Haiti Food Security Update (8/25/2009)

By Bryan Schaaf on Tuesday, August 25, 2009.

Here's the good news - the first hurricane of 2009 passed on by.  The bad news is that we've got a long way to go until hurricane season is over.  The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that there will be seven to eleven named storms in the Atlantic before the end of November, with the potential for three to six hurricanes.  As we saw last year, tropical storms can wreck havoc on both crops and infrastructure.  Humanitarian responders are gearing up. 

 

If Haiti is hit by one or more tropical storms this season, the World Food Programme (WFP) will be responsible for leading emergency food assistance.  In addition to the food required for ongoing operations, 5,700 metric tons of food have been set aside for disaster relief – enough to supply 500,000 people with a one-month ration.  WFP has also stockpiled special, highly nutritious food for 35,000 children and pregnant and lactating women.  If there is widespread flooding, roads may be impassable.  For that reason, WFP is preparing for the worst case scenarios by dispersing high-energy biscuits (they don’t require cooking) throughout the country.

 

In addition to food, WFP would also be responsible for coordinating the logistics of humanitarian response.  WFP is in the process of stationing a fleet of 63 six-wheel-drive, 'go-anywhere' trucks throughout Haiti.  These trucks are available to other responders.  In addition to food, they can help get staff to where they need to be and deliver non-food items.  If the trucks can’t get there, WFP will resort to helicopters in order to get assistance to remote locations or areas where the road network has been disrupted.

 

Loss of lives, crop, and infrastructure in disasters is not inevitable.  The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate capacity building and to develop strategies for mitigating the impact of natural disasters.  In addition to Haiti, 18 other Caribbean governments are participating:  Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda, Cayman Islands,the British Virgin Islands, Guyana, and Montserrat.

 

When Haiti has been affected by disasters and/or emergencies in the past, there has often been a familiar pattern.  Donors pay attention to Haiti for a while, make pledges which may or may not become commitments, and ultimately become distracted by crises elsewhere.  Times may be changing.  According to Jean Claude Fignole, director of ActionAid Haiti, "International aid cooperation has actually not decreased to Haiti this year…In fact a slight, marginal increase to 50 billion gourdes (approximately US$1.25 billion) is projected for the 2010 budget.”

 

Fignole attributed the international attention largely to the naming of former US President Bill Clinton as UN special envoy to Haiti.  If Bill can ensure that the $324 million in pledges made at the Haiti Donors Conference translate into actual commitments, he will have done Haiti an enormous service.  This is especially important as remittances from Haitians abroad (20% of Haiti's GDP) have slowed since last year as a result of the global financial crisis.

 

Overall, Haiti has made progress on food security in Haiti. According to Haitian government figures, agricultural production rose by 25 per cent in the 2008 spring planting season compared to 2009. The number of food insecure people fell from 2.4 million in April 2008 to 1.9 million in June 2009.  FAO experts said NGO, government and UN schemes to rehabilitate the country's irrigation channels and roads following last year’s flooding have also helped to increase agricultural production. But even if we make it through the hurricane season without a single hurricane strike, the food security situation is still quite serious.  In a country with so much potential two million hungry, is not acceptable.

 

Jonathan Katz of the Miami Herald notes that the most vulnerable live in remote villages like Mabriyole, a collection of shacks in the Baie d'Orange region.  Baie d’Orange received a lot of press about the extent of malnutriton there – but by no means is this the only community where food insecurity is a major issue.  According to  WFP,  there are many places throughout the country in a similar situation and all of them are vulnerable.

 

Katz also writes that in Mabriyole, the harvest of beans, corn and sweet potatoes is coming soon.  WFP stopped distributing food here in June to avoid undercutting local farmers, though food-for-work programs and distributions at summer camps have continued elsewhere in the country.  The country needs networks of people who can monitor areas like Baie d'Orange and Mabriyole for signs of crisis to prevent deadly delays like last year's.  He laments there is nothing like that in place.

 

Charles Arthur, director of the Haiti Support Group, believes now is the time for the Haitian government to implement "a concerted program to assist local farmers to produce more food for the domestic market.  In other words, helping Haitians to feed themselves.  In emergencies, people often ask where they should send canned goods, which is good-hearted but highly ineffective.  The United States and other donors do something similar by sending food assistance in the form of excess agricultural commodities, a donor’s version of canned goods.

 

On that note, the new Ambassador of the United States to Haiti, Ambassador Kenneth H. Merten, arrived in Port-au-Prince on August 24, 2009.  He said, "Relations between Haiti and the United States should be based on three ideas: respect, partnership and responsibility…This means the United States should always fulfill commitments we have made to Haiti.  It also means the Haitian Government must do all it can to meet its own goals of development and good governance.”  Amen.

 

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is takng steps to help Haitian farmers acquire the seeds and equipment they need to produce their own food.  For example, FAO recently launched a $10.2 million scheme to distribute and multiply seeds in Haiti.  Requested by the Haitian government, financed by a loan from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by FAO, the program was introduced to combat high food prices.  About 250,000 farmers will receive adapted quality seeds.

 

Apart from beans, a Haitian staple crop, the project includes maize and sorghum as well as cassava, sweet potato and banana plants.  The farmers are also to receive basic tools and advice or training via written materials and  radio broadcasts on best cultivation techniques.  The program initially covers three planting seasons in Haiti - winter 2008 and spring and summer 2009 - and has seed multiplication partners in all of the country's 10 administrative departments, ranging from farmers associations in hard-to-reach rural areas to a handful of larger agro-businesses.

 

According to the UK Guardian, Haitian government officials have launched an intense push to avoid the worst of the coming storms.  Town and village councils in the southern Nippes region have drawn up evacuation plans and alarm systems.  Sadly, most of the town defense teams do not even have radios, let alone cars, to move people to higher ground.  The Guardian notes that a third of Gonaives, even now, is in ruins.  Gary Dupiton, the town engineer, thinks it will take five years to restore the town completely, provided it does not flood again...a big if indeed.  Dupiton has spent the last few months overseeing a project to widen the La Quinte river, the biggest of several in the area, so that it does not flood again.

 

You likely know Partners in Health (PIH) for their ground breaking work on HIV/AIDS, TB, and community health.  With their local partner, Zanmi Agrikole (Partners in Agriculture), PIH is also doing good work to improve agricultural productivity and reverse environmental damage.  Why is a health organization involved in environmental preservation?  PIH knows that the environmental degradation results in less food, less viable livelihoods, more malnutrition, and more disease.

 

PIH worked with a group of MIT students and professors to develop charcoal presses that can compact carbonized organic waste, including bagasse (the waste product that remains after sugar is extracted from the cane) and corn cobs, into charcoal briquettes.  They distributed fifty presses in Corporant and taught families how to make charcoal from farm waste.  At the community level, it made available an alternative fuel source and created income generation opportunities for the families.

 

PIH distributed more than 20,000 fruit tree saplings last year and educated communities about deforestation.  They also created composting latrines where none existed before, an inexpensive source of fertilizer.  SELF (the Solar Electric Light Fund) also installed solar panels in two clinics, both of which will eventually be powered entirely by solar energy.

 

Food for the Poor has built 24 fishing villages in Haiti over the past two years, providing them with coolers and freezers, locking storage sheds, fishing tackle and safety equipment.  Doing so cost about $60,000 per village.  In return, participating fishermen agreed to contribute a minimum of five percent of their catch to help feed others in their communities.

 

Oxfam is also working with Haitian farmers to plant avocado and mango trees, which prevent erosion while bringing in income.  They are also helping farmers to shore up ravines with hedges and sandbags.  Also, USAID began a $1.2 million training program to increase cocoa production in the Northern and Grand'Anse departments.  4,200 farmers will participate in the program, which will run through July 2010.

 

We'll continue to keep an eye on the food security situation in Haiti...and on hurricanes.

 

Thanks for reading.

Bryan

UNICEF Prepares for Hurricanes (Sept 9, 2009)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 8 September 2009 – Several tropical depressions have already formed in the Caribbean this summer, but Haiti is better prepared today than in 2008, when four major hurricanes slammed into the island. The colossal impact of those successive weather emergencies pushed the government and international aid agencies to their limits. About 800,000 people, including some 300,000 children, were displaced during last year’s hurricane season. Homes and crops were also destroyed.
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To prepare for the 2009 season, UNICEF and other UN agencies and partners have devised contingency plans to meet the needs of children and families at various levels of emergency. These plans were designed using evaluations of last year’s devastating storms. Gonaïves, Haiti’s third largest city, had not fully recovered from the flooding caused by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 when Hurricane Hannah struck in September 2008. UNICEF and its partners took the lead in restoring safe drinking water to the city’s 300,000 inhabitants after massive flooding destroyed the water supply system.
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“In terms of coverage, we started at zero,” said UNICEF Water and Sanitation Specialist Julien Kossi Atchade. “We’ve rehabilitated 400 wells and today provide approximately 25 litres of safe drinking water per person a day.” Meanwhile, emergency supplies have been positioned in key districts. And a network of partners has been set up to distribute the supplies, which range from tents to water purification tablets, hygiene kits, blankets, health kits, cooking sets and portable water systems.
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Emergency preparations also involve planning to help children deal with the emotional impact of such tragic experiences. A boy carrying a bucket of water, and accompanied by a girl, walks across a mud-choked street in the flood-damaged port city of Gonaives, Haiti. It was 2 a.m. on 7 September 2009 when Hurricane Ike – the fourth major storm to hit Haiti last year – made landfall in the Cabaret region north of Port-au-Prince. Entire households, animals and debris were swept away in the rushing waters.
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“The children here are still traumatized,” said Child Specialist Simon Sarcia of the Association of Volunteers in International Service, a UNICEF partner based in Italy. “They’re afraid of going to sleep after dark. They wake up screaming in the middle of the night.” Last year, UNICEF partners set to work in the worst-affected areas to provide psycho-social care for children. These efforts continue today, and trained volunteers are ready to mobilize psycho-social support and protection for any children that end up in shelters this year.
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The 2009 hurricanes struck right at the start of the school year. Nearly 1,000 schools were destroyed, affecting 200,000 school-aged children. In the aftermath, shelters had to double as schools. Today, specific sites are already identified to serve as potential temporary schools, and UNICEF education kits are ready to be distributed on short notice.
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Nutrition evaluation tools are also in place for early assessments on the immediate needs of infants and pregnant mothers.“All of us – the agencies, the government and all our partners – quickly assessed the needs and implemented the lessons learned from 2008,” said Mr. Kossi Atchade. “We have a coordinated response in place. Compared to last year, we’re better prepared.”

Trees Vital for Food Security (8/28/2009)

NAIROBI, 28 August 2009 (IRIN) - Countries tackling food insecurity and climate change adaptation can greatly benefit from agroforestry - integrating fleshy plants and trees into their farming systems, environmental specialists say.
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Sub-Saharan Africa has a history of food insecurity brought on by meagre rains, land degradation, declining soil fertility and bad management of resources, among other factors.
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"How do we, in a world of more than six billion people, rising to perhaps over nine billion, feed everyone while simultaneously securing the ecosystem services such as forests and wetlands that underpin agriculture, and indeed life itself in the first place?" Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), posited at the second World Congress on Agroforestry in Nairobi.
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"We can empower people - not to wait for others to do something for them – but to take the initiative, one tree at a time," Steiner said. "Trees are one of nature’s most ingenious answers to many of our problems."
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Agroforestry helps supply fodder, fruit and nuts as well as trees and shrubs that produce gums, resins and valuable medicines.

Steiner said agroforestry may have many roles to play in the new landscape of rewarding countries for their natural or nature-based services.
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"Firstly it offers the potential for maximizing sustainable food production in the zones surrounding natural forests while also boosting biodiversity and other ‘natural infrastructure’.
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"Secondly, it offers an opportunity for timber production and thus alternative livelihoods to meet perhaps a supply gap that may emerge under a fully-fledged REDD [Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation] regime.
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"Thirdly these agroforestry areas can also potentially secure flows from carbon finance in their own right."
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REDD is a strategy to help local communities conserve forests, including funding these efforts through governments and market-based mechanisms, such as trading the carbon stored by forests as credits to greenhouse gas-emitting industries.
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Trees such as the Faidherbia albida, a leguminous acacia-like tree, are especially useful.
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“Faidherbia goes dormant at the beginning of the rains and deposits abundant quantities of organic fertilizer on to the food crops to provide nutrients and increase yields, totally free of charge," said Dennis Garrity, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Director-General. "They are fertilizer factories in the food crop fields."
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The leaves and pods of the Faidherbia, which are adapted to a wide array of climates and soils from deserts to humid tropics, provide fodder in the dry season too.
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Garrity said: "The much higher food prices... have exacerbated the pain of hunger in hundreds of millions of households. The standard solutions just aren’t working. The question is, what are we as agroforestry scientists going to do about it? What are we going to contribute to sustainable solutions?"
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With shrinking forests, he said, "the rising demand for tree products will have to be met from farm-grown sources. Clearly, agroforestry science has much to offer in overcoming the food security challenges in Africa, and elsewhere in the world."
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According to a 24 August report by ICRAF, "tree cover is a common feature on agricultural land", and represents over one billion hectares of land.
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"Agroforestry, if defined by tree cover of greater than 10 percent on agricultural land, is widespread, found on 46 percent of all agricultural land area globally, and affecting 30 percent of rural populations," stated the report.
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Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said: "Seventy-five percent of Africa’s farm lands are degraded, and deforestation is taking place at four times the global average, destroying 1 percent of our forests every year."
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Agroforestry alone could remove 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the next 50 years, meeting about a third of the world’s total carbon reduction challenge, according to ICRAF studies.

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