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The 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 left 1 million people homeless, raised poverty levels, and heightened health care concerns with a Cholera outbreak that soon followed. In spite of the challenges and misconceptions this country faces each day, Robert Spencer, an urban regional specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, can attest to Haiti’s beauty and allure, as well as the willingness of the people to improve their quality of life by adopting food safety and meat quality standards from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), United States Department of Agriculture.
During the past five years, Spencer has volunteered his expertise in Haiti through Partners of Americas’ Farmer to Farmer Program sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). While in Haiti, Spencer works with Makouti Agro Enterprises, a farmer’s cooperative, whose members offer a variety of products, including rabbit meat, honey, jelly, coffee and cocoa.
“They have some of the most wonderful tasting coffee and honey of various flavors such as coffee nd other tropical fruits,” Spencer says.
The products of Makouti Agro Enterprises are in high demand, and with Spencer’s help, the company learned how meat quality and food safety can give them a marketing advantage over other meat product competitors. Meat rabbit production continues to gain popularity in Haiti. Makouti has more than 750 rabbit producers throughout the country alone. Meat rabbit production is a practical enterprise for limited-resource farmers because it is a small-scale operation that can easily feed large populations.
In February, Spencer met with Makouti leaders to determine their current issues and concerns and visited local farms and markets in Cap Haitien, Lory, Port aux Prince, Les Cayes, Aquin and Passe Bois d’Orme. He also facilitated five workshops for approximately 120 participants on processing rabbits, zoonotic and biologic diseases relevant to food safety, and consumer options for purchasing and consuming meat based on best management practices from the FSIS.
While the Extension specialist does not speak much Creole, a Haitian language with a variation of French, there is always a translator on hand to interpret the material and to answer questions from the audience. Issues such as meat quality and food safety are important because many of the people do not own refrigerators, ovens or vehicles, and do not have a reliable supply of electricity. Those without ovens and electricity cook over charcoal fires unless they have access to propane or liquid gas. Some buy and consume bad meat at local markets because it is inexpensive. Spencer was able to teach them alternative meat quality and food safety options.
The Alabama Farmers Cooperative donated T-shirts and caps for door prizes during the seminars. Spencer’s farm also donated bars of soap and lip balm made from goat’s milk.
Spencer enjoys the allure and charm of the people, gets a little sad when he has to leave, but looks forward to returning to Haiti each year.
To learn more about Partners of Americas, visit http://www.partners.net and take time to read and comment on their blog that details other volunteer experiences around the world.
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