Feeding Haiti (The Economist)

  • Posted on: 24 June 2013
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Below is a brief article from the Economist on the relationship between food security and food imports. Both aid and trade policies have long subverted domestic agriculture in Haiti.  President Martelly has set a target of meeting 60% of Haiti's food needs through domestic production within three years.  This is a tough row to hoe as it requires better resource management, irrigation, reforestation, and natural disaster preparedness. Food security isn't just about rice though.  Greater production of yams, sorghum, manioc, sweet potatos, and corn would help.

 

Aid workers sometimes blame Haiti’s seemingly limitless supply of cheap imported rice for the country’s struggle to feed itself. More than half the population lives on the land, but still the country ships in half its food and 80% of its rice. Diri Miami, as imported rice from the United States is locally known, has become a staple over the past 30 years. The imports are prevalent partly because, at 3%, Haiti’s import tariffs on food are among the lowest in the Caribbean. This, combined with generous subsidies to farmers in the United States, means that the rice is cheaper than locally produced food. Many have argued for higher tariffs to protect local farmers. But a new drive to improve self-sufficiency aims not to raise tariffs but to make Haitian agriculture more efficient—and to change Haitian diets, too.

 

Michel Martelly, the president, has declared that within three years he wants Haiti to be producing 60% of its own food. So far higher duties are not on the agenda. Though it may undercut local farmers, cheap foreign produce at least means that “people have food on the table”, says Pierre Gary Mathieu, head of the government’s food-security unit. “A government has to make a choice: you have to feed people, or else there are political costs,” he says. In the short term, at least, raising tariffs could be disastrous in a country where three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Already, one in ten people struggles to eat a daily meal and half eat only two meals, with little meat, vegetables, eggs or milk.

 

Instead, Mr Martelly wants to double rice production by introducing more efficient farming techniques, in the hope of raising yields. Agriculture ministry officials want to slow soil erosion with reforestation and watershed-management programmes, and to tutor farmers in seed selection, soil preparation and growing techniques. There are some hopeful signs: in May the UN forecast that this year’s rice harvest would be nearly a quarter higher than last year, when the crop was damaged by hurricanes Isaac and Sandy, and slightly higher than the trend over the previous five years. Haiti has pulled off agricultural successes in the past: during a farming boom in the 1980s, before the 1986 uprising that forced the dictator “Baby Doc” Jean Claude Duvalier out of office and triggered years of instability, a programme called “bon tè, bon teknik, bon rekolt” (“good soil, good technique, good harvest”) raised the average yield of haricot beans more than fivefold, according to Marcel Augustin, who ran the project and is now head of arable policy at the agriculture ministry.

 

But ramping up domestic production will take time. Even if Mr Martelly’s ambitious plan to double rice production succeeded, this would still produce barely half the rice that is consumed. In the boom of the 1980s, domestic rice production was equal to only about a third of today’s consumption. Mr Augustin says that turning the farming industry around could take two decades. For that reason, he suggests, Haitians should be encouraged to change their eating habits and adopt the diets of their grandparents. Locally grown crops such as yam, manioc, sorghum, sweet potatoes and maize were the staples of previous generations, who had rice as a Sunday treat. They grow easily in Haiti and provide a nutritious alternative to rice, he says.

 

Foreign aid agencies are also changing their policies in a way that may benefit local farmers. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has distributed wheat, cooking oil and other food from the United States in Haiti, to the irritation of some local producers. That changed after the 2010 earthquake, which destroyed Haiti’s only flour mill, meaning that NGOs working with USAID could no longer sell American wheat to fund their work. Since then, more aid has been distributed in the form of cash vouchers, which can be spent on locally produced food. That programme is due to be expanded in September, when the agency will start to spend $12m a year on monthly $50 vouchers for the poorest families to spend on locally grown food. It is a small piece of good news for Haiti’s struggling farmers—and in time may boost Haitians’ meagre diets.

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5/19/2014
World Bank
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About 190 000 producers, investors and members of agricultural organizations in the Centre Artibonite region in the heart of Haiti will benefit from improved access to local markets and services as a result of a US$58 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA) approved today by the World Bank Board of Directors. This project aims to attract public and private investment, and build resilience to climate shocks. "The development of the Central Artibonite region will help fight against extreme poverty that represents the socio -economic situation for more than half the population in the region. It is aligned with the Government's efforts to diversify the sources of wealth in the region and develop its potential," said Marie-Carmelle Jean Marie, Minister of Economy and Finance. The Central Artibonite region is located between three important economic poles: the capital Port -au- Prince in the South, the city Cap-Haitien in the North, and the Dominican Republic in the East. Agriculture is a key sector for the region, which is highly vulnerable to natural hazards and where producers are isolated and lack of reliable roads to connect production to processing sites and local markets. This lack of road infrastructure also limits the economic transit to the capital, the North and the Dominican Republic.
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“Nearly 80 percent of traffic is by land in Haiti. Enhancing connectivity for producers by allowing them to move and have access to other economic centers whatever the climatic conditions will have a decisive impact on the economic growth of the region. All-weather roads are also a key asset for investors," said Mary Barton- Dock, World Bank Special Envoy to Haiti.
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Among concrete results to be achieved by the funding are:
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Nearly 190,000 producers and 30 percent of women will benefit from all-weather roads and improved connectivity and logistics for investment, production and trade
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180km of rural and non- rural roads will be rehabilitated
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300 local officials will be trained in market management, climate resilience measures in the transport sector and urban planning tools
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10 rural and urban markets will be rehabilitated
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This five year project will be implemented by the Technical Execution Unit of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The funding includes a US$ 50 million IDA grant and a US$ 8 million grant from the Strategic Climate Fund.

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