arable land: 20%
permanent crops: 13%
permanent pastures: 18%
and woodland: 5%
Agriculture continued to be the mainstay of the economy in the late 1980s; it employed approximately 66 percent of the
labor force and accounted for about 35 percent of GDP and for 24 percent of exports in 1987. The role of agriculture in the
economy has declined severely since the 1950s, when the sector employed 80 percent of the labor force, represented 50 percent
of GDP, and contributed 90 percent of exports. Many factors have contributed to this decline. Some of the major ones included
the continuing fragmentation of landholdings, low levels of agricultural technology, migration out of rural areas, insecure
land tenure, a lack of capital investment, high commodity taxes, the low productivity of undernourished farmers, animal and
plant diseases, and inadequate infrastructure. Neither the government nor the private sector invested much in rural ventures;
in FY 1989 only 5 percent of the national budget went to the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Rural Development
(Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Resources Naturelles et du Développement Rural--MARNDR). As Haiti entered the 1990s, however,
the main challenge to agriculture was not economic, but ecological. Extreme deforestation, soil erosion, droughts, flooding,
and the ravages of other natural disasters had all led to a critical environmental situation.
Land Tenure and Land Policy
The three major forms of land tenancy in Haiti were ownership, renting and sharecropping. Smallholders typically
acquired their land through pruchase, inheritance, or a claim of long-term use. Many farmers also rented land temorarily
from the state, absentee landlords, local owners or relatives.
Because of its rough and mountainous terrain, Haiti has only a small amount of cultivable land. According to surveys
by the US Deptartment of Agriculture in the early 1980's, 11.3% of the land was highly suitable for crops, while 31.7% was
suitable, with restrictions related to erosion, topography or conservation. Farmers in Haiti use traditional farming
practices, using natural fertilizers such as manure, mulch and bat guano. Chemical fertilizers are used mostly
by the large landowners. Most farmers also use small hand tools such as a machete-like tool called the serpette,
hoes and digging sticks.
Types of Crops
Food crops include corn, sorghum, rice, mangoes, citrus fruit, avocados, pineapples, watermelons, almonds, coconut, okra,
peanutes, tomatoes, breakfruite and mamey (tropical apricot). Haitian farmers also grow a variety of spices for food,
medicine and other purposes, including thyme, anise, marjoram, absinthe, oregano, black perpper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmet,
garlic and horseradish.
Coffee was the leading agricultural export during the 1980's. The French introduced coffee to Haiti in 1726 and
production increased steadily until Haiti's independence. More than 1 million Haitians participate in the coffee industry
as growers, marketers and exporters.
Sugar is another cash crop with a long history in Haiti. Columbus brought sugarcane to Haiti on his second voyage
to Hispaniola. Sugar became the colony's more important cash crop and is raised mainly by peasant farmers. With
changes in the sugar industry, total exports dropped, causing four sugar mills to close.
Cacao, sisal, essential oils and cotton are other signifcant cash crops. The Mennonite missionaries played a role
in growing the cocoa industry.