Fish Farming in Haiti

In early June 2012 I spent some time in Haiti. One thing I was able to do was to get a firsthand look at a fish farming operation that is not only a model of success in an otherwise challenging landscape, but helps dozens of extremely poor families in seven villages by providing work and income.  I have serialized this experience into three stories that will be featured here on the The Fisheries Blog over the next three weeks. –Steve Midway
Fish Farming in Haiti: Part I
   After very little time spent in Haiti, you get the feeling that this is a place that just can’t catch a break. Despite being the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere, Haiti easily has the lowest human development index—it really only compares to sub-Saharan Africa. Politicians are frequently corrupt or hand-tied. Regular hurricanes cause myriad damage to which there are limited resources to repair. Then there was January 12th—a 7.0 earthquake and over 50 aftershocks tortured the major population areas and killed an estimated 300,000 people. (And fortunately this happened in the middle of the afternoon when most people were outside of structures.)  The latest epidemic is Cholera—an infection that didn’t even exist in Haiti until peacekeeping United Nations workers brought it in.  Very quickly, you get the feeling that life and luck are tough in Haiti.
   Inverse to their perceived fate, most Haitians are very agreeable, hard-working individuals, despite the fact that there are no jobs.  Haitian unemployment is, well, sky-high. Most people do something to keep busy, but wages are meager (on average about $2/day) and formal jobs are rare.  Furthermore, the country’s resources have been largely used up.  Demand for charcoal has resulted in a barren landscape, which means that the vast majority of rivers don’t flow and instead act as landfils. Without habitat and water, wildlife resources are almost non-existent. In the ocean, reefs are barren and fish production is locally minimal, at best.
Many Haitians live on only a few dollars per day. (Photo: Steve Midway)
   Enter Valentine Abe.
   Dr. Valentine Abe (pronounced Ah-Bay, but who introduces himself as Val) grew up with modest means in Ivory Coast, Africa.  His family always emphasized education, and in the late 1980s Val had earned a Fulbright scholarship to Auburn University.  A masters led to a PhD in aquaculture (growth rates of farmed catfish, to be precise), and before long he took a post-doctoral position at Auburn as well.  Sticking around longer than planned would become a theme in Val’s life.

Shortly after taking on a post-doctoral position, Val found himself in 1997 in Haiti, in order to work on an assessment of the potential for fish farming.  He knew that Haiti was in need of food and work, and fish just might be able to provide some of both.  But he needed to do some homework.  Val had to figure out which fish species would work, how they would be grown, who would provide start-up money, and several other issues.  He spent months driving all over the country searching for, among other things, water.

   “The way some people go searching for gold, that is how I searched for water,” said Val.
Boat on the shore of a fish-less Lake Azuei. (Photo: Steve Midway)
   The result of his investigation was a report—a how-to manual for setting up fish farming in Haiti, a country in need of the reliable source of protein as well as the jobs that farming fish could provide.  His report was sent to Haitian and international organizations for their approval, and shortly, Val figured, he would be up and running, feeding the poor and putting the unemployed to work.  This project could only be a win-win, right?

Unfortunately, there were no takers.  For several years this well-proposed and modest (by international standards) report collected dust.  Val kept in touch with Haiti, though to pay the bills he worked in a number of countries as a consultant.  But he couldn’t get Haiti or that report out of his mind.

Please click here for Part 2 of this 3 part series.

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