HAITIAN HEIRLOOM SEED BANK: Preserving Heritage Seeds for Agricultural Production in Fondwa, Haiti
Junior Beauvais and Fang Wan are collaborating with Fondwa Farmers to create an Heirloom Seed Bank in Fondwa, Haiti.
To learn more about this terrific project, please watch our video:
Project Description: The Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank (HHSB) digs deep into Haiti’s agricultural roots to cultivate sustainable futures. For generations, 8,000 Fondwa farmers provided affordable, nutritious food for their community by growing heirloom maize, Congo Peas and sorghum. However, NGOs distributing free genetically modified (GM) seeds in the 1980s prompted farmers to replace their heirloom seeds with donated seeds. Over time, farmers have discovered that the GM seeds are not as productive as their ancient varieties. While Farmers are seeking these Heirloom seeds, they are unavailable locally. HHSB will reintroduce native crop seeds to Fondwa by employing local farmers to collect seeds from remote areas to plant, store and sell them. HHSB will increase annual crop production, enhance local economic viability, improve local food quality, and preserve Haiti’s heirloom seeds for future generations.
Fondwa, with a population of approximately 8,000, is a small community village located in the mountains in the western department of Haiti. Farming is the backbone of the local economy, with some 80% of the population relying on it for their subsistence and source of cash. Growers nearby produce corn, black, white and red beans, sorghum, Congo peas and sweet potatoes. Selling farm products to local markets still provides most of the cash available to farmers.
Historically, Fondwa’s farmers enjoyed a year round harvest, allowing them to sell their products beyond the immediate area. In particular, the region’s corn, beans and Congo beans (Sos Poul) were in high demand beyond Fondwa due to their high germination qualities and flavorful taste. Fondwa’s native corn and beans species were also rich in nutrients and drought resistant.
Unfortunately, most of the native crops almost disappeared from the Fondwa area due to the introduction of other varieties. In the last two decades, NGOs have been giving genetically engineered black bean, corn and Congo pea seeds to the area’s farmers for free. This prompted local growers to sell out their heirloom seeds for cash and plant instead the internationally produced seeds that were donated to them. However, these varietals have proven not to be as well-adapted to the area’s growing environment as the native species had been. As a result, Fondwa farmers’ crop yields have dramatically decreased over time, impoverishing local farmers and increasing their vulnerability. In addition, since genetically engineered seeds need to be purchased anew every season, farmer’s dependence on cash economy and external donors has increased. Meanwhile, the quantity and quality of nutritious food in the area has diminished, contributing to health problems and malnutrition.
As a native of Fondwa, I have chosen to study agronomy at Virginia Tech in the United States because I wish to remedy this seed-shortage. Fortunately, native species may still be found in other areas of Haiti, including Nan Bouchi, Devaren, and Policiene, which are about four to five hours walking distance from Fondwa. Since these areas are quite remote and difficult to access due to the lack of paved roads, NGO- provided seeds have not reached these communities and heirloom seeds are still widely available.
Business ideas and expected benefits.
Junior’s business idea is to establish a seed-bank to reintroduce Haiti heirlooms seeds in Fondwa and to employ students from the local rural University (the University of Fondwa, UNIF) to re- train local farmers on how to plant, maintain, harvest, dry, store and sell heirloom seeds.
The expected benefits include:
– preservation of Haiti’s heirloom seeds for future generations
– improved agricultural production
– increased local resilience and autonomy
– increasing the economic viability of the farming profession
– improved the local food quality
– provide jobs to local people with valuable skills
– contribute to preserving local knowledge.
The Seed Bank will purchase seeds from the areas where they are available and sell them to the farmers in the Fondwa area at a reasonable price. In the harvest season, one “Mamit” (about 5 lbs worth) of black bean native seeds sells for $20.00. However, that price can rise as high as $60.00 during the planting season. Despite this price increase, farmers tend to buy seeds during the high season because they lack facilities to store these seeds and are risk-averse. To make high-quality seeds more affordable, HHSB will buy in “low season,” absorb the risk connected with seed storage and preservation, and sell to local farmers at a reasonable price.
In order to obtain the native seeds HHSB will hire 3 mule-drivers to traverse the countryside to purchase heirloom seed stock from remote locations. A storage facility will be rented, where hired agronomy from the University of Fondwa (UNIF) can test, store, research, and distribute heirloom seeds.
This Seed Bank will be located in Tombe Gateau, a public market attended by residents of Fondwa and nearby areas. HHSB will serve nine communal sections within Fondwa (Piton, Falaise, Liberte, Cadris, Tombegateu, Belloc, Capin, Hournaud and Obe) currently include approximately 970 farmers families and approximately 8,000 residents.
The human and capital resources HHSB intends to employ are available in Fondwa. Many local farmers own mules and would be happy to earn cash by transporting seeds. Furthermore UNIF has been training agronomists that would be able to perform seed testing and farmers’ training. Finally, I have already located a facility where the seeds would be stored.
As a native of Fondwa, I have strong connections in the community. Local organizations, including Fund Peasants of Fondwa (FPF) and Sante Konbit Fondwa (SKF) will constitute the network through which HHSB will reach out to the farmers to inform them of these projects and invite them to participate in the Seed Bank. FPF has 600 members and SKF serves 120 individuals. In addition, this project will benefit from a consultant in permaculture and will be locally managed by the peasants themselves. More details
The food Bank will purchase seeds from the areas where they are available and sell them to the farmers in the Fondwa area at a reasonable price. In the harvest season, one mamit (measurement unit approximately equivalent to one gallon) of black bean native seeds sells for 20 Haitian dollars (Htd) (approximately $ 2.5). However, during the planting seasons that price can rise as high as 40 Htd, (about $5). Since most farmers are risk-averse or do not have the skills or facilities to safely store the seeds, they buy in high season thus paying the highest prices. The seed bank will buy in “low season,” absorb the risk connected with seed storage and preservation, and sell to local farers at a reasonable price.
In order to obtain the native seeds I will hire three people with mules who will travel to the countryside to purchase a stock when in low season. I will also rent some space and hire agronomy students from the University of Fondwa to test for the seeds germinating potential and rent a facility and hire people to collect and store the seeds for the planting seasons.
This Seed Bank will be located in Tombe Gateau, a public market that is held three times a week and is attended by residents of Fondwa and nearby areas. This Bank will serve nine communal sections within Fondwa (Piton, Falaise, Liberte, Cadris, Tombegateu, Belloc, Capin, Hournaud and Obe). The area currently includes approximately 970 farmers families that serve a population of some 8,000 people.
The human and physical resources I intend to hire are available in Fondwa. Many local farmers own mules and would be happy to earn cash by transporting seeds. Furthermore UNIF has been training agronomists that would be able to perform seed testing and farmers’ training. Finally, I have already located a facility where the seeds would be stored.
As a native of that area I have strong connections in the community. Local organizations, including Fund Peasants of Fondwa (FPF) and Sante Konbit Fondwa (SKF) will constitute the network through which I will reach out to the farmers to inform them of this project and invite them to use the Seeds Bank. FPF has 600 members and SKF serves 120 individuals. In addition this project will benefit from a consultant in permaculture based in the United States and will be locally managed by my business partner Enel Delice, also an agronomy student at the University of Fondwa.