Professionalizing Female Farmers for Better Business in Haiti

March 23, 2022

By Montaha Hassan, Patricia Biermayr-Jenzano, Nene Souleymane Diouf

The vegetable plots are all booming. There are strawberries, green peppers, cucumbers, and lettuce. This bounty of fresh food and colors is tended by local producers and a team from the farming association Solidarite Haïtienne pour le Développement Rural de Kenscoff (SOHADERK), which is part of IFC Haiti Horticulture Project.

Fadia Léveillé is the only female agronomist in the field operations and she guides farmers to enhance horticultural productivity in the rural community of Kenscoff, near the capital, Port-au-Prince, where Haitian women play a vital role for the sector.

“As far as I remember, I’ve always been surrounded by crops. My father is a farmer, and I developed a passion for agriculture working on the family farm. Haiti’s economy relies on agriculture, as so do my people. That’s why I decided to become an agronomist. I want to professionalize the local business and contribute to advance this sector in my hometown,” said Fadia.

The IFC Haiti Horticulture Project, supported by IFC's expertise and the Private
Sector Window Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), and delivered through the Haitian firm Papyrus, aims to strengthen the horticulture supply chain by establishing contracts with local buyers and anchoring the demand in Kenscoff (Port-au-Prince) and Ouanaminthe (Northeast region). Farmers receive training on Good Agricultural Practices and soil and water management to sell their products directly to these cities, while minimizing post-harvest losses and food safety risks and guaranteeing market prices.

Fadia works with Daphnie Laurent, a farmer member of SOHADERK, and Agronome Colomb, Technical Director at SOHADERK, to measure crop yields after the training received through the Haiti Horticulture Project. Photo by: SOHADERK/IFC

Women farmers, the backbone of Haiti’s horticultural sector

Haitian women farmers play a vital role in the agricultural production cycle. They are involved in soil preparation, sowing, and harvesting tasks and are often responsible for the sales of farm production and input purchase. Yet, women farmers face gender-specific constraints that hinder access to the inputs, training, and services required to be competitive.

Moreover, smallholder farmers deal with extreme weather events and a volatile socio-political situation, which requires innovative, bespoke solutions to adapt and recover from challenging scenarios. “I go to the field daily and work with farmers to understand their needs and adapt agricultural techniques to the reality on the ground,” says Fadia.

To address these challenges, the IFC-led program has taught nearly 200 female Haitian farmers in sustainable agricultural practices and business management. Edumene Metellus is one of Fadia’s trainees, and has been a farmer from a very young age. “My parents were farmers, so I grew up in this business. We harvest almost everything, from cucumbers to carrots, peppers, and cabbages,” she says.

A mother of 6 children, Edumene is the head of her family and farming is their main source for livelihood, so good agricultural techniques are critical for their stability “The training was very good. Fadia walked us through the methods to prepare the land and manage water to improve our productivity and showed us how to manage our crops better. I am grateful for all her advice”, she adds.

For Fadia, “The Project has greatly benefited local women. We support them through demonstrations, plots management, and technology adoption - such as improved seed varieties and good soil and fertility techniques.” As part of this initiative, women-led agricultural demonstration plots (average 500 square meters) and achieved remarkable results, particularly for lettuce, cucumber, and pepper. “All this knowledge helped them to increase yields, income, and soil health in their farms. It’s an opportunity for women to do better business,” says Fadia proudly.

With equal participation in the market, women build social capital and take part in decision-making about assets. “For me, it’s critical to take advantage of this momentum. I want to bring more technical training and show marketing strategies to expand their markets,” says Fadia with a hand-written list of ideas to continue supporting her community. “Part of my success is to consolidate all the work we have already done and engage more women farmers in Kenscoff.”

Fadia supports farmers members of SOHADERK who sell fruits and vegetables from their fields at the 2nd edition of the agro-ecological fair in Kenscoff. Photo by: SOHADERK/IFC

The professional who holds the secret for collective impact

In a male-dominated sector, Fadia opened a new road for the women who are members of SOHADERK. With her expertise and charisma, she brought a unique approach that created a safe space among women farmers. “As a local woman working in this competitive sector, I can understand the context, needs, and expectations of rural women in Haiti. They feel more confident when another woman supports them, particularly when discussing how to apply new techniques. As the only woman agronomist and proud female farmer, I can reach out to them naturally.”

Fadia not only motivated them to professionalize themselves but also empowered support systems. Under her guidance, female farmers feel confident sharing their knowledge and making new connections to facilitate each other’s access to new markets. “Women have always been the backbone of the agricultural sector. Now they want to lift each other.”

As a leading agronomist, Fadia is becoming a pioneer and role model for other women in Haiti. When asked about her advice for a girl who wants to start a career in the agricultural field, she concluded: “We should not listen to men who say that agronomy is a science for men. A woman can do it; I am a concrete example. We must not be discouraged.”

To date, more than 600 local farmers have been trained as part of the IFC Haiti Horticulture Project. The horticultural production for all members of SOHADERK has significantly increased compared to the national average: For lettuce and cucumber demonstration plots, yields were ten times higher than the national average (lettuce at 10t/ha and cucumber at 15t/ha). Stop-Winlock’s portfolio in Haiti amounts to $223 million and operates in agribusiness, hospitality, energy, manufacturing, and banking to provide financing for SMEs.

Published in March 2022