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Food security through distributed hydroponics

Using simplified,family scale,hydroponic farming systems as leverage we will end food insecurity in Haiti.

Photo of Bill Heiden
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Levo International,Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Levo operates independently, but has multiple partnerships with universities (Yale, UConn, Ohio State) and established community organizations in-country.

Website of Legally Registered Entity


How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Bloomfield, CT

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The country of Haiti, the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, consisting of approximately 17,000 square km.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Levo International has been developing its solutions in the country of Haiti for three years. It was the target of our founder's Eagle Scout project, because it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. When he, his father and older brother visited the country for the first time in 2016, they all agreed that they must do all they could to help advance food security there and our primary motivation remains the alleviation of Haiti's poverty. While the technology itself will be valuable in most any country or environment, the specific form that technology takes was designed with consideration to how it would be adopted in Haiti. Though the initial leadership of the organization was American, since Levo's founding in 2017, the team has intentionally grown to include members born and raised in the country who are equally committed ending hunger throughout Haiti. Every step of the way, Levo has been encouraged and supported by people from the effected communities who are willing and able to invest their own time in providing solutions for their neighbors. Levo expects that the solutions provided in Haiti will serve as templates for other regions, in part because it is choosing to test our offerings in difficult environments. At the same time, Haiti's proximity to the United States allows us to leverage partnerships developed with professionals, academics, and organizations we have established in America.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Levo is founded on the knowledge that laziness can't live in Haiti.  Our efforts recognize that the people of Haiti, have to work from sun up to sun down every day to survive.  It is remarkable to most "westerners" who visit to see this thorough commitment to work, side by side with a ready and earnest willingness to share.  An underappreciated aspect of Haitian culture, arising in part from its heritage having thrown off slavery, is the independence that pervades it.  If they must choose, Haitians generally will choose freedom over economic prosperity.  This desire to avoid domination from "above" has thoroughly integrated with it a "there is always room for one more attitude."  It maintains a cultural requirement to assist neighbors.

Haiti is desperately poor, but still a beautiful, mountainous, Caribbean environment is visible beside the poverty.  There is one major city (Port au Prince) in which approximately 2.5 million of the nearly 11 million Haitians live.  There is little physical infrastructure in rural regions where the majority of the population lives.  Homes are mud and stick, or if fortunate cinder block, construction.  Small animals (chickens, goats, pigs) scavenge widely across the landscape.  The smell of charcoal being produced is often in the air, along with the smoke.  There is little running water, and almost no electricity.  Waste management is unavailable, so what trash is not burned (adding to the smells) is left on roadsides.  

Informal estimates suggest that more than 80 percent of Haitians support themselves with some form of entrepreneurship.  The open air markets that come together about once a week, sell everything residents need.  The markets are cacophonies of sights and smells, where enterprising individuals break up retail packages of things like bullion cubes, and sell individual pieces.  The most disturbing product for sale is mud cookies.  These are dried river mud, which are fed to children and pregnant women) to take the painful edge off hunger.

Agriculture is an important profession in Haiti, but the soil has been severely degraded by deforestation and erosion.  The agricultural markets have too been undermined by foreign governments and business.  Most agriculture is small scale, performed no mechanization.  Where soil is available to support it, the tropical environment can grow avocados, mangoes, bananas. coffee, and rice.  But the soil is generally so unyielding that millions in Haiti are food insecure.  Two thirds of children are anemic as a result of such poor food availability.

Nonetheless, they are a hopeful people with a "find a way" mindset and a commitment that "chak jou, essaye encore," every day, try again.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

As the planet continues to warm and precious resources, like water, become more and more scarce greater burdens will fall on the world's poorest.  In areas. like Haiti, where the environment already struggles to provide sufficient food, hunger will increase. Increasing hunger results in increases in children who cannot be properly prepared to survive on their own.

Haiti has developed a dependency on relief handouts.  With virtually no economic infrastructure, there is almost no opportunity for economic development.  Though there is a general belief in technology as the solution, technology itself cannot provide the basic foundations of life.  As such most of the technology that is deployed leads to greater and greater inequality.  

Haiti's government is in a nearly impossible position.  It has no economy to speak of, which means that any "top-down" solutions are ripe for corruption and inefficiency.  Benefits, no matter how well intended, do not "trickle-down" to those most in need.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Levo International's model recognizes that the environment, economics, technology, culture, and policy are inextricably intertwined and that any solution to have an impact on hunger must address all these aspects in an integrated manner. 

Levo's approach is to actually use food security as a leverage point to positively impact not only diet, but also culture, technology, economics, and eventually environment.  Our methods are innovative, from product to implementation. We have designed ultra-simple hydroponic farming methods (HFM) which can operate with no required infrastructure.  Our HFM are family scale, which can be scaled up (rather than attempting to distribute benefits down).  Because of the innovations in design, the results begin to be realize almost immediately (within weeks).  By being agriculture centered these solutions provide opportunities for individuals to actually build wealth.  By being centered on individuals, the approach maximizes respect for decision-making by the people most affected.  By simplifying the technology, the solutions maximize the positive impact on labor.  Because of both the scale and the design, our HFM can be delivered to any environment and because hydroponics uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture, the development is sustainable.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Haiti has a culture that encourages hard work, independence, and sharing.  The population is dominated by entrepreneurism.  By innovating both the business model and the technology to be utilized, just a few years out Haiti will have a food stable population which is designing and executing its own future within the guidelines of its existing culture.  Levo's vision is that Haiti will be a net exporter of HFM technology within 5 years.  Because this development will be built from families up, the change will be sustainable and compounding.  Food stability will be a foundational driver of not only improved diet, but health more generally, and stable economics.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Levo starts with individuals.  Our approach centers on maximizing the individual's empowerment of how the approach is used.  Each person can operate their system with their own choice of crops, determining for themselves, whether crops are grown for family consumption, sale at market, or some combination.  While community support helps with spreading the technology and training of neighbors, individuals choose how the systems work for them.

This focus on the individuals drives effective policy that is embedded in the culture rather than imposed on it.  It uses innovation to improve diet and the environment at the same time.  The sustainability of the system starts with environmental sustainability and leads to economic sustainability.

With financial support and good partnership, food insecurity in Haiti can be ended in less than 5 years and these methods can be replicated across the globe.  As we end food insecurity we improve economics at the same time.  The farming methods create wealth and produce multipliers immediately.  The question is not whether we can end hunger, the question is only how fast and far will this solution scale. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Bill Heiden one additional comment about your submission—I see you have selected Haiti as the place of your vision. Please ensure the continent you have selected is Africa and corresponds to to Haiti instead of North America, where you are located.

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