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FEATURE STORY

Agriculture in Haiti: a Quiet Revolution Under the Cloud

March 8, 2013


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David Edson

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 hit directly the Ministry of Agriculture’s infrastructure and information was destroyed.
  • The challenge was to make the knowledge management system more resilient to natural disasters, but also more efficient and transparent.
  • With the support of the World Bank, the solution was found in the cloud - a way to store, share, and process data through the internet.

To go from Les Cayes, in Southern Haiti, to Port-au-Prince, a mango travels 190 kilometers of bumpy roads in the back of a truck.

Until not long ago, if a Ministry of Agriculture employee in Port-au-Prince wanted to know the figures of mango production in Les Cayes, he or she had no choice but to do the trip under the same conditions as the shaken mangoes above.

The number of Ministry’s staff using e-mail was low, the lack of a reliable landline phones forced staff to use their personal cell phones.

Furthermore, there were no communication networks between the Ministry's central administration in Port-au-Prince and its regional offices in the 10 Haitian departments.

“The information was in hardcopies, on people’s heads or sitting on someone’s laptop. You would need to talk to people to find out information about productive areas, for instance,” explains Diego Arias, a World Bank Agriculture specialist.

The Earthquake

The situation was less than ideal for the Ministry in charge of overseeing the activity that generates a quarter of the country’s GDP and half of the employment.

And then, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing over 200,000 people, and hitting directly the Ministry of Agriculture’s infrastructure.

Staffs were killed. Paper-based registries, existing information systems and official documents were destroyed. The Ministry’s capacity to lead the much needed economic recovery was diminished.


" The information was in hardcopies, on people’s heads or sitting on someone’s laptop. You would need to talk to people to find out information about productive areas, for instance "

Diego Arias

World Bank Agriculture specialist

As the need to reconstruct the memory of Haiti’s agriculture had become critical, Haitian officials and World Bank staff partnered to devise a way to strengthen the knowledge management system in Haiti.

The challenge was to make it more resilient to future natural disasters and crises, but also more efficient, transparent and responsive to the needs of both farmers and the Government.

The Cloud

With the help and financial support of the World Bank, the solution was found in the cloud. Simply put, the cloud is a way to store, share, and process data through the internet. Thanks to it, agriculture knowledge management in Haiti is undergoing a quiet revolution.

The Bank facilitated an agreement between the Government of Haiti and software company Google, which allowed the Ministry of Agriculture to use their apps for free.

As the World Bank’s project manager, Arias recalls that security and proprietorship were top concerns on the negotiation table.  "If one day the Government decides to cancel the agreement with Google, the Ministry will receive CD's with all the database stored in the cloud," he said.

The project also included the installation of a wi-fi network for the Ministry, construction of infrastructure and purchase of hardware.

Under the cloud, the Ministry’s personnel can work on and access documents using cellphones or computers wherever they are, even in remote rural areas. 

They also have access to official e-mail, can work simultaneously on documents with colleagues and join videoconferences, among other tasks. Information can be easily shared between the Ministry’s central and regional offices.

“With this new system all the Ministry of Agriculture’s information can be protected, can be used, can be shared, even during times of crises,” said Nicolas Weber, Senior Consultant on information and communication technology for the Agriculture and Rural Development Unit of the Latin America and the Caribbean region of the World Bank.



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