Haiti Food Security Update (4/2/2009)

  • Posted on: 2 April 2009
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

President Obama is in the United Kingdom this week as part of the  G20 Summit.  As Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed, more is at stake than banks.  According to World Bank estimates, the global economic crisis will cause an additional 22 children to die per hour, throughout all of 2009.  Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, stated, “In London, Washington and Paris, people talk of bonuses or no bonuses...In parts of Africa, South Asia and Latin America, the struggle is for food or no food.”


Kristof goes on to note that the 500 richest people in the world  earned more than the 416 million poorest people.  As he puts it, the first group bears a measure of responsibility for the global economic mess but will get by just fine, while the latter group has no responsibility and will suffer the worst consequences. He asks himself whether there will be more squabbling and recalcitrance, or something constructive for those whose lives are at stake?  So far, the answer seems to be some of both.


When it works, you can click on the National Basic Food Prices Data and Analysis Tool, developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to see the price of food staples in 55 developing countries, in local currencies and measurements.  The data shows that food prices in many countries have doubled in five years; poor people in developing countries spend as much as 60 to 80 percent of their earnings on food.  The price of staple grains like wheat, rice and maize have been climbing since January 2009, after falling from record levels at the same time in 2008.


"The level of prices is still 19 percent above the average of 2006 ... so we're still in a period of high prices," Jacques Diouf, director-general of the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), told reporters at a conference in Bangkok.  The FAO estimates that over one billion people in the world will go hungry this year because of the combined effects of the global economic crisis and high food prices.  Between 2006 and 2008,  fertiliser prices rose 170 percent and seeds and animal feed by at least 70 percent, putting them out of the reach of small farmers.  As in Africa, most Haitians are small farmers.


Nina Fedoroff, the US State Department chief scientist, has stated that food shortages will be the biggest challenge facing the world as temperatures and population levels rise.  Dr Fedoroff, who advises Hillary Clinton, said famines that strike a billion people are quite possible in a world where climate change has damaged food production and the human population has risen to nine billion.  Population levels have already exceeded six billion and are expected to rise to nine billion by the middle of the century unless action is taken.


Nothing encourages creativity like a crisis.  Given food shortages and high prices, humanitarian agencies have begun exploring ways to respond to crises sooner.  One has been to pre-positioning food commodities closer to where it is needed to save money and time.  USAID will set up several food aid warehouses in 2009 to be able to respond rapidly to hunger crises across the world.  The first food aid warehouse was established in Djibouti in 2007.  The facility reduces delivery time by 75 percent, saving a lag time of three to four months if the same food were to be dispatched from ports in the US.


The American approach to food aid has traditionally consisted of the following: Take surplus crops grown in the United States and send them to countries where people are hungry but don’t have the capacity to produce all their own food.  Many food security experts, including many at USAID, believe that commodity-based aid has bred dependence on ongoing external assistance.  This is not development.  The United States spends far more on providing food than it does on agricultural assistance to other countries in order to help them become self-reliant.


This may change, and if it does, it will be due in part to the leadership of Senator Richard Lugar.  Lugar has proposed creating a so-called hunger czar at the White House who would oversee agriculture development aid abroad and coordinate policy across government agencies.  A bill he introduced to Congress would authorize $10 billion over five fiscal years, much of it to train farmers abroad to better feed their own populations.  It also would link U.S. land-grant universities with communities in Africa and Southeast Asia to strengthen research capacity abroad.  We hope Haiti will be included.


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that it is  supporting backyard gardens in Cap-Haitien and Les Cayes.  About 1,600 households are benefitting from these projects which aim to improve nutrition through the planting of fruit and vegetable plots in the families’ gardens.  The projects are part of IOM’s Programme de Revitalisation et de Promotion de l‘Entente et de la Paix (PREPEP).  In Les Cayes, the home gardens programme is also working with community-based associations to carry out training workshops on the nutritional value of plants and production methods.


Local agricultural technicians follow up with the families on a regular basis.  Households with family members living with HIV or AIDS are also benefitting thanks to US$ 2 million funding from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  In Cap Haitien , working with the Ministry of Environment and the Haitian Red Cross, IOM is providing fruit and forest tree saplings, vegetable seeds/seedlings, tools, and training to local agricultural groups.  The programme is also raising awareness on environmental conservation.


The Lambi Fund announced new programs  aimed at long-term food security for rural Haitians.  In Gwo Sab, Lambi Fund helped community members purchase fishing boats and supplies.  This will allow members to go further out to fish, which is key in that the coastal areas of Haiti are largely over-fished.  Members will also plant 20,000 tree seedlings to reforest the area.


The Lambi Fund is also helping an organization in Batan establish a credit fund for farmers to plant beans, corn, and millet.  They will also build grain storage and seed bank facilities.  Here was well, farmers will also plant tree seedlings to reforest the area. The Lambi Fund will finance the credit fund and provide funds for materials to build the tree nursery as well as grain storage and seed bank facilities.


Another project Lambi Fund is supporting is an ox plowing service in the towns of Besi and Klona to help farmers increase land productivity and improve food security.  The Lambi Fund will fund the construction of  two large grain mills for the Women’s Association from Tet Kole in the North West, a 4,000 member farming organization. The 60 members of the Organization for the Development of Robè (ODRO) produce corn, millet and rice but have problems accessing neighboring mills. The construction of a local mill will make their crops marketable and increase profits. The Lambi Fund will purchase a motorized mill and fund the construction of the facility where it will be housed.


Next, it is financing a micro-credit and savings fund to help a women’s organization in the Artibonite start small businesses.  The Fund will provide training in micro-credit management, organizational development, and reforestation to ensure the project’s success.  Last, the Lambi Fund is also helping an organization in Veret implement a reforestation plan to plant 120,000 trees over the next two years. The organization will hire three reforestation technicians. The Fund will provide funds needed to purchase seeds, tools, and equipment and provide training.


USAID announced that it is supporting 19 credit cooperatives in Haiti's rural south, improving management capacity, formalizing their structure to comply with central bank supervisory norms, and encouraging them to develop products and services that may expand agricultural production.  Through 31 points of service (of which 18 lie in rural areas and 13 in provincial towns), the project-supported cooperatives serve over 28,000 credit clients, manage a credit portfolio of over $10 million and have over 100,000 savings accounts.  These illustrate the cooperatives' commitment to serving rural populations, demonstrating great potential to expand relevant financial services to Haiti's rural poor.


Nicholas Kristof wrote another article in the New York Times about the economic hardships he witnessed while visiting Cap Haitian in the north.  Haitian Americans are sending less money back to Haiti as a result of the economic crunch, and their families are very much experiencing the consequences.  Many children are no longer able to attend school, and it is often the girls who are forced to drop out first.  Schools that used to provide meals to their students can no longer do so.


As Kristof puts it, "It’s natural in an economic crisis to look inward, to focus on America’s own needs, but it’s worth remembering that the consequence of a deep recession in a poor country isn’t just a lost job but also a lost child...If slum-dwelling Haitians can share what little they have, I hope we can be equally generous during this downturn when needs are greatest."


During the trip, he met a pair of American volunters who run an organization devoted to composting called SOIL.  Composting may not seem like a big deal to many Americans, but in a country where fertilizing is relatively uncommon like Haiti, it can have a big impact.  To illustrate,  Haitian farmers use virtually no fertilizer — less than a pound per acre, compared with about 90 pounds in the United States — and soils are severely depleted.  But Sasha calculates that if half of Haitians’ human waste could be used as fertilizer, that would amount to a 17-fold increase in fertilizer use, more than doubling the country’s agricultural production.  They have established 45 composting toilets which are working quite well.  The next step is to establish a municipal composting system in Cap Haitan.  Check out this video about SOIL on Kristof's blog.


When UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon returned from Haiti,he wrote an op-ed stating that Haiti stands a better chance than almost any emerging economy, as a result of new U.S. trade legislation, passed last year.  HOPE II offers Haiti duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets for the next nine years.  Part of the UN's plan is to enact new regulations lowering port fees (among the highest in the Caribbean) and creating the sort of industrial "clusters" that have come to dominate global trade.


In practical terms, this means dramatically expanding the country's export zones, so that a new generation of textile firms can invest and do business in one place.  Ki Moon states that model has been successfully proven in Bangladesh, where the garment industry supports 2.5 million jobs.  An International Donors' Conference for Haiti will be held April 13-14 in Washington DC and Ki Moon asks other donors to invest in Haiti beyond traditional aid.  


Ki Moon's op-ed touched off a lively debate among Haitians and Haiti watchers.  Over the long run, Haiti needs trade more than it needs aid.  The government must learn to govern and the country must feed itself.  Trade is essential for creating livelihoods. But people are worried that agriculture will receive short shrift and that this strategy means ever increasing urbanization.  Most of Haiti is rural, and rural Haitians must be able to support themeseves. 


The New York Times notes that some diplomats worry that the government does not have the capacity to carry out even limited prescriptions for improving manufacturing, infrastructure, agriculture and the environment.  Others worry that the  tempo of new factory jobs is too slow, so they think money should be pumped into emergency programs like creating jobs to fix the environmental disaster by planting the deforested (and muslide prone) hills with forests.


In the article, a 26 year old Haitian named John Miller Beauvoir who has founded a charity right out of college and urges young Haitians to be involved in development,  "Just providing rice and beans is not a long-term solution...If the captain does not know where you are going, no boat will take you in the right direction.”


We hope the Haitian government will seize the occasion of the Donors' Conference to demonstrate that it has the ambition and political will to undertake major reforms.  We'll keep you posted about the conference and other food security related events.





Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.