Farmers’ fear of cholera threatens rice harvest in Haiti – UN agency

29 December 2010

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 Organization (FAO) said today, 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.

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 cholera’s impact on food security and rural livelihoods.

Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO’s Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator in Haiti, stressed the importance of targeting farmers and other people who work in the fields with disease transmission mitigation measures.

According to FAO, radio stations broadcasting cholera sensitization 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.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Haiti: Ban appeals for more funds to fight cholera, sets up panel to probe its origins

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today appealed to the world for more funds to fight the cholera epidemic in Haiti that has already killed more than 2,400 people and infected nearly 110,000 others, 55,000 of whom had to be hospitalized.