The rice harvest in northwestern Haiti is likely to suffer over widespread fear among farmers about cholera contamination, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization announced this week.

Haiti’s cholera outbreak, which has sickened almost 150,000 and killed almost 3,000, was magnified by the November floods caused

by hurricane Tomas, which damaged up to 200,000 acres of crops, causing the disease to spread via water and cause a sanitary crisis for over 50,000 rural families.

“Many farmers are avoiding the harvest, fearing that the water in the rivers and canals that irrigate their paddies and other fields might be infected,” said FAO Wednesday.  “There are also reports of consumers being unwilling to purchase produce from regions directly affected by the cholera outbreak which will further impact agricultural commerce in the area.  An FAO assessment team recently noted that some of the deaths in rural areas are not recorded by the authorities and many cases probably result from farming families not having access to the right information.”

FAO is working with Haitian public health and agriculture authorities and the relevant UN agencies to provide farmers with information on precautions to take while working in the fields.

Etienne Peterschmitt, Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for FAO in Haiti, said it is extremely important that disease transmission mitigation measures specifically target farm communities, especially farm workers.  A recent FAO report found that radio stations used by emergency agencies to transmit public health messages don’t reach some remote, rural areas.

“More sensitization designed to target rural low-income communities needs to be done in person through hands-on training and outreach,” according to FAO. “Without a timely response to the damage caused by floods and cholera to Haitian agriculture, food security could plunge, worsening the effects of last January’s earthquake on the poor rural population.”