By Aland Khalid
There are a plethora of problems facing the country of Haiti each and every day, with the list notably containing weak infrastructure, poor medical care, low access to clean water, a high unemployment rate and so on and so forth. These were all problems even before the devastating earthquake in 2010, and the ongoing Covid pandemic has only worsened matters. Haiti is considered to be amongst the poorest countries in the world, and despite decades of intense foreign aid and were before the earthquake, according to the Clinton Foundation, host to thousands of non-governmental organisations (or NGOs), the people of Haiti only seem to be getting poorer. For many years, a solve-all solution was investing in large scale projects with a top-down design, a tactic disconnected from the locals it was trying to help. Despite this effort, Haiti is still struggling and a change is needed. While there is no single fix to every problem, a possible solution already exists to several challenges, one which is much closer to the farmers and could very well help get the country back on its feet: the Haitian mango.
The tasty fruit, with a colourful exterior and rich sweet interior, is already one of Haiti’s biggest exports and has the potential to strengthen the weak economy while also improving the lives of the many local farmers. Much of the production is owned by small families who sell their produce at nearby markets. From the markets, the fruit is bought by bigger businesses and much is shipped abroad to other countries. As demand increases, so must naturally the production of the fruit if Haitian farmers wish to continue being seen as reliable trading partners, otherwise businesses might look elsewhere. This could have dire consequences for the Haitian economy, a situation where export crops such as the mango can show its importance.
There are however a couple of issues preventing the Haitian farmers from meeting this demand. Some issues are seemingly small and easy to fix, such as a lack of irrigation to water the trees’ complex root systems and different ways of storing the fruit in order to keep it fresh, while others require change on state level, in particular roads connecting cities to rural areas. These issues are presented and explained further by reporters Adam Davidson and Chana Joffe-Walt in the radio program “This American Life”. In episode 408: “Island Time”, it is also explained that many Haitians refrain from accepting help from the many NGOs, whose work is considered inefficient and disconnected from the locals. Restoring faith in these NGOs will unfortunately prove to be a challenge on its own. As we have learned, more money is not always the answer, and it’s up to the NGOs to adapt their work and work more closely with the Haitian people.
By removing some of the issues hindering the farmers from increasing their output, NGOs can make a real and lasting difference. This work is believed to directly increase the overall economy of the country and raise many farmers above the poverty line. Further results, the unemployment rate would be lowered while many more families would also be able to send their children to school. With the island’s geographical weakness to natural disasters, and particular vulnerability to climate change, this work needs to start sooner rather than later as later might be too late. It will nonetheless take some time before real progress can be seen, but in the meantime, progress is being made in Haiti by planting one mango tree at a time.
By Aland Khalid
Illustration: Amelie Lutz