They are estimated at more than 4.3 million people, family labor and wage mobilized on all farms in Haiti, following the 2009 agricultural census. Often neglected and ignored, yet they are the nerves of production national foodstuffs. When we think of the difficult conditions of agricultural work in Haiti, it seems more than a necessity to pay tribute to these good people.
A difficult task not recognized …
The hard work of those who work to produce the food that will later be consumed on our tables is often overlooked if not forgotten. It is not known, when not neglected, that they work from dawn to dusk. Despite the five-year rehearsal of major political or other promises, their tools and materials have not really changed in 200 years: a hoe, a serpette, a machete, a knife or a pickaxe. These planters are for the most part all-purpose used for the different operations of soil preparation, planting, weeding and others. It is on the bent backs and crushed shoulders of our agricultural workers that the 50% of domestic (non-imported) food products are still the least of the national pride we have left.
Tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, turnips, beets, onions, leeks, potatoes, yams, cassava, pigeon pea and petit-millet that still garnish our plates, are the fruit of long days of agricultural work sometimes requiring long hours to stay while standing, kneeling, squatting or bowing, to perform repetitive and painful repetitive movements. Returning clods of clay, clearing thorny fields, standing in the water for hours, inspiring the smell of stinking mud, enduring the itchy skin of weeds, lifting and carrying heavy loads, not forgetting the long hours walking on steep slopes in the midday sun or in the stormy summer rain are among the thankless and painful tasks they do. Exposure to insect bites, fungal and bacterial diseases are also among the risks that these farm workers are exposed to on a daily basis.
In addition to all these, there is the moral hardship that is denigration, social contempt and misunderstanding that they face the eyes of most urban. Some “high-ranking” members of society do not show any problem in despising the knowledge and know-how of these farmers by calling them archaic, stubborn, ignorant, idle, retrograde or grappling. While ignoring that the current state of agriculture is nothing but the sorry result of 200 years of political choices of oppressions, urban parasitism and exclusions to the detriment of the Haitian peasantry. The real question, as Ernst A Bernardin has said, is not today to notice the poverty of the peasant to deduce the conclusions; it is rather to question history, to follow the path and see the process of impoverishment of the Haitian peasantry.
Low incomes as the common denominator
Agricultural workers are those men and women who live and work at the expense of farms. They do not form a homogeneous group and they do not always work in the same way. Some work only on their farms, while others are only farm workers who work permanently on the farms of a parent or other farmer. Between the two there is a category of half-farmer-half farm laborers who are small farmers who sell their labor force from time to time to increase their income. Sometimes daily (payment per day) or contractor (spot payment), agricultural work is done individually or in groups. Some areas are still famous for their traditional work associations known on the coumbite name, squad or chore.
Agricultural wages are in the range of 100 to 300 gourdes per day. Payment is either in kind or in cash. This remuneration is also dependent on the season and the demand for agricultural labor. The fact that agricultural work is seasonal also decreases the possibility of having a regular income. The meager wages received by the agricultural laborers are barely enough to support the cost of food. The financial availabilities are so low, sometimes these workers find it impossible to acquire even the all-purpose agricultural tools (hoe, pickaxe, machete) which they are obliged to rent. It is a group that, in general, is unable to meet their basic needs (food, health, education) and those of their dependents. Yet this agricultural sector is the largest economic activity in the country (nearly 30% of GDP) and affects more than 50% of the population. An incoherent public policy situation when we know the meager resources and the low level of importance given to this sector in decision-making.
Lack of services aggravates vulnerability
The lack of infrastructure and access to basic health and education services aggravates the already precarious situation of these disadvantaged groups. In general, they had not had the chance to benefit from the bread of education, so their sons and daughters are no longer safe from their situation. Not always mastering the notions of weight, surface, length and interest they are often the easy prey of some dishonest usurers, notaries, surveyors, judges, notables and others who would supposedly be their scouts and guides. Health care does not exist and does not even seem to be an indispensable need for them. Although several studies have shown that health, education and funerals are the main pockets of rural households’ decapitalization expenditures. It is, in general, at the source, the streams or in the nearest channels that they draw the water necessary for their drink and daily consumption.
The inability to store or keep their products and the ever-pressing need for money forces them to sell them at low prices to the first offerors, except for the early sale on the ground before harvest. The little income generated is rapidly absorbed by the absence of these indispensable basic services (education, health, etc.). These forms of inattention, disregard and denial only serve to contribute to their moral weakening and the reinforcement of their physical vulnerability to the socio-environmental shocks that are not lacking in Haiti.
Honor to this group of victims
Can we, under these conditions of unfavorable orientation and denial of recognition, blame them for not being able to feed themselves and the 12 million inhabitants of the country? Absolutely not. To the impossible, no one can hold. It is difficult for anyone to do better in this situation of pretense, lack of vision, improvised agricultural policies, land complication, unfair competition and lack of infrastructure and services. It is impossible to be effective in this situation of supplications to the rain, periodic meetings some with drought and tropical storms, climatic disturbances and permanence of pests and pests. The low life expectancy, the weakening of diseases and the emigration of young people do not help in this sense either. For proof, in Haiti, nobody, other than the peasant, has the courage today to invest capital and work in agricultural production. Thus, this level of production and lean productivity of our agriculture is nothing but the reflection of our strategic choices and our actions devoid of meaning. There is no evidence of the inability of farmers or workers to innovate and modernize.
That is why this productive class of the country, these agricultural workers who despite all these constraints and difficulties continue to work, deserve all our respects, admiration, congratulations and recognition. They are brave, valiant, courageous, valorous, hardworking, productive heroes and true patriots.
Acknowledging their contribution and their contribution is proof of honesty and loyalty on our part. This is the first step towards inclusion as a guarantee of lasting relationships. Recognition is not cowardice but, preferably, is a lever of mobilization that strengthens commitment and encourages people to excel.
Honor our agricultural workers. Recognize their values and merits. Let’s create a favorable environment of production and flow so that they can have a life of descent and that we can overcome this difficult course of underemployment and food insecurity.
Honor and merit to you workers, agricultural workers of the country. Honor and credit to you farmers who still wear this country on your tired back. Kenbe fem pa lage.