Haiti Food Security Update (7/12/2009)
The past month has been important for Haiti. The World Bank, IMF, and the IDB forgave $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt. Deals were reached with members of the Paris Club to cancel an additional $152 million in debt. Bill Clinton made his first trip to Haiti as UN Special Envoy. Plus, discussions at the G8 Summit indicated we may be on the verge of a historic shift in how food assistance is delivered, to the benefit of Haiti and other food insecure countries.
The G8 committed to invest more than $20 billion, over $5 billion more than expected, in agricultural development over the next three years as part of a global food security initiative. Let’s face it - food aid is often more about the needs of the countries giving it than the needs of the countries receiving it. The announcement signals a shift from food aid, usually in the form of surplus agricultural commodities, to long term investments that will help other countries to produce their own food. Remember that saying about teaching a man to fish? Better to teach a person to farm than to depend on the subsidized surplus of rich countries.
In a G8 Statement, it was noted "The combined effect of long-standing underin vestment in agriculture and food security, price trends and the economic crisis have led to increased hunger." Food aid has dropped 35 percent since 1995, and global food aid supplies in 2008 were 18 percent lower than in 2005, a 34-year low. The U.S. and Japan will provide the bulk of the funding, with between $3 and $4 billion each, with the rest coming from Europe and Canada.
President Barack Obama has been directly involved. He has stated that he wants the United States, as the world's largest provider of food aid, to focus on agricultural development in the countries it helps support.
"Quite simply, this change in mindset is that food security is part of national security," said a factsheet issued by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the United States would shift its emphasis in the fight against global hunger from giving emergency aid to helping countries produce more of their own food. This new approach has already begun to unfold in conflict affected countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to the UN Food an Agriculture Organization (FAO), a shifting of funds led to the successful Green Revolution of the 1970s, which prevented looming famine in Asia and Latin America. Blake Selzer, Senior Policy Advisor at the US-based NGO, CARE, stated funding for international agricultural development had decreased dramatically over the past few decades, and that any successful comprehensive food security initiative would also need to address safety nets, social protection and nutrition program.
Andrew Natsios, who led the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for five years, said emergency food aid programmes - which make up 75 percent of the food aid budget - could be integrated into agricultural programs. "The question has been: 'Where we should buy the food aid? In the US or in the developing world, where the purchase by WFP and donor governments can help create demand, increase production, and strengthen markets?' We should be buying food aid from African farmers for Africans displaced by war and conflict, who are in need of temporary assistance."
While this new emphasis on building national and regional agricultural capacity is welcome, it will take time and there are millions around the world who need food assistance to survive. The World Food Program (WFP) issued a statement praising the G8 leaders' focus on food security and calling for support of its efforts to combat hunger among the world's poorest people. WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran recommended leaders take a "twin-track" approach to food security, which includes supporting long-term agricultural production along with immediate hunger assistance.
"We learned a lesson last year when rising food prices caused an epidemic of hunger leading to food riots in more than 30 countries. Without food, people revolt, migrate or die. None of these are acceptable options," Sheeran said. Recently, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projected the number of hungry people would top 1 billion, which reverses a four-decade trend of reduction in the number of hungry people.
"We cannot afford to lose a generation to malnutrition, starvation and despair," said Sheeran. "Addressing immediate hunger needs is a critical long-term investment in healthy, stable societies."
Meanwhile in Haiti, the country is in between cropping seasons. There have been light rains in July, which is normal. But even light rains can be dangerous in a deforested country. There were reports of flooding in seven of the country’s ten departments during the end of May. The Civil Defense Department report for May 17th through 21st showed 13 persons dead and 5 missing, 2117 families suffering losses, 512 homes damaged, and damage to road infrastructure.
Too much or too little rainfall is a disaster for Haiti. Despite damage caused by the rains, the USAID supported Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET) reports that food insecurity levels dropped sharply this past month. Ground data shows a roughly 15-20% expansion in the size of the area planted in crops for the 2009 spring growing season. FEWS-NET attributes this to the implementation of emergency programs and the agricultural revitalization plan (including the government subsidy for chemical fertilizer, distributions of farm tools and other inputs, and the mounting of labor-intensive public works programs.)
These public works programs, particularly city clean-up programs, the cleaning of rivers and ditches, watershed erosion control programs, etc. are helping poor households bring in extra income, but are unable to keep pace with needs.
Numerous private contractors across the country are repairing irrigation systems and carrying out slope correction works in ravines or along riverbanks with funding from the Haitian government, the EU, USAID, the IDB, the CIDA, the IFAD, and other cooperation agencies. The WFP and several other organizations are in the process of pre-positioning food and non-food aid kits in strategic locations for use in the event of an emergency, such as a tropical storm.
Spring crops (mainly corn, rice and beans) have been enjoying good rainfall conditions. Harvests across the country should be relatively good, and there could be a sizeable improvement in the food security situation, assuming agro-climatic conditions stay as good as they are currently.
FEWS-NET goes on to state the size of the moderately to highly food-insecure population is down from 2.4 million in April to roughly 2.1 million due mainly to: (i) increased winter crop production; (ii) falling prices for staple foods; (iii) the stable flow of remittances; (iv) accelerated efforts to implement vulnerability-reducing programs as the hurricane season draws closer; and (v) the inclusion of new variables in vulnerability assessments.
Despite these welcome improvements, pockets of food insecurity remain in the Northwest, the Artibonite, and the South. To respond to pockets of vulnerability, FEWS-NET advises that the government strengthen safety net programs such as community health and meals programs, targeting those who are most in need.
Food availability in Haiti is contingent on three factors: local crop production, food aid, and imports. Domestic production accounted for only 42% of the food supply, which is one of the primary reasons Haiti is so vulnerable to price fluctuations of food staples. Imports and food aid contributed 52% and 6%, respectively. This year’s winter growing season ending in February and March produced good harvests across the country. Major winter crops such as beans, corn, sorghum, pigeon peas, roots, and tubers accounted for most output. Better production, combined with a very good mango harvest, was an important factor in improving food availability on domestic markets and is helping to improve current food security conditions across the country. Right now, food availability on markets is good and around the country, and prices are down considerably.
The World Bank Group's Board of Directors also approved a US$5 million grant to strengthen Haiti's agriculture management and support its sustainable development. "This project aims to support Haiti's agriculture public sector reform," said Yvonne Tsikata, World Bank country director for the Caribbean. "It is a significant first step in re-engaging with Haiti on agriculture, as agriculture is the backbone of the rural economy and an important potential source of growth for the poor." Agircultural support is key given that more than 25 percent of the country's GDP and accounts for approximately 50 percent of the overall employment (60 percent of those in rural areas and 75% of the poor. As in Africa, Haiti's poorest are small farmers.
During the June 25th meeting of the interministerial committee on food aid, France proceeded with the allocation of a second tranche of €10 million in food aid which will include one million Euros for Haiti. French aid is delivered mainly through the WFP as well as other international organizations (UNRWA, HCRC, UNICEF) and international and local NGOs.
Haiti is showing improvements in agriculture and food security. This means a better nourished and healthier population. It also means more stability and political room to implement long term solutions instead of the usual short-term fixes. If we can just make it through the hurricane season, Haiti will be in a better situation than it has been in a long time. N'ap swiv.