Haiti Food Security Update (8/3/2008)

  • Posted on: 3 August 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

After four months of debate, the Haitian Senate finally ratified a Prime Minister. Michèle Pierre-Louis becomes only the second female in Haitian history to hold the post.  This delay has had a high cost in the form of delayed infrastructure projects, delayed trade deals, and underminded confidence as to whether the country is ready to open a new chapter on governance.  The Miami Herald notes under Haiti's constitution, Pierre-Louis must next present a governance plan and cabinet selections to parliament.  We hope food security features prominently in the proposed plan - her tenure will largely be evaluated on whether she can accomplish the delicate balancing act of putting in place short term measures while working on long term solutions.


An article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel noted significant delays in distributing long promised food assistance to Haiti.   There is concern that families are burning through savings and turning to credit just to feed themselves.  With hurricane season underway, further food riots could be forthcoming.  Cities which have tended to be insulated from political instability such as Les Cayes are now prone to demonstrations. The U.S. government and U.N. World Food Program are reported to have promised a total of $117 million this year in food and agricultural aid.  In total, more than 40,000 tons of beans, rice and other food intended have promised.  16,000 tons are reported to have reached Haiti so far and 11,000 tons of that is still in the port.   Only 724 tons of food has reached distribution centers which, if true, is alarming and needs to be addressed. 



The Organization of American States (OAS) Friends Group met to discuss poverty reduction in Haiti.  Attendees included Permanent Representative to the OAS, Ambassador Duly Brutus; Pan American Development Foundation Director General John Sanbrailo; Joseph Simon Milien, Director General in Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development; and Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Director of Trade and Tourism.  OAS is seeking to launch an Executive Program Initiative with the National Institute for Administration, Management and Higher International Studies (INAGHEI) in Haiti aimed at capacity-building and governance strengthening.



According to Prensa Latinea, representatives of the 18 Petrocaribe member countries created a food fund with an initial balance of 450 million dollars. The intent of the fund is to reactivate the agricultural sector in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Petrocaribe Food Fund will be funded primarily by  Venezuelan oil exports - five cents from each barrel of crude oil. Prensa Latina notes that a Council of Ministers of Agriculture has been created with its headquarters being in Venezuela.  The next meeting will beld in Cuba.  Haiti will participate.


Christian World News produced a piece on rising food costs in Haiti.  The Catholic Relief Services representative interviewed raised important points on the need to boost national agricultural production by linking rural markets to urban centers as well as reversing environmental degradation.  I was dismayed at the end of the clip to see Pat Robertson give his "analysis" of food insescurity in Haiti stating that Haitians suffer today because their ancestors made a deal with the devil and were practicing widespread "witchcraft."   Calling his comments unhelpful is an understatement.



There was an article in the Haitian Times about efforts by Food for the Poor to make fishing a more sustainable and profitable industry for a dozen coastal fishing villages.  The NGO provided fiberglass boats, motors, and coolers so participating fishermen can travel much farther out and catch bigger fish.  As a result, the income per day of the fishermen increased considerably. Food for the Poor states they are training fisherman to conserve resources.  I would like to hear more about that.  I also wonder how sustainable this approach is given that the fishermen have to contend with the high price of gas and are given complicated equipment such as electronic fish finders and GPS devices.  I wonder if the same results could not be accomplished by promoting fisheries - there are very few in Haiti and they would benefit populations not lucky enough to be in a coastal region. 



Also an interesting article in the Toronto Star about Cassava which is also known as manioc or yuca.  The piece notes that in Africa, hunger scientists are coming to believe that cassava could be a supercrop in the battle against hunger.  It is the primary source of calories for up to 250 million people and is eaten widely in rural Haiti.  Cassava is hardy and does not require large quantities of water.  Every part of the plant can be eaten although the leaves, the most nutritious part, are not commonly eaten in Haiti.  It is not perfect - if not refined correctly, the tuber can be mildly poisonous.  The tuber, though very filling, is not high in protein and vitamins.  Each of these problems may be able to be overcome with science. 



The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been supporting the BioCassava Plus project - a $12.1-million effort to bolster the plant's nutritional value.  If the components of the tuber that produce the mild toxin if refined incorrectly were removed as well, Cassava could indeed become a global supercrop.  In places like Haiti, or the DRC which is the focus of the article, electricity is needed for milling the cassava.  Roads are needed to get the product to market.  But there are clear benefits to meeting these challenges.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has been devoting significant attention the impact of food insecurity on health which include: 


(1) Increased malnutrition, child and maternal mortality and morbidity, and communicable diseases

(2) An inability for the poorest to afford healthy food, forcing them to buy low-quality products, negatively changing dietary patterns, and increasing the burden of noncommunicable diseases

(3) Less money to spend on health services because of higher food bills (important especially for people living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis)

(4) Impaired mental development, diminished learning ability, reduced work productivity, and increased prevalence of chronic disease

(5) Increased wasting among young children, plus anaemia and other micronutrient deficiency conditions, especially among women and children; and

(6) A delay in attaining health and nutrition-related Millennium Development Goals.


You can read more about the health implications of food insecurity by clicking here.  Also, if you are interested in reading more on the impact of food insecurity for people living with HIV/AIDS, click here.   We wish the new Prime Minister the best.  She is not a career politician, has been involved in efforts to build civil society for many years, and is respected by the international community. We will keep you updated of any new development as she drafts her governance plan and begins the process of forming a cabinet that can addresss urgent problems such as food insecurity.



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