Haiti is betting on bananas with Agritrans
Located between Université Roi Henri Christophe de Limonade, Caracol Industrial Park, and a plantation of bitter oranges that are used for the best liquors in France, the Agritrans project has already attracted a lot of praise. Officially launched in October 2014 in Trou-du-Nord, in the Northeast department, the Agritrans project was an extensive project for planting bananas on a thousand hectares, and is poised to fulfill two goals: to be the largest agriculture project throughout the country and to allow Haiti to export this commodity after about half a century after the last shipments were sent abroad.
It rained all week, and he plantation was completely muddy, but this did not hinder our curiosity that of the banana field stretching out of sight until they merged with the side of the mountain. The view from outside is quite imposing, impressive enough, with a bamboo fence that runs along the side of the road for several kilometers. At the time of the visit, February 3, 2015, the rain did not stop us from seeing the plantation. The added bonus came by Jovenel Moise, the main promoter of the project, driving us by tractor as a guide to the office. The visit took place in three stages: the first was the field, which started from the road to arrive at the foot of the mountain and extends over a length of 7.4 km; then the 12,000 m2 greenhouse which grows plantings, from nurseries in Costa Rica - and finally the artificial lake, with a capacity of 7 million gallons and it is 6 meters deep, which is used to water the plantation. "For the first phase of the project, 220,000 seedlings were already planted on about 330 hectares.We will begin the harvest in June," reported Moise while maneuvering the tractor, he provided a wealth of detail on the plantation. Until the whole plantation is covered bananas, part of the land is being occupied by cows grazing peacefully. "We will allocate 10 hectares for the construction of an enclosure for farmers to continue to raise their cows and dung that will serve as compost," he said. "The law on free zones is clear: 70% of production is exported, and 30% is sent to the local market," stated Moise. He has been active since the 2002 investment law that allowed companies to obtain benefits (tax exemptions, customs charges) was enacted. He knocked on every door in search of support for the realization of his project. I was more determined to follow through," he said. Finally a spark occurred. The project attracted the current administration, who decided to help Moise, via the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF in French) in particular. Marie Carmelle Jean Marie, the former head of this ministry, summarized the support that MEF has brought to this project: project funding through the Industrial Development Fund (FDI in French) - with the keys to an equity loan of 6 million dollars, surveying thousands of hectares that will make up the farm, and providing deeds to farmers who occupied the land. Though the formalities of finance were settled, through which Agritrans could get a 25-year renewable concession for the land, other challenges still remained. Thomas Jacques, Minister of Agriculture at the time, explained his role: “After analyzing the Agritrans file, we decided to help organize the farmers' organizations in the area (the latter are grouped into a federation of 8 associations) to make the necessary equipment available for site preparation (tractors for plowing), to award him the initial 500,000 gourdes grant, and to help raise credit funds from the Development Investment Fund (FDI in French).” "Currently, Agritrans includes hundreds of shareholders for an initial investment of 10.2 million for a total of 27 million needed for the final phase of the project," claimed Moise. A few months before the first harvest, the first laurels are beginning to be braided. Wilson Laleau, current Minister of Economy, called it "ambitious" and "a single institutional structure"; Jean Marie Théodat, Rector of the Roi Henri Christophe de Limonade University, spoke of the "experience being extremely important for the country"; Thomas Jacques, considers it an important first step towards intensive agriculture and welcomed "the inclusion of farmers in this step of technology". Marie Carmelle Jean Marie explained the reasons that pushed her to believe in this project. "First of all, it is an inclusive project, which brings together young entrepreneurs and the rural environment. I believed in the Jovenel Moise dynamism and tenacity," revealed the former minister. Investors are 80% of shareholders, and the farmers' associations make up 20%. According to the latter, the farmers are involved in two ways in this project: they are shareholders - and as such, they are entitled to dividends, in favor - and they are employed, because it is they who will work on the farm. Consequently, they will have two incomes: income from capital and labor income. Despite everything, Moise is not resting on its laurels as easily. "For 10 years, I fought so that state and private insurers could find a mechanism to develop a tool to enable large-scale production to ensure either planting or harvesting, so far to no avail" he said. Another major concern: the expertise within the farm is mainly imported. One Haitian agronomist has taken an internship. The irrigation system is the work of the Israelis, drainage is directed by the Cubans, Dominicans handle the mechanics, and the engineer is a Peruvian trained in Israel, said Moise, who said that his farm is open to all the countries of the Agronomy Faculty. For now, the 600 jobs created there are divided between security guards, mechanics, surveyors, agronomists, engineers, epidemiologists, and farm workers. Reached by telephone, the rector of the Université Roi Henri Christophe de Limonade claimed to have partnered with the firm to start clearing 5 hectares of land in the coming days in order to produce banana planting seeds. "It will be a platform of experience for our students that will produce organic bananas in partnership with the planting of 30 small tiles," said Jean Marie Théodat, who noted the proximity of the farm with the university as an "ideal neighborhood, if not providential." "This model operates in the Northeast and will make its way; 5 companies have already started their business plan for bananas in the area of about 3,000 hectares," informed Jacques, who expressed his satisfaction for the inclusion of farmers in the project, and for private entrepreneurs that begin to take risks. The farmers associations will receive 20% of the profits earned by the project. "In the next 5 years, if the trend continues, we can say that under our administration an intensive agriculture, commercial, an entrepreneurial project was really started across the country," stated the former head of the MARNDR. "In terms of competitiveness, we're not afraid of prices, in terms of quality, we will be better than the Dominicans," said Moise, who noted that the farm will be capable of producing between 48 and 50,000 tons of organic bananas, free of chemical fertilizers that comply with environmental standards. To do this, he works with a European firm for organic certification of planting. A processing center to prepare and pack the bananas and a terminal for easy export must be developed. "It is our priority for the next few weeks," said Moise. For Jean Marie, even after the first exports, "the state should continue to support the project." That victory is not short, as is often the case in Haiti. For his part, Minister Laleau hoped for similar experiences and announced that the donors were praised at the launch of this project. Article by Patrick Saint Pre Translated from Le Nouvelliste by Stefan Viard