In October 2014, president Martelly officially launched the AGRITRANS project by planting the first organic banana seedlings in Trou du Nord. The plan had first been launched in November 2013 and the man in charge of the plantation was Jovenel Moïse, who meanwhile became president of the country in January 2017.
The project aimed at producing organic bananas destined for exportation, implicating 3.000 local farmers. The first 400 ha of a total of 1.000 ha planned for the project had been cleared and the expropriated farmers, in compensation for the loss of their land, were to be employed at the plantation. The investment for preparing the land came from the FEPA/AGRITRANS consortium and made it possible to acquire modern materials, create an artificial lake and install irrigation pumps. The project also aimed at creating 3.000 jobs. The total costs were 27 million dollars of which 6 million dollars were contributed by the Industrial Development Fund. An additional amount of 15 million American dollars were made available for the reinforcement of AGRITRANS.
The project consisted of an agro-industrial banana plantation producing for exportation and located in a free-trade zone, exempting the project from exportation and investment taxes as well as customs for a period of several years. This also means that 70% of the production has to be exported while 30% is to be sold at local markets. AGRITRANS may use the land of the farmers for at least 25 years.
On September 8, 2015, the first shipment off organic bananas left the port of Cap Haïtien for Hamburg, Germany. In April 2016, a second shipment had been prepared for exportation to Germany. After that, there has been complete silence around the plantation and the initiative.
Because we were curious to know how the project is developing and what are the views of the local farmers involved in the project or not, we took the initiative to have the farmers voice their opinions about the enterprise. A first meeting took place in January 2017 with farmers in Capotille, followed by a second meeting in March 2017, this time with a group of JILAP located closely to Trou du Nord.
Impressions of local farmers:
- ‘It is a nice project. We are not directly involved nor do we benefit from the project, but others do. Perhaps a similar project will one day be set up in our region also. The biggest problem for us is lack of irrigation for bananas. This large project does not suffer from this problem because they have a large lake and irrigation systems. If we would also be involved and have an irrigation system as they do, this would be fantastic. If the other leaders would have taken similar initiatives, we would not be in such a miserable situation today. We hope there will be other projects, and even better ones than this one.’
- ‘The best products are being exported. The disqualified or deformed bananas are sold at the local market. We had hoped that this project would be favourable for our region, but this turned out to be false hope. Even the young people who were excited at first are now disappointed. The job rotation system means that you can work for the project four days a month and the salary is minimal, just 200 gourdes a day. Until now the results have been poor. the project has lost much of its dawn when Jovenel Moïse left. The workers don’t receive regular payments, the salaries have gone down, there are rumours of fraud, etc.’
- ‘The land was poor but the farmers worked it anyhow. Once the project arrived, the land was ploughed and the houses were destroyed. The owners are still waiting for compensation.’
- ‘The project does not guarantee involvement of the local farmers and does nothing to help the agricultural development of the region. The banana plants are grown in a laboratory. Why don’t they sell us these plants? The project is a very closed circuit without any collaboration with the local farmers. We would also like to produce bananas for export… It makes you think of the times of slavery: a well-closed plantation where the poor farmer can work for next to nothing while the big owner is earning a lot of money.’
- ‘This project does not benefit the region because except of a few Haitian managers the employees are mainly foreigners with large salaries and 4x4s, with privileged housing and equipment. Fundamentally, millions have been spent and everyone can see that the yield is not in proportion. This project does not contribute anything to the local population nor to the farmers who had to leave their land.’
Someone else says that the project is a good thing. Only a few farmers have lost their house or their land, but this was not fertile anyway.
- ‘The information varies because the project has been used for political goals. In the introductory speeches people were told that the project would create work for 3.000 persons but in reality no more than 300 people have found work at the plantation each month, still less when considering the rotation system. There are many rumours and it is difficult to know what is true and what isn’t. When you are a poor farmer it is difficult to get access to the right information, for example to know which number of bananas has really been exported, and how much the production has cost. But I am sure that the real benefits go to the pockets of the rich people.’
- ‘It is amazing that such a big project does not have any office here and does not give any information. In order to get a job you have to know someone at the inside.’
Why are people in favour of the project and why is Jovenel so popular ?
- ‘One can have a lot of questions about the project and about the lack of information. But this is the first time that a president is interested in agriculture and that he is doing something for the sector. This is why ‘nèg bannann’ is so popular.’
- ‘It would be good if the farmers would be more involved in the projects and if someone would listen to them.’
- ‘Jovenel should be given a chance. He should not hesitate but go forward. If not, he will fall from his pedestal. The farmers have massively voted for him because he is considered “one of us”. They expect him to create jobs for them. Moreover, he is not ‘a bourgeois from Port-au-Prince’. Many people voted for him because they are against the political elite of Port-au-Prince.’
- ‘Jovenel has been responsible for several successful projects. The Haitians are in majority farmers of rural descent and they are pleased to have been able to vote for someone who thinks agriculture is important.’
In what way is this or isn’t it a sign of hope for Haiti?
- ‘There is a political dimension to all of it. Being in favour or against the project means being for or against the PHTK or the president.’
- ‘It has to continue and end the humiliation of having to import bananas from the Dominican Republic. We expect that for Jovenel it is not just a question of power.’
- ‘There is a certain hope because now such a plantation is possible again in our country. We can compete with the Dominican Republic, which is good.’
- ‘What is also important: an important signal is given to the next presidential candidates: you have to do something in agriculture, if not, you’re lost. But preferably in a better way than Jovenel’s banana project.’
At the end of the second meeting, a farmer of the FEPAP is giving additional information and some clarification:
‘Because the state needed the land they asked the implicated farmers to organize themselves. Eight associations were created with each around 1.000 members. The eight associations formed the Federation of Agricultural Planters of Pisince (FEPAP) which has between 7.000 and 8.000 members. It has been agreed that only the members of FEPAP could work at the plantation. At the beginning when they were preparing the land and for the first planting they needed about 2.000 workers each month, according to a rotation system. But now this number has decreased to 300 per month. At the start of the next season, a larger number of workers will be accepted for a couple of months. The project decides each day how many farmers may work, and each farmer may work only one day per week. The wages are 260 gourdes for a day’s work, which is the same one get paid at the industrial park. 5% is withheld for the Federation.
The project is advantageous for many farmers who used to go to the Dominican Republic. There’s no banana cultivation in the area. The eight associations have been promised 20% of the profit of the project for social activities, such as the building of schools. It has been four years since the project started and there has not been any profit so far, but we are patient.
Recently, new seedlings have been planted for the next season. We have not been informed about the amount that has been sold, nor about the price. As far as we know 19 containers have left for Germany.’
Current situation of the plantation
On March 17, 2017, journalists of the newspaper ‘Le Nouvelliste’ wanted to visit the AGRITRANS plantation. They observed a marked deterioration of the plantation. They were harassed by the guards and could not take any photos. No bananas have been exported since July 6, 2016. The commentary of the people in charge of the plantation is: ‘the farm lies fallow, but there is a strategy behind this.’ They are talking about a ‘profitable sacrifice’ losing about 6% of the investments in order to obtain a higher profit. (http://lenouvelliste.com/article/169451/detruire-les-anciens-plants-de-banane-est-un-sacrifice-rentable-selon-le-president-dagritrans).