Farmers in north-western Haiti are likely to lose a significant portion of their rice harvest due to reluctance to work in paddy fields they fear are contaminated by the cholera-causing bacteria, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said yesterday (29 December), adding that it is helping to carry out a hygiene awareness campaign among the farming communities.
A cholera epidemic in Haiti has claimed the lives of more than 2,700 people and infected some 130,000 others since October.
FAO said it is working with the Haitian ministries of agriculture and health to provide hygiene information to farmers. The agency’s preliminary assessment indicates that many farmers are avoiding the harvest, fearing that the water in the rivers and canals that irrigate their paddies and other fields might be infected.
There are also reports of consumers avoiding food produced in regions affected by the cholera outbreak, a factor that could further damage trade in agricultural produce.
The FAO is working closely with Haitian authorities and other UN agencies in the health and sanitation sectors to give farmers the right information on precautionary measures while working in the fields. The agency and its partners are also supporting the assessment on the impact of cholera on food security and rural livelihoods.
Etienne Peterschmitt, the FAO’s Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator in Haiti, emphasised the importance of targeting farmers and other people who work in the fields with disease transmission mitigation measures.
According to the FAO, radio stations broadcasting cholera sensitisation messages do not reach some remote areas. Information meant for rural low-income communities needs to be transmitted directly through outreach initiatives, the agency said.
The effects of the cholera outbreak on agriculture were compounded by the November floods brought on by hurricane Tomas, which damaged farming infrastructure and damaged up to 78,000 hectares of crops.