The head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has helped kick off Haiti’s spring planting season, distributing seeds, fertilizer and tools to farmers in a village near the epicentre of January’s devastating earthquake. “Agriculture is the lifeblood of this country,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said at a ceremony yesterday in the village of Palmisse a Ven, which was also attended by Haiti’s Minister of Agriculture, Joanas Gue.The village is near Léogâne, the epicentre of the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck the small Caribbean nation on 12 January, killing an estimated 230,000 people and levelling much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and nearby towns. “We will continue to work with the Government so that you have jobs, so that you have income and so that you can provide food for yourselves, your families and for the rest of the country,” said Mr. Diouf, who is on a four-day visit to the country.Similar distributions ahead of the upcoming planting season are under way in other areas, and FAO plans to reach 180,000 smallholder farming families with 1,500 tons of seeds and fertilizers between March and June.The UN and the Haitian Government last month issued a $1.44 billion appeal to assist the country in the wake of the earthquake, with nearly $71 million earmarked for agricultural support. According to the revised appeal document, the earthquake has significantly increased the number of people in the country who are food insecure, which prior to the disaster was estimated to be some 1.8 million people, or nearly 20 per cent of the population. In 2008 civil unrest, high food prices, three hurricanes and one tropical storm depleted household incomes, displaced thousands and ravaged infrastructure.Mr. Diouf stressed that a significant increase in national food production, rural employment and reforestation are the keys to a greener, more productive Haiti. An agreement was signed during the visit to enable FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development to work together to increase food production, support the integration of displaced populations in rural areas and build a revitalized, sustainable Haitian agriculture sector.In addition, the Director-General and Mr. Gue visited the site of a cash-for-work programme to repair irrigation canals damaged by the earthquake. Mr. Diouf also planted fruit trees with young people in the community of Croix-des-Bouquets, outside Port-au-Prince. “Young people are the future, but trees are also the future, because it’s trees that over the long term will transform this mother Earth, provide jobs, provide nutritious food for the population, make possible the economic development of the country,” he told several hundred youths. Mr. Diouf pledged FAO’s support to the Government’s campaign to plant 10 million trees – one tree for every Haitian. Last week the agency announced the launch of its “Fruit trees for Haiti” initiative to raise funds for fruit trees in school gardens and to build awareness of the role of trees in protecting the environment and reducing risks from hurricanes, flooding and erosion. 15 March 2010The head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has helped kick off Haiti’s spring planting season, distributing seeds, fertilizer and tools to farmers in a village near the epicentre of January’s devastating earthquake.