A lifeline for Haitian farmers: a food aid program using locally sourced products  

Written by Rebecca Di Tucci


Purchasing and creating meals from locally grown food products[1]has become increasingly popular in restaurants and grocery stores around the U.S.  Advocates cite the food’s superior quality in comparison to products shipped hundreds of miles, as well as the additional benefit of helping support local farmers and producers. Although this is a relatively new trend in the US, developing nations with the potential for a strong agricultural sector have always relied on local farms to keep their economy stable.  When inexpensive food products from high-producing nations like the U.S. flood the markets of developing nations like Haiti, local farms cannot compete, resulting in more than just a loss of jobs and healthy, high-quality food.  A way of life is lost for families who have farmed the lush, steep hillsides of this country for generations, leaving prime farming country vulnerable to deforestation. For Haitians, the “local food movement” needs to be an imperative, not just a trendy way to preserve family farms and forestall suburban sprawl.

In January of 2108 alone, Haiti spent approximately $377 million on imported products.  A majority of that cost was attributed to rice, wheat, and other food staples.  Many developing nations spend a lot of money on imports when they would benefit economically from investing in agricultural expansion, further promoting self-sustainability. U.N. Humanitarian ChiefJohn Holmes stated, "A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have ... resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed."[2] In order for Haiti to become more self-sufficient and independent, it needs to increase local sourcing by growing the products that it imports most (Rice, Wheat and Chicken).” 

Natural disastersalso play a part in local farming and the ability to sustain populations solely based on locally sourced food.[3]A major issue local farmers face in Haiti is flooding and strong winds during hurricane season.  Haiti depends heavily on imports during these months. Preventative measures, including watershed protection, better irrigationsystems, and improved early warnings for farmers with exposed livestock, could potentially improve Haitian farmers’ resilience during natural disasters.  Lack of government funding for advancements in agriculture has left Haiti vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms, and ultimately reliant on US and other nations’ exports and food aid. 

A model for using locally sourced food as an alternative to imported food as a means of providing aid to food-insecure populations is the Farm to Forkprogram operated by the Haiti Goat Project in the Ouest Department of Haiti.. The Haiti Goat Project (HGP) is an agricultural development project founded by Dr. Charlotte Farin of North Carolina State University.  The HGP supports two major programs: Farm to Fork and Goat Genetic Improvement. Farm to Fork focuses on serving healthy lunches to Haitian elementary school students at risk of malnutrition using locally sourced meat and vegetables. The program’s main goals are focused on meeting the nutritional needs of growing schoolchildren without relying on imported products. The goal of the Goat Genetic Improvement program of the HGP, is to enhance the genetic background of native Haitian goats using innovative breeding practices that result in animals capable of better growth, better meat production, and greater value at market.  Farm to fork also purchases goats from smallholder farms scattered throughout the communities surrounding the schools where their program is implemented. 

Farin, a Ph.D animal scientist, worked with an American-trained Haitian chef to create a high protein and nutrient-rich chili recipe which provides 100% of the daily recommended amounts of protein, Vitamin A, and iron for children between the ages of 4 to 10 years.  The recipe uses lean cuts of goat meat and fresh cooked vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, spinach, carrots, and eggplant.  Beans and spices are also included to make the meal palatable to children who are familiar with the look and flavor of traditional Haitian dishes.  The chili is prepared under the supervision of a Haitian chef and delivered ready-to-eat to three different rural elementary schools on a weekly basis. The program has been able to increase the number of meals they deliver from 275 meals per month in 2014 to the current total of 2,700 meals per month.  They have plans to expand the Farm-to-Fork program into additional communities in Haiti.  Given the number of meals currently delivered and the future expansion plans, Farm-to-Fork promises to provide a stable market for local farm products.  Moreover, based on published literature, schoolchildren who are fed animal-source protein meals demonstrate better physical and intellectual development than children fed only plant-source protein meals [Hulett et. al., 2014. British Journal of Nutrition 111:875-886].  Farm-to-Fork seems to be a win-win proposition:  it sustains local farmers and improves the health and well-being of schoolchildren.

Farin’s future plans include having the Farm-to-Fork operation completely run by local residents as a self-sustaining enterprise. To accomplish this, she travels to Haiti frequently to work with farm personnel and consult with the food-preparation teams.  School lunch programs funded by churches and nonprofits are common in Haiti, and the Farm-to-Fork program seeks to extend this model by encouraging a redirection of funds away from importing grains and protein and towards locally-produced meat, beans, and vegetables. 

For developing nations, purchasing locally is of paramount importance. Farmers depend on their yield to feed their families, and any excess they can sell. That money is then used for expenses like clothing, schooling for their children, and housing. Many local farmers lose out on potential revenue due to high importation rates of food staples from the US and other developed nations.  In the worst case scenario, small farmers who are unable to compete with cheap imports are put out of business altogether.  Although Haiti and many developing countries alike are dependent on imports, it’s also critical that residents and nonprofits buy locally to expand economic opportunities within the communities in which they live and work. 





Empowering Women in Developing Nations

Written by Rebecca Di Tucci

According to the 2010 census, approximately 51% of the entire global population is female, yet women make up about 70% of the world’s poor. With population rising in developing nations, we need to look at how we can better empower women in rural agricultural enterprises. Women make up about 43% of the worlds agricultural labor force which includes more than just caring for livestock. Their daily duties also comprise of “producing agricultural crops, tending animals, processing and preparing food, working for wages in agricultural or other rural enterprises, collecting fuel and water, engaging in trade and marketing, caring for family members and maintaining their homes”. Investing in women in underdeveloped nations is crucial to the world economy as women make up approximately 40% of the world’s entire work force. Women’s empowerment and financial security translate directly to an improved living standard for many families in underdeveloped nations and that’s why Herd Heroes wants to invest in women in Haiti. 

As a country focused on rebuilding itself, Haiti needs to focus on empowering women to finish school and seek jobs. L’Azile, being a small rural city in Haiti, has very little opportunity for high paying jobs. Men often leave the community where jobs are scarce, or even the country, to find work to provide for their family. Women are often left to take over the agricultural work in the community and take care of their family.  Because of this, Herd Heroes plans to hire one women from L’Azile and train her to be a community animal health worker who will help the community improve the health and welfare of their livestock. This will provide a professional level job for a woman in L’Azile and also service the community. Our goal is to have this new hire become a role model for other women in the community who will in turn become successful livestock producers. 

It’s important to support women in the agricultural field, especially those from rural countries as they could drastically impact the food production level in developing nations. According to UN Women, “If women farmers had the same access to land, human capital and livestock as men, total agricultural output could increase by an estimated average of 4%”. With increased production, families would have more to eat, and would have to purchase less, ultimately stretching their wages. For a country that is still under reconstruction from its onslaught of natural disasters, it’s important for community members to come together to rebuild the economy through industries that inhabitants have already familiarized themselves with. It’s especially important to empower women to get an education and take on larger roles within the industry. 

There is a strong positive correlation between women’s continued education and a decrease of infant mortality rate. In fact, for every year that a woman continues education, the child mortality rate decreases by 9.5%.According to a study by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, educating women on prenatal care, basic hygiene, nutrition and immunization greatly assists in a lower infant mortality rate in developing nations. It has become evident that as women become more educated, they have less children.  Intrinsically, the chance of survival for those children increase drastically as there are more resources allocated to fewer children. Having fewer children also allows women to focus on their career, which in the agricultural industry, result in an increased standard of living for farmers and an increased supply of healthy food for the general population.

In order to promote women’s empowerment, Herd Heroes is partnering with Veterinarians International to provide work for a woman in Haiti which will promote future expansion of women in leadership. Veterinarians International’smission is “to enhance the health of humans, animals, and the environment through the use of sound veterinary care and expertise”. Much like Herd Heroes, Veterinarians International works to advance human health through livestock care and agricultural development. We hope that through this collaboration, both Herd Heroes and Veterinarians International can work on empowering women in developing nations, and better the agricultural community in L’Azile, Haiti. 

Shown in phpto: Watson Drouillard of Herd Heroes, and our top candidate for the community animal health worker position, Anese Francois. 

Shown in phpto: Watson Drouillard of Herd Heroes, and our top candidate for the community animal health worker position, Anese Francois. 

Agricultural Trends Leading to Genetic Engineering Research

Written by Rebecca Di Tucci

            Approximately 750 million people from low and middle-income countries rely heavily on the yield of their livestock for both income and dietary needs. But, an ongoing issue in these countries is that their livestock are not surviving harsh climates and are not yielding enough to make a decent profit. Researchers are trying to find ways to benefit these small-scale farmers through better access to veterinary care and improved animal genetics, with the goal of improving the yield of their livestock.

            Bill Gates, worth $92.8 billion and one of the most philanthropic men in the world, has donated $40 million to go into the research of crops that will withstand drought or disease as well as higher- yielding livestock and vaccines that will help keep these animals healthy.  When announcing this large donation, Gates stated: “If you care about the poor, you should care about agriculture. And if you care about agriculture, you care about livestock”.  The Gates Foundation believes that this research will eventually help move developing countries out of poverty as they sell their higher yielding livestock on the market, thus bringing in a more sustainable source of income to help take care of daily expenses and improve living standards.  The livestock that isn’t sold can be consumed and will provide nutrition for farmers and their families, and ultimately save them money since they wouldn’t have had to purchase the meat. Gates also shared, “For more than a billion-people living in the poorest countries, agriculture and livestock are a lifeline out of poverty”. In lower income countries, owning livestock is what separates you from the rest. That extra income puts kids through schools, which are primarily private and require some form of tuition payment. Thanks to the extra income provided by livestock, many doors will open for children who otherwise would not have had a chance to go to, or finish, school.

            At Herd Heroes, our goal is similar to that of The Gates Foundation and the research they are currently funding at The University of Edinburgh. We recently started construction on the Animal Health Field Station in L’Azile, Haiti. The Animal Health Field Station will be the focal point of veterinary care in L’Azile. It will be the first step down the road of providing exceptional veterinary care for livestock in Haiti. The field station will provide a safe haven for animals in need of protection from predators and inclement weather. This station will also have medicine and vaccines to promote the well-being of community livestock and protect public health by preventing diseases that can be transmitted to people. In addition to storing medications, emergency supplies, and supplemental feed for the animals, the Animal Health Field Station will also provide a location for services such as artificial insemination. The Field station will house a few animals that have favorable genetic traits. These animals will be used to better the gene pool and, ultimately, breed higher yielding livestock. This could greatly benefit small-scale farmers of L’Azile by providing an increased income or source of food.  We will use the Field Station as a base of operations to conduct assessments of herd health and public health issues, such as antimicrobial resistance.  Our philosophy, stated very simply, is consistent with that of The Gates Foundation:


Healthy, high-quality livestock = financial security for small farmers = thriving rural communities


Construction of the Animal Health Field Station

A few weeks ago we started the construction of the Animal Health Field Station where we will provide veterinary services to community livestock. We have made a lot of progress, and would like to share the beautiful pictures that were taken at the project site.  

Breaking Ground

This past weekend we broke ground on our Animal Health Field station in L’Azile, Haiti.  Our goal is to build an animal protection facility that is hurricane resistant and sustainable as one of the most common cause of the loss of live stock is due to hurricanes and other natural disasters such as flooding. The Animal Health Field station will be used primarily to treat animals within the community and also provide protection of vulnerable animals, from predators. Approximately, 25% of livestock do not survive after birth, and the care and protection provided by the field station could drastically decrease this statistic.

 In order to provide care to the community’s animals, the field station will have trained animal care professionals year-round when veterinarians and technicians are unavailable.  This is one of the distinguishable factors about our organization, Herd Heroes. At Herd Heroes, our goal is to train people to provide health care to their livestock so that the community becomes more self-sufficient and less dependent on the help of our organization.

The animal health field station will house valuable breeding animals which will provide the community with improved genetic livestock. On average, on the market, a goat in L’Azile sells for about $120. However, there bigger and healthier the animal, the more money they will get in return for selling it.  

To create a sustainable structure, Herd Heroes decided to add a water collection apparatus and use the animals manure for agricultural purposes. The rain water collection system will primarily be used to nourish the animals during veterinary procedures. It is an efficient and sustainable way to provide care to the animals without having to use the community’s resources. The animals manure will be collected and used as fertilizer for the community’s crops as a majority of the inhabitants in L’Azile depend on their crops to feed their families.

We are very excited to have started this project and strongly believe that our Animal Health Field Station will have a positive effect on the L’Azile community. The field station will provide protection, veterinary care, promising genetics and sustainable living though several initiatives and aspects built into the field station. 

Haiti: A Treasure On Earth

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Watson Douillard about his thoughts regarding President Trump's remarks and about Herd Heroes impact on the Haitian community. As an intellectual who pursued a college degree, Watson has had many opportunities to move to the United States and start a new. When asked why he stayed in Haiti he said, "70-80% of intellectuals decide to leave Haiti, but I want to be part of the change that contributes to the rebuilding of Haiti for the sake of future generations". Watson dedicates a lot of time to volunteer work to help improve his country. He teaches both English and Math in local schools, interprets and also teaches English on the radio with one of his good friends. Listeners call in and go though drills that help improve their language skills. Watson is passionate about helping his country and rebuilding it to be prosperous for the future generations to come. 

In addition to all of his volunteer work, Watson is the Herd Heroes project manager who is overseeing the construction of the Animal Health Field Station, in L'Azile,  which will house goats and other animals in times of need. This enclosure will be hurricane resistant and could save at least 10% of livestock by reducing the animals' exposure to inclement weather. It will also serve as a location to provide veterinary services for community animals. These animals provide income to the people of Haiti. When sold on the market, a healthy, strong, and mature goat can bring in about $120-$130.  Families often use this money to pay off their children's school tuitions as Haiti's school system is comprised primarily of private schools run by nuns.  

L'Azile is a locality in Haiti which has 4 primary schools. Once these kids move on from primary school, they have to walk 2 hours to attend high school. L'Azile also has very limited access to health care. The single health care center in the locality is run by another Boston non-profit organization called Circle of Hope. In cases of emergencies people need to be carried out on a stretcher until they reach a national road. In order to create a more efficient system, the people of Haiti need to develop a market in which they can sell their crops and livestock. As of now, most habitants grow what they need and sell the rest on the market, but once the market is flooded with crops and animals, their return yield ultimately decreases. In order to counteract this, Herd Heroes has partnered with another organization which will be buying goats from these farmers for a flat rate which will reduce the effect of excess supply on the market. 

 In addition to Watson's extracurricular activities, I asked about his thoughts on President Trump's recent comments, about Haiti in particular. Watson simply retorted that Trump's comment should be condemned but, also notes that the President does not speak for all Americans. He states, "Americans love people and they share the love and what they have with others". America and Haiti have always had a good relationship which has shown through all of the help from organizations and American based non-profits which have helped rebuild Haiti after natural disasters. To conclude the interview, Watson added, "Haiti is a treasure on Earth. Haiti is not a 'shit-hole'. The people here are so hospitable, the kids are loving and the country is beautiful".  Watson's passion and vision are our call to action. Watson and Herd Heroes are working to preserve Haiti's beauty, people and livestock by providing veterinary care to animals in need and teaching people to provide this care. 

Making data-driven decisions as a nonprofit

When I decided to take my volunteer veterinary work to the next level and start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, I heard a common caveat from a number of seasoned professionals in the nonprofit world:  many passionate, mission-driven charities often get so caught up in what they want to accomplish that they neglect to ask the people they serve what they need or want.  To be successful, our nonprofit, Herd Heroes, must align its mission and objectives with the aspirations of the Haitian farmers we hope to help and the facts on the ground in Haiti. 

During each trip to Haiti, we hold town hall-style community meetings with farmers in an effort to understand what obstacles they face in raising and selling livestock for a living.   We’ve been able to tailor our treatment protocols and animal health worker training sessions to address these obstacles.  For example, we trained them on protocols to treat weak neonatal animals and support them until they are strong enough to nurse from their dam.  Nevertheless, this year it became clear that we needed to conduct a community survey to truly understand the issues limiting the farmers’ production capacity and generate some metrics on the goat population.  We hired a team to survey 50 rural smallholder farmers in L’Azile, Haiti.  We generated a tremendous amount of valuable information from the survey, and this will help us to make data-driven decisions about where to focus our future efforts and where to direct our funds.

One surprising finding was that the farmers reported an average of nearly one “found dead” goat kid per year, which is an unacceptable rate of animal loss for smallholder farmers.  Clearly, we need to boost our efforts to address neonatal deaths through training in husbandry and veterinary care.  We can’t be there for every birth, so we need to give them the tools to solve this problem.

We were also surprised to learn that 37% of farmers reported losing animals to predators.  We can address this by making accommodations in the Animal Health Field Station for weak, sick, or neonatal animals which would be at risk of falling victim to predators.

We found that 20% of the farmers reported illness and poor fertility as obstacles to increasing their herd size.  We will enhance our efforts to make sure more animals are vaccinated and treated for common illnesses such as parasites.  Based on this information, we are planning to use the Animal Health Field Station to perform assisted reproduction techniques, such as artificial insemination from genetically improved sires, to improve fertility rates. 

Another interesting finding was that 25% of the farmers reported that their children were the primary caretakers for the goats.  It has never occurred to us before to hold a meeting with the young people in the community, but we need to include them in our plans if we are going to be successful at improving production in that 25% of farms. 

I believe this survey was a tremendous success, and it’s clear that we will need to conduct another one in a few years to assess our progress.  Face-to-face discussions definitely help to build trust and rapport with the farmers, but there is no substitute for hard data.




Watson Drouillard with the L'Azile community survey team, October 2017

Watson Drouillard with the L'Azile community survey team, October 2017

L'Azile survey team 2.jpg

Technology and the rural Haitian farmer

Many people who have travelled to remote locations in the developing world have marveled at the incongruous sound of a mobile phone in a place where most other modern amenities are lacking.  The reality is that mobile phones represent a life-changing technology for smallholder farmers in rural Haiti.

In rural communities with limited access to veterinarians, farmers can use mobile devices to communicate with veterinary specialists and share anything from images of sick animals to routine herd health monitoring data.  Veterinarians are able to integrate a knowledge of animal husbandry, veterinary medicine, and new technologies to provide guidance to farmers in real time, even if they are only able to examine the animals hands-on a couple of times per year.

Connectivity via mobile devices is often cited as one of the most transformative technologies in the lives of smallholder farmers in developing nations.   We have certainly observed this to be true in Haiti, and we are committed to using this tool to help improve livestock productivity in the herd in L’Azile.  65% of Haitians have access to mobile phones, and they frequently use internet based applications such as WhatsApp and Viber.  Using these applications, we can share records on important parameters related to herd health, and can ensure that performance standards are met in order to continuously improve the productivity and genetics of the herd. 

During our recent visit, we emphasized the importance of the fundamentals of our program to optimize productivity:  animal identification, performance standards, proactive approaches to disease, and selection of breeding stock.  Once local animal health workers are trained to obtain this information on a regular basis, it can be recorded in a database and transmitted to members of our team here in the U.S.  Between our in-person visits, we can monitor the herd and detect ongoing and emerging problems that can limit productivity, as well as continue to educate and advise on keeping the animals healthy.

  • Animal identification:  good record keeping depends on accurate identification of animals;  we accomplished this through ear tagging.
  • Performance standards:  we have identified a weight goal for all goats sold to the N.C. State Farm-to-Fork program of 35 kg.  Animal weights should be recorded on a monthly basis.  Several local animal health workers were trained on using the weight tape method for estimating weight.  Proper animal husbandry and monitoring for parasite infections are needed to meet this standard.  We trained the animal health workers on the FAMACHA system to monitor the animals for parasites.
  • Proactive approaches to disease:  healthy animals have better immune function in order to ward off many types of infections, so we emphasized the importance of a good preventative medicine program;  we also instituted a protocol for processing newborn goats to prevent certain diseases
  • Selection of breeding stock:  by maintaining meticulous breeding records, we can select for animals which produce robust, rapidly growing offspring, and preferably twins;  this will help improve herd productivity

Aid efforts gone awry: how well-intentioned aid programs hinder small businesses in Haiti

Goats tend to thrive in the lush, mountainous landscape of rural Haiti.  Nevertheless, many smallholder farmers there rarely eat goat meat, and goats are only sold at market to pay a large bill such as for medical services or school tuition.  Haiti seems well-positioned to take advantage of the strong market for goat meat in the Caribbean, yet they export virtually none. My first impression when visiting Haiti was:  why are more small farmers in rural Haiti not making a living by raising and selling goats for meat?  

There are numerous mission groups and non-governmental organizations that supply rural communities with animals.  In lieu of payment for the animals, they require the recipients to give one of the offspring to another community member.  The problem with this model is that rural Haitian farms are widely dispersed, and access to high-quality breeding stock or veterinary services for an emergency is difficult.  The timelines for producing additional offspring from the original gifted animal are long.  With this inefficient model, it can be years before the recipients realize any financial gain from the original gift. 

While these organizations produce admirable metrics for their donors on the number of animals distributed to poor families, their long-term success at improving the economic standing of these families appears lacking.  Rather than focusing on how to turn these farmers into small businesses by transferring knowledge of how to increase productivity and connect to viable markets, they simply focus on the number of animals they have given away.

In my opinion, a better approach to improving the living standards of rural Haitians is to help them capitalize on resources they already have:  land that is suitable for raising goats and knowledge of goat husbandry.  Guidance and assistance on how to turn this into a small business seems like a better use of donated resources than continuously distributing animals one at a time. 

I highly recommend the documentary "Poverty Inc." for a brilliant summary of how well-intentioned aid efforts have gone awry in countries such as Haiti.  See the trailer here.