As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, hunger and malnutrition plagued the Republic of Haiti long before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country earlier this year. Before the quake, 1.9 million Haitians went hungry. Now, between 2.5 and 3.3 million Haitians are coping with an inadequate supply of food. While there were few alternatives to emergency food aid in the immediate aftermath of the quake, more sustainable solutions for reducing hunger in Haiti have emerged now that reconstruction efforts are well underway. One promising approach centers on the use biochar, a soil fertilization technique employed by ancient Amazonians.
In partnership with the Papaye Peasant Movement, JTS Semences, and the French embassy in Haiti, Pro-Natura International has started a project to increase vegetable production in Haiti by providing local farmers with Super Vegetable Gardens (SVGs). Pro-Natura International is a nonprofit organization founded in Brazil over 25 years ago. Their SVGs are a mode of intensive and ecological vegetable cultivation originally designed for Africa. On only six thousandth of a hectare (0.006), SVGs can yield over one ton of vegetables. This is enough to feed a family of 10 with nutritious food for an entire year. Plus, since SVGs’ production cycle runs throughout the year, and not just during the rainy season, farmers can provide their families with fresh produce year-round.
In addition to producing high yields, SVGs also help farmers reduce costs and save time. They reduce water consumption by over 80 percent and labor requirements by two hours per day.
he use of biochar for soil fertilization is one of the cornerstones of Pro-Natura International’s approach. Soil fertilization using charcoal dust (biochar) is an ancient practice employed by pre-Columbian Indians in the Amazon region more than 7,000 years ago. In this “green” production process, charcoal produced from renewable biomass (from unused agricultural or forestry residue or invasive plants, for example) is used to lock carbon into the soil. In addition to raising agricultural productivity, improving water quality, and increasing soil fertility, storing carbon in the ground can also mitigate the long terms effects of climate change by capturing carbon from atmospheric CO2.
Haiti is far from being able to satisfy its domestic food needs. But by coupling modern innovations with ancient techniques, Haitian farmers finally have the opportunity to build a more sustainable farming future.
For another innovative fertilization technique, see: Innovation of the Week: Providing an Agricultural Answer to Nature’s Call.
Abisola Adekoya is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.