in countries where rates of childhood malnutrition are high.
MFK has long embraced the value of expanding economic development to small-holder peanut farmers – knowing the potential impact this would have on improving the nutrition and health of children in their families. So, in 2006, to help resolve these problems of quantity and quality, MFK developed and continues to implement a strategic agricultural plan to reach the goal of sustainably using only locally sourced peanuts in the factory.
Farmer’s yields in Haiti have historically been half that of similar production systems in developing countries and 1/5 or less of the average yields per hectare in the United States. However, in 2012, yields have improved significantly – by 100% or more in some cases. These achievements resulted, in no small part, from a private-public partnership between MFK, Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture, and USAID's Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program (PCRSP), based at the University of Georgia. Over $300,000 worth of investments in peanut production and processing since 2006 yielded positive results that bear sharing with a wider audience.
Program interventions initially revolved around farmer trainings. Over 600 Haitian farmers, agronomists, and small peanut processors - throughout five of Haiti's departments - received training from MFK. For the first time, a new production guide for farmers in Haitian Creole was distributed - derived from experience under similar production constraints in Guyana - and was widely used as a base to initiate farmer education. In the process of educating Haitian farmers, MFK learned that education was not enough to boost yields and improve peanut quality. Basic research trials, conducted in collaboration with farmers and agronomy students, led to the investigation of all aspects of production, including: soil preparation methods; seed and row spacing; fungicide and herbicide applications; and a variety of trials comparing peanut germplasm from Haiti to improved varieties from the US and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The principle result has been a total package of best practices available to farmers that improves profitability and reduces risk.
Key results from the program:
- Chinese-made two-wheel tractors introduced by MFK and Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture led to a 75% decrease in soil preparation costs compared to hand labor and allowed for timelier, better-prepared seed beds.
- Improved varieties of peanuts, sourced from other countries, yielded 2-3 times the local varieties, and in some cases, with zero additional inputs. Over 20 varieties were evaluated since 2009, with more promising varieties currently being multiplied for farmer use.
- Minimal fungicide application led to the 100% or more increase in yields, even on local varieties, and an improvement in crop quality and a reduction in aflatoxin contamination. Haitian farmers widely accepted the new technology.
These results are encouraging, not only for MFK, but also for advancing PlumpyField's mission to achieve sustainable, nutritional autonomy for all of its members.
Concurrently to the agricultural progress made in Haiti, MFK's market demand and capacity to process peanuts has also grown exponentially, after the construction of a new factory in Cap-Haitian. MFK's total demand for locally sourced peanuts could exceed 500MT in 2013 and afterwards, representing a potential annual economic impact of $750,000 for local farmers at current local market prices.
The success of MFK’s efforts in agriculture and production has drawn positive attention and support from the Haitian government, including the Ministry of Agriculture. In order to take full advantage of MFK’s investments, the international community should consider forming more public-private partnerships using this model.
James Rhoads is the Agriculture Development Specialist, for MEDS & FOOD FOR KIDS, a PlumpyField partner and nonprofit manufacturer of peanut-based, Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods in Cap-Haitian, Haiti. He holds a Master of Science in Natural Resources from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Appalachian State University, where he also minored in Sustainable Development. He joined MFK in 2009, at the urging of MFK’s founder and Executive Director Dr. Patricia Wolff, to help improve peanut farming in Haiti. He speaks Creole fluently.