In Haiti, mango trees can benefit health, economy and communities

In rural Haiti, mangoes can have far more than economic benefits. They represent better health, a means to improve family well-being and a way to reverse deforestation, says Gergens Polynice, a fellow in Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Gergens is among a trio of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers who received a seed grant from the UW-Madison Global Health Institute to look at how to encourage increased mango production among small farmers.

UW-Madison researcher Gergens Polynice, right, and his research assistants interviewed about 800 mango farmers to determine how to encourage families to plant more trees.

“While providing health care and medications are very important to global health issues, empowering communities through the creation of economic activities is critical in preventing poverty-born diseases,” Polynice says. As work on the project comes to a close, investigators discovered farmers encouraging each other to plant mangoes and subsidies that cover post-harvest expenses and reduce price fluctuations provide incentives to plant trees that benefit families and communities.

“Haiti has great potential to increase the value and volume of its mango production and to expand its portfolio of economic opportunities,” Polynice says.

Polynice, who was born in Fond-Parisien and raised in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, discussed the project recently with GHI.

Why did you develop this project?

This project came up mainly after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when there was a lot of interest from people and companies who wanted to help Haiti and give whatever they could. I was looking at what other values people could emphasize to help producers and, ultimately, help the country that faces high poverty rates and limited access to education, health, housing and other basic services.

This study focused on small-scale farmers and how to build the capacity of local communities to take advantage of their mango crops.

Why mangoes?

One of the best paths to reducing poverty in Haiti has nothing to do with finding gold, diamonds, oil or foreign aid, but rather can be found in creating economic activities and jobs in rural communities.

Mango consumption is increasing in developed countries, and Haiti is one of the main producers of mangoes for the U.S. market. Haiti exports a minimal quantity compared to its total production.  However its export volume is of very high value.

What did your project entail?

The project is about trying to predict the pattern of mango production based on price and based on the social network of the producers. I went to Haiti and interviewed about 800 producers. We gathered data in the field and analyzed it through predictive analytics and economic models.

We tried to predict how price increases would affect mango production and how that would affect land that people would make available to plant mangos and, in return, how the whole thing will affect the people’s livelihoods.

What are the economic benefits of increasing small farmers’ mango production?

From the producer standpoint, mango production requires only a few trees on a farm or in a backyard. The economic opportunity is widespread as opposed to concentrating production in the hands of one large farmer. From an economic standpoint, it makes sense that small producers will be in control if the mango price and the actual production increase.

What other benefits do you see?

  • Mangoes are a vital fruit for human nutrition.
  • Planting fruit trees will help reverse the effects of massive deforestation and help protect the soil.
  • Encouraging mango production among small farmers will reduce poverty, strengthen communities and increase family incomes Reducing poverty will strengthen communities.

What did you find?

Haiti_Mango in Madison
Mango consumption continues to increase in developed countries, and mangos from Haiti are high quality. They are popular at U.S. markets, including Brennan’s Market in Madison, Wisconsin.

I found that, basically, social networks significantly impact the production of mangoes. When the price increases, folks tend to plant more but, on top of that, coupling the price with actual networking encourages production. It’s kind of like having a farmers’ organization, where helping each other is an incentive for them to plant more.

What else would you like us to know?

The mango is a small little piece of the pie when it comes to development in Haiti. However, if we want to have a quick economic impact  ̶  if the small producers receive the higher value for their mango and cut the middle man out  ̶  then you will see more trees  and more economic value. It’s something that’s doable. Providing incentives for planting mangos or any fruit tree for that matter could result in a lot more trees and economic value for small farmers.

GHI awarded the seed grants to help investigators like you address the multi-faceted root causes of health and disease. How did the seed grant impact your project?

The seed grant helped pay tuition expenses and hire three research assistants, one from UW-Madison and two from Haiti.

What happens next?

I am preparing two articles for publication that explore the data in specific detailed predictions on the effects of price, land availability and social network on production.