We have conducted training seminars and hands-on teaching programs for 50+ native agricultural extension agents in the Cormier Valley, Haiti. Each of these agents is responsible for disseminating information to hundreds of co-workers in remote areas of a region covering thousands of acres of rural mountains. Within this area over 50 large ponds have been constructed (using US aid) to produce fish. Unfortunately these ponds had failed to thrive and gone fallow due to lack of fish food. Following our training of the extension agents in alternative fish feeding strategies, these ponds are now—for the first time in 10 years—producing marketable fish. Our repeated visits to LaCul, and ongoing reports we receive from our hatchery managers reveal that many pond owners have harvested fish in sufficient quantities to pay school tuition for their children, and generated income that has been reinvested into the community. The ponds have become food and revenue generators for hundreds of people. Based on the number of fingerlings supplied to the ponds by our LaCul hatchery to the mountain ponds, we estimate over 10,000 lbs. of fish are harvested annually. These numbers could actually be significantly higher due to the innate ability of Tilapia to “re-stock” the ponds via natural reproduction. The most exciting impact is that fish are finally being produced in large quantities using local resources in a sustainable fashion!
Accurately quantifying results in Haiti is difficult for a simple reason. Success in Haiti is dangerous. Successful producers are subject to extended family and other community members expecting a share of the goods; many people feel deserving of the fruits of others’ successful labor. Consequently many farmers are secretive about revealing success. This has been very frustrating to us as scientists. We have traveled to Haiti many times to observe and quantify fish harvest poundage but ponds are harvested late at night, surrounded by secrecy, and therefore quantifiable data is difficult to obtain. We were able to gather accurate data on two harvests: production levels were approximately 1 lb of fish/square meter of pond space. This data is consistent with that of a well-managed pond. The ponds yielded an average of 60 pounds/pond during a 6-month period and provided revenue equivalent to the cost of annual school tuition for three children. Despite the difficulty in obtaining true production numbers, the best indication that the program is working is evidence we have witnessed of ongoing care and maintenance of the ponds and an intense proliferation of our techniques in new ponds being dug in areas way beyond the scope of our initial work.
To advance fish farming in another area of Haiti, we developed and built an Aquaculture Learning Center (ALC) at the Henri Christophe High School in Marigot. This project involved the construction of an intensive fish production system capable of yielding 3,000 lbs. of fish every six months on the school property. All construction materials, labor, tools, pumps, fingerlings and training has been provide by the SAI program. The ALC’s goal has been to establish a large-scale system to provide fish for student meals and a means to expose young people to food and revenue production via fish farming. Students could receive protein lunches while learning the basics of fish biology, husbandry and production, water quality assessment and management, and complementary alternative agricultural methods.
The concept was well founded and the reception has been gratifying. Our trained ALC Haitian staff is producing fish in copious quantities. We receive reports from them regularly and visit the site 3-4 times per year. The ALC staff has been fairly autonomous in maintaining the systems, managing water quality, and they appear to be well-equipped to run the facility. They have also been effective in engaging the local community and accessing markets for their fish. Precisely as we hoped, locals have expressed a desire to replicate the fish farming technology demonstrated at the ALC on a family-sized scale. Our Haitian staff is currently assessing the number of seriously interested community members as a measure of local impact. Many community members are ready to initiate fish farming but have been hindered thus far by a lack of resources: we need further support to implement an organized training program including instructors, printed and/or electronic educational material and sourcing information.