Haiti Food Security Update (11/11/2009)

  • Posted on: 11 November 2009
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

Strong arguments can be made that sacking Prime Minister Pierre-Louis was a mistake.  Still, she served Haiti well prior to becoming Prime Minister and will no doubt continue to do so.  Jean Max Bellerive has since been confirmed as the new Prime Minister.  He has stated the increasing foreign investment and reducing poverty will be amongst his highest priorities.  He has a much different style than Pierre-Louis, but faces the same challenges.  This includes promoting food security thoughout Haiti.  


Let’s start with the global picture.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon named Dr. David Nabarro as the U.N Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition.  He is tasked with developing a more coherent international response to combat global food insecurity and malnutrition.  Since January, Nabarro has been responsible for coordinating the UN High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis.  The Task Force – consisting of UN agencies, funds and programmes; international financial institutions; and the World Trade Organization (WTO) – was set up to promote food insecurity through agricultural investment, fair trade, social protection, and nutrition.   Nabarro has said his priorities are to develop greater national planning for food security, transform markets and trading systems in the agricultural sector to work more in the interests of poor people, and to develop stronger social protection and safety nets in development programming.


In an interview ahead of a global summit on food security in Rome next week, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said more aid was needed to curb the rising number of hungry people in the world, which topped 1 billion for the first time this year.  "The fundamentals that led to the crisis in 2007-2008 are almost all still there, except for oil prices," he added, citing climate change shocks like droughts in Africa, population growth in developing countries and use of (food based) bio-fuels.  The Nov. 16-18 summit in Rome will discuss ways to curb rising global hunger by improving coordination between government, multilateral agencies and non-governmental organisations.


As part of this effort, FAO is launching an initiative to develop international guidelines for land tenure, which is a key condition for improveing food security.  In the Artibonite Valley and elsewhere, potentially productive land lies fallow because it is not clear who actually owns it, particularly when multiple parties claim it.  Women, the disabled, illiterate and elderly are also vulnerable to having the land they farm seized as they often lack legal and social rights. Guidelines will address foreign investment in food and biofuels.


Speaking at the 5th Hemispheric Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas and the 15th Regular Meeting of the Inter-American Board of Agriculture in Montego Bay, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Chelston Brathwaite, described agriculture as critical for reducing poverty to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  He added that the drivers blamed for the food price crisis last year, includeing drought, change in exchange rate and the increased demand for food in China and India, have not gone away.  He said that these factors can cause resurgence of turbulence in the future, if nothing is done.


José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the OAS, also said the issue of food security and the need for increased attention and investment in the agricultural sector and rural communities is urgent.  As he put it, “We cannot relax in our efforts to improve food security and reduce poverty in our region.  Our hemisphere is too rich in resources, technology and ideas, for any man, woman or child to go hungry.”  He identified several challenges, such as the diminishing investment in agriculture and decreasing interest of the younger generations, as well as the impact of climate change, but added that none of them are “insurmountable, if we work together and embrace the multidimensional approach to agricultural and rural development being advocated by the Inter-American institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and recently reaffirmed by the leaders of this Hemisphere” in the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.  Insulza also highlighted how the OAS is contributing to the fight against hunger and poverty with initiatives such as the Inter-American Social Protection Network, the Inter-American Network for Disaster Mitigation and other activities of the Department of Sustainable Development within rural communities.


The first hemispheric conference of its kind on coordination of international cooperation with Haiti co-organized by Mexico, Haiti and the OAS, took place November 4-5, 2009.  It brought together high-level representatives from international organizations, financial institutions, the government of Haiti, and several member states of the OAS in support of Haiti's current efforts to develop a national system for tracking, monitoring and reporting international assistance funds.  The conference focused on the issues that the Haitian government has identified as priorities for its development program including job creation, agriculture, environmental and water management, education, health, trade, energy, transportation, tourism, security, governance, and disaster management.  During the conference, the Mexican government highlighted its decision to establish a new cooperation policy with Haiti and its commitment to strengthen and improve its collaboration.


One key deliverable from the meeting was the announcement that five Inter-American agencies (the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and the Pan American Development Foundation) will be working toward the development of an integrated Inter-American program of Support for Haiti.  Donor coordination is key.  Unfortunately, there is not a common framework for disbursing and tracking funds for Haiti.  Every donor has different procedures for doing so.  To date, the USG has disbursed almost 26 million of 57 million pledged at the Haiti Donors’ Conference in April 2009.  Total pledges made at the conference equaled 345 million, much of which have not yet been obligated.  It will be interesting to see how Bellerive engages the donor community.  Whereas  Pierre Louis was considered by many to be a favorite of the  international community, Bellerive has often been a vocal critic of unmet pledges, lack of coordination, and insufficicient engagement with the government.


According to Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald,  Haiti is one of  only two countries in the Caribbean expected to post positive growth this year. According to Paulo Nogueira Batista, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive director for Haiti, “It's quite surprising when you think of the size of the shocks that Haiti suffered in 2009…It has won the respect of the fund, as a country that has serious long-term economic policies.''  Haiti's Central Bank Governor Charles Castel said the 2.4 percent growth is the result of the millions of dollars in investments in agriculture, roads and bridges after the storms.  Exports rose 23 percent this year, largely due to duty-free textiles.


That’s the good news.  The bad news is that food security remains a major problem throughout Haiti.  A report by Haiti’s National Food Security Coordination Unit (CNSA) estimates that 1.9 million Haitians, or one out of every four, are under-nourished.  CNSA Director Pierre-Gary Mathieu noted that the situation has improved somewhat in the country since 2008.  He attributed the improvements to a good spring harvest and "the combined efforts of the government and non-governmental organizations, which have distributed plenty of food to disaster zones and invested in agriculture."  Still, he notes that the risk of new storms, unavailability of food products, difficulties accessing production zones and the quality of the available food products, along with high rates of poverty, are among the factors that could produce a new crisis - especially for children under the age of five, women, and HIV/AIDS patients.  Given this, the World Food Program (WFP) and its partners have prepositioned more than 8,000 tonnes of food ready to be distributed in 13 regions in Haiti, which is among 16 countries identified by the WFP as particularly vulnerable to food insecurity.


The European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) announced that in 2010, its efforts in Haiti will focus on reducing malnutrition and disaster response and preparedness.  The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), another major donor, finally has a nominee for Administrator.   Rajiv Shah, a medical doctor, was a senior official at the Department of Agriculture dealing with food security.  Before that, he had several positions at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including managing its $1.5 billion contribution to a global vaccination fund and helping launch the foundation's Global Development program where he oversaw a $1.3 billion investment portfolio.  Given his background in food security, many hope that Shah will increasingly focus USAID’s efforts on helping people to feed themselves instead of primarily sending America’s excess agricultural commodities to food insecure countries around the world.


This is not to say that we should not send agricultural commodities overseas.  In some cases, this may be the most appropriate option.  In many cases, however, allowing partners to purchase food locally and regionally would allow them to respond more rapidly, effectively, while building agricultural economies where most needed.


A country like Haiti needs solidarity and partnerships more than it needs charity. Take a look at this article about a church in Memphis that invested significant time and resources into packing and sending hundreds of boxes of food to Haiti.  One of the volunteers said, “You see hungry children on TV and you feel helpless because you don't know what to do.  Here's what you can do."   Please do not send food to Haiti.  What happens when this food (if it makes it through customs) has been consumed?  The time and resources devoted to sending food would have been better invested in programs to bolster agriculture and livelihoods.  Remember the old proverb about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish?   If you want to make sure the most vulnerable in Haiti are receiving food, make a cash contribution to the World Food Progam instead.  They are the experts in this area.


When it comes to promoting food security, or any other aspect of development in Haiti, we need to act not based on what makes us feel good, but on what will produce a lasting, sustainable impact without creating dependency.  I leave you with an article by Rachel Naomi Remen on the difference between helping and service, entitled “In Service Of Life”


In Service of Life

By Rachel Naomi Remen

From Noetic Science Review


In recent years the question how can I help has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider.  Perhaps the real question is not how can I help? but how can I serve?  Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help, you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength.  If I’m attentive to what’s going on inside of me when I’m helping, I find that I’m always helping someone who’s not as strong as I am, sho is needier that I am.  People feel this inequality.  When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.  When I help I am very aware of  my own strength, but we don’t serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.


Helping incurs debt. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing, is mutual. There is no debt. I am served as the person I am serving. When I help, I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.  Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the lie in them. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with. There is a distance between ourselves, and whatever or whomever we are fixings.  Fixing is a form of judgment. All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference. In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a more distance. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. This is Mother Theresa’s basic message. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy,  If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender, and awe. A fixer has the illusion of being causal. A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown. Fixing and helping are very personal; they are very particular, concrete and specific. We fix and help many different things in our lifetimes, but when we server we are always serving the same thing. Everyone who has ever served through the history of time serves the same thing. We are servers of the wholeness and mystery of life.


The bottom line, of course, is that we can fix without serving. And we can help without serving. And we can serve without fixing or helping. I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul. They may look similar if you’re watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different. The outcome is often different, too.  Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we can serve, our work itself will sustain us.  Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery, which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. Fundamentally, helping, fixing and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: all suffering is lime my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.  Last, fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize the wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important fundamental ways. Only service heals.




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