“PAPAYE, Haiti — For months after the earthquake that struck the capital, Manel Laurore pulled shattered bodies from his neighbors’ homes, hunkered in fetid refugee camps and scrounged for food and water.
“I will never go back to Port-au-Prince,” said Mr. Laurore, 32, a former shopkeeper who was sifting soil to plant a tomato garden, referring to the capital. “It left a strong pain inside. Here the work is hard, but you live in total peace.”
His work, on a 15-acre cooperative farm in Papaye, represents a small but promising success for an ambitious program being promoted by aid workers, government officials and international donors: saving the country by developing the countryside.
When the earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, planners and visionaries here and abroad looked past the rubble and saw an opportunity to fix the structural problems that have kept Haiti stuck in poverty and instability. An idea that won early support was to shrink the overcrowded, underemployed, violence-ridden capital and revive the desiccated, disused farmland that had long been unable to feed the country.
“Decentralization is a critical cornerstone supporting my vision for a new Haiti,” President Michel Martelly told potential investors last month. “We want to strengthen and empower our rural communities and create new ones.”
But the vision has run up against Haitian reality: myriad economic and infrastructure deficiencies, the lack of credible opportunity in rural areas and the fading of international interest and funds.
Reviving rural Haiti would wean the country off an overreliance on imported food while creating jobs in the countryside, helping to discourage mass migration to urban sinkholes like Port-au-Prince. Before the quake, nearly a quarter of the population lived in the capital, where two-thirds of the labor force had no formal jobs and overcrowding was considered a major contributor to the quake’s estimated death toll of 300,000….”