Plumpynut, a peanut based paste, has revolutionalized the way in which severely malnourished children around the world are treated. Many young lives have been saved as a result. There is now increasing attention on how Plumpynut variants can prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place. In Haiti, both Meds and Food for Kids (MFK) and Partners in Health (PIH) produce products similar to Plumpynut. In the below New York Times article, Andrew Rice describes the promise, politics, and profitability of Plumpynut. Considering the negative impact that malnutrition has on the health and cognitive development of children in Haiti, it is well worth a read.
The food crisis has caused a lot of organizations to reevaluate their approach to food assistance. Moving further away from providing only short-term relief and investing in long-term agricultural development. Heifer International has been confronting hunger in more than 50 countries over the past 64 years, including Haiti. They adopted an innovative approach of "Passing on a Gift"-give an animal to a local family and they pass on the offspring to other families. Their projects in Haiti are definitely worth sharing.
Disagreements among parliamentarians and political parties over who will serve in the new government have prevented Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis from presenting a new Cabinet and policy priorities (one of which is food security) on Tuesday as scheduled. As politicians bicker, the people struggle. The Miami Herald notes that school starts on September 1st and the fees will be out of reach for many. According to the USAID Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET), food security conditions are likely to deteroriate beginning in October due to the high prices of staple food crops, hurricanes, civil unrest, and high transportation costs. Having been four months without a functional government, it is long past time to make a deal and get to work.
After four months of debate, the Haitian Senate finally ratified a Prime Minister. Michèle Pierre-Louis becomes only the second female in Haitian history to hold the post. This delay has had a high cost in the form of delayed infrastructure projects, delayed trade deals, and underminded confidence as to whether the country is ready to open a new chapter on governance. The Miami Herald notes under Haiti's constitution, Pierre-Louis must next present a governance plan and cabinet selections to parliament. We hope food security features prominently in the proposed plan - her tenure will largely be evaluated on whether she can accomplish the delicate balancing act of putting in place short term measures while working on long term solutions.
Malnutrition is a major problem throughout the developing world including Haiti. It saps the immune system, making it easier to get sick with and die from an infectious disease. It slows cognitive development reducing the contributions a person can make to his or her country. After years of business as usual, there have been several very promising developments such as the Ready to Use Therapeutic Food called Plumpynut. There is another important intervention called Sprinkles - a easy to use nutritional supplement that has proven effective in Haiti and elsewhere.
The big news over the past week was that Ericq Pierre, Preval's selection for Prime Minister, did not make it through the nomination process. According to a release by Pierre, he was unwilling to promise positions and favors in exchange for political support. Some have hailed him for his integrity while others have criticized him for not knowing how to "play the game." To any extent, no Prime Minister means no functional government and thus no new policies. Donors, international and non governmental organizations and a financially stretched Diaspora continue to do what they can to help. Below is a summary of other items of interest concerning food security.
Below is an update concerning food security in Haiti. First though, I read an interesting article in the Miami Herald about the critical role of coordination in Haiti relief efforts. In fact, it notes that an uncoordinated flow of aid can cause harm, particular in a setting like Haiti where food is plentiful on store shelves but most people can't afford it because of high unemployment and global price hikes. The best way to help Haiti right now is to contribute to both the organizations that can make a difference now and those that can help Haiti become self-reliant over the long-term.
Copied below is a brief article in the Boston Globe written by Dr. Joia Mukherjee and Donna Barry, both of whom work for the Institute for Health and Social Justice at Partners In Health. Though short, the article cuts through many of the cliches we've seen so far on hunger in Haiti. The piece covers the long term historical reasons for food security, which is by no means new. It also notes how food "assistance" can cause more harm than good and the burden of Haiti's debt on this struggling, young democracy. With minimal tourism or industry, Haiti need its agricultural sector more than ever. But will developed countries let Haiti compete? A level playing field would be more important than any hand out for Haiti's long term development.
With an Agronomist for a President and now an Economist for a Prime Minster, we hope that the Haitian government will address the food crisis head on. The Government will need to articulate short term measures and a long term plan to the Haitian public, to donors, and the international community. Preval has spent a great deal of time talking about national production - but this will not be possible without halting and reversing envrinmental degradation. Fortunately, Haiti continues to draw support from major donors. This will allow the government some time to establish new policies and programs.
In response to queries from readers, the first "How Can I Help" blog was devoted to volunteering. With increasing food insecurity in Haiti, we have received many inquiries from caring people who want to do their part to improve the situation. Many have offered to hold food drives - but Haiti is in this situation because it does not grow enough food and has depended on importation for far too long. Your support will go farther if, instead of sending food, you make a contribution to an organization that is already on the ground in Haiti. Below are organizations that are fighting hunger in Haiti and are reputable and effective. With your support, they can reach more people.