As the situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate, 5.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. According to UNICEF, this includes almost 3 million children, the highest on record. Gang violence, food insecurity made worse by climate change, natural disasters, a lack of basic services, and disease outbreaks such as cholera together present major security, humanitarian, and development challenges for Haiti and the international community. Meetings have been called by the United Nations, CARICOM, and partner countries to urge increased support, without which it could yet become much worse. The full article by Miami Herald journalist Jacqueline Charles follows.
Many countries throughout the world are stuggling with drought and food insecurity related to El Nino. According to FEWS-NET agricultural production in Haiti is fifty percent below normal and coping mechanisms are being exhausted. Associated Press reporter David McFadden's describes the impact that food insecurity is having on parts of the Haitian countryside. The full article follows.
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.
Travesty in Haiti: A True Account of Christian Missions, Orphanages, Fraud, Food Aid and Drug Trafficking” is not a new book, having been published in 2008. However, it should be required reading for volunteers, missionaries and development workers interested in Haiti. Drawing from his experiences as an anthropologist and consultant in the northwest, he describes how NGOs in the region caused serious harm in the name of development. Schwartz is frustrated but not anti development – he is against dependency, corruption, and disempowering the people we say we want to help. You can read a preview and/or purchase his book on Amazon. A few thoughts below.
Plumpynut, a peanut based paste, has revolutionalized the way in which severely malnourished children around the world are treated. Many young lives have been saved as a result. There is now increasing attention on how Plumpynut variants can prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place. In Haiti, both Meds and Food for Kids (MFK) and Partners in Health (PIH) produce products similar to Plumpynut. In the below New York Times article, Andrew Rice describes the promise, politics, and profitability of Plumpynut. Considering the negative impact that malnutrition has on the health and cognitive development of children in Haiti, it is well worth a read.
When people think of Haiti, they often think of hunger, and not without reason. Though there has been significant progress over the past year, hunger remains a pervasive problem. Achieving food security is fundamental to nutrition, health, education, economic growth, stability and all the other issues we lump under “development.” There are well intentioned groups, such as this one from Kansas, that often try to send packages of food to Haiti. It might make one feel good, but in reality, it does little good. There is much that we can do to promote food security in Haiti, but it is up to us to ensure that our time, energy, and resources make an actual, and not just a perceived, difference.
Haiti faced a number of challenges in 2009 including decreased remittances from the Diaspora as well as a messy transition at the Prime Ministerial level. All things considered though, Haiti enters 2010 stronger than it was at the beginning of 2009. The capacity of ministries to deliver basic services is improving and partnerships have been solidified with the United States, Canada, and a number of Latin American and European governments. Haiti has more investment opportunities than at any other time in the post-embargo era. The next challenge will be the February 2010 legislative elections, already controversial. Improving food security will undoubtedly be an important theme throughout the new year.
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.
I sometimes see articles in small town newspapers about churches or schools sending food to Haiti. The intention is good, but the impact is not - this is not how to promote food security. Project Medishare takes a different approach by fighting hunger, creating jobs, and supporting the local economy at the same time. Its Akamil factory, once operational, will produce fortified and highly nutritious food, from locally purchased ingredients, for malnourished children, pregnant women, and people living with tuberculosis and/or HIV/AIDS. My hope is that this facility will be the first of many. If you'd like to support this important effort, a link to Project Medishare's project fund-raising site is below.
Hard to believe that just a year and a half ago, there were food riots in Port au Prince and other Haitian cities. Since then, Haiti has become become politically stable to the point where firms involved in agriculture, textiles, infrastructure development and tourism are considering investing in Haiti. Livelihood opportunities are sorely needed given that half of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day. Still, the majority of Haitians are small farmers. Without opportunities to provide for themselves and their families, the influx of the rural poor to urban centers will only accelerate. Increasing agricultural productivity/opportunities is key to improving food security in Haiti.