Haiti Food Security Update (10/11/2009)

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

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.<--break->


Looking at the big picture, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that developing countries need agriculture investments of $83 billion per year to meet the food needs of a projected 9.1 billion people by 2050.  According to FAO,  "Required investments include crops and livestock production as well as downstream support services such as cold chains, storage facilities, market facilities and first-stage processing. "  The report goes on to note that agricultural investments will not be effective if farmers and agricultural producers do not have access to a functioning network of roads, ports, and other institutions.  Slowly but noticeably, Haiti has been improving its national road network and port system.


FAO's Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem is cautiously optimistic about the world's potential to feed itself by 2050 but notes that climate change and (food based) biofuels could be challenges for agriculture worldwide.  He notes that global investment in agriculture and access to food will need to be increased, "otherwise some 370 million people could still be hungry in 2050, almost 5 percent of the global population."


Climate change, in the form of increased natural disasters, shifting weather patterns, and environmental degradation could negatively impact the ability of developing countries such as Haiti to feed their populations.  For this reason, there is concern that the effects of climate change on agriculture are being ignored in the lead up to the Copenhagen Conference in December.  FAO is pushing hard for agriculture to be addressed in any deal that is reached there.  Adaptation of the agricultural sector will be costly but it is vital for reducing poverty, building livelihoods, maintaining the environment, and promoting health and nutrition.  For example, some estimate (there is no way to know for sure) malnutrition could affect up to 25 million children in the world's poorest countries if climate change is not addressed.


In late September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-chaired a food security event with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Clinton spoke about a new approach from the Obama administration to help people around the world grow, buy and sell the food they need as opposed to only providing emergency food aid which does not address why populations are hungry in the first place.  The emphasis will be on: (1)  Supporting and investing in country-led plans; (2) Addressing the underlying causes of hunger by investing in everything from research to better seeds to insurance programs for small farmers to large-scale infrastructure projects; (3) putting women at the center of these efforts as they are most of the small farmers throughout the world; (4) improving coordination; and (5) working through multilateral institutions such as the World Food Program (WFP) as these organizatins have more reach and resources than any single country could muster.  She noted that U.S efforts represented a long term commitment, not just in terms of emergency aid, but in agricultural investment.


WFP is the international organization charged with assisting food insecure populations around the world.  According to WFP,  the world is falling far short in feeding its most critically hungry.  The agency has had to cut back rations and programs to the 108 million people it serves, according to Director Josette Sheeran.  According to Sheeran, "The cutbacks will have a "destabilizing" impact in parts of the world reeling from dramatically higher food prices and less income due to the global financial crisis...There's nothing more basic than food. If people don't have it, one of three things happen: they revolt, they migrate or they die."


At a joint Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and Organization of American States (OAS) conference on food security entitled, ‘Agriculture for Development and Food Security in the Americas.’   Bill Clinton said  “...In Haiti and elsewhere, under investment in agriculture has weakened our ability to meet the most basic nutritional needs for vast segments of populations.”


Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, IICA Director General went on to say that most member countries both under-estimated in agriculture and under-estimated the importance of agriculture to develoment.  He stated that agriculture also includes input supplies, transport, storage, agribusiness, contribution to exports, agro-industry, the food industry, and financial services for agriculture, making this sector vital economically. 


IFPRI’s Director General, Dr Joachim von Braun, noted a number of challenges in addressing food security including that less capital is available today for agriculture, especially for small farmers; more debt is incurred; there are fewer opportunities and less wages for low skilled workers, fewer remittance, and a lack of national committment.  He then went on to note that pro-poor risk prevention, reduction, and management agricultural strategies are needed.  These could include promoting the use of technology and institutional innovations, innovating insurance systems, facilitating open trade, and expanded protection and children nutrition programs.


OAS Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin proposed partnering with IICA to focus political attention, working with member states to develop internal and external markets for agriculture, generating support from international financial institutions for sustainable agriculture, encouraging multilateral institutions to provide technical assistance; working with international institutions to preserve the national agricultural base, and expanding employment opportunities in rural agriculture.


FAO’s Director of the Liaison Office for North America, Dan Gustafson highlighted Brazil as a country that had successfully addressed food insecurity.  According to Gustafson, between 2003-2008, poverty in Brazil declined by 27% and; extremely poor declined by 48% and between 1996-2006, there were dramatic declines in child malnutrition.  Haiti has a very good relationship with Brazil - this may be another area where the two countries could develop a productive relationship.


According to the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET) September update, food insecurity remains relatively stable due to a good spring harvest, low inflation, and infrastructure projects that generate work throughout the country.  The report notes that the poorest households are often cutting back on food in order to put children through school.


Haitians value education highly, but the most vulnerable may withdraw their children (especially girls) from school altogether.  Assisting families with schooling costs can be a food security intervention in itself, especially when the schools have feeding programs for students.  The report also advises improving the nationwide nutrition surveillance network so that malnourished children can be identified and treated as soon as possible.


On October 8, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources (Winner) Initiative.  The project will invest $126 million over five years to increase farmer productivity and reduce Haiti’s environmental, infrastructural, and economic vulnerability.  WINNER project experts stress that Haitian farmers, NGOs, agribusinesses and construction firms, and government actors must work closely together to manage and protect Haiti’s key watersheds.  USAID hopes that WINNER will provide a forum through which to create the public/private partnerships needed to do so.  WINNER will work with communities to create micro watershed management plans, strengthen farmer associations, provide access to extension services and vital supplies (seeds, fertilizers, credit, tools), and restore protective tree cover. 


“This will take years of hard work,” said Ambassador Merten, “but this new strategy has the potential to turn back centuries of deforestation.  Ambassador Merten also congratulated the Government of Haiti Land Management under the leadership of the Prime Minister, which will set national policy for watershed management. 


The Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources (WINNER) is being implemented by Chemonics International.  A key feature of WINNER is the $100 million Watershed Investment Fund (WIF). The WIF will support key watershed activities, help build capacity and collaborate with other projects and donors.  USAID reports that the first watershed management projects, started last year in Limbe and Montrouis, are already showing good results.  USAID hopes to attract more donors to adopt this approach in the future.


I was recently reading through the 2009 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report.  Of 182 countries, Haiti came in at 149 barely edging out Sudan at 150.  Haiti scores poorly because of a relatively low average lifespan of 60 years, a low literacy rate of 62.1% for individuals 15 and above,  and a low per capita GDP of $1,155.  In Haiti, an individual has an 18.5% chance of not surviving to age 40.   Forty-two percent of Haitians do not have access to an improved water source.  Twenty two percent of children under age five are underweight.  In addition, Haiti has a high emigration rate of about 7.7 percent suggesting a lack of opportunities.  The average emigration rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is 4.7 percent, but to be fair, several countries have higher rates including Mexico, Cuba, and Antigua/Barbuda.  From this, I take away the importance of improving agriculture, education, and water/sanitation if Haiti is to make long term progress toward its potential.


A lot is going Haiti's way right now.  By end November, we will have likely made it through the 2009 hurricane season without being seriously affected by a tropical storm. The political situation is more stable than it has been in a long time.  Infrastucture projects are ongoing and investment is looking up.  There is an increasing sense of optimism and opportunity, although a bit of trepidation as to whether this window of opportunity will extend beyond the 2011 Presidential elections.


Going forward, I hope for four things: (1) that the government will clearly articulate its strategy for agriculture and environmental management, incuding its vision for biofuels; (2) that through agricultural investment, and the creation of a Haitian Conservation Corps, Haitian youth will not feel compelled to migrate to already overcrowded cities; (3) that Haiti can draw from Brazil's experiece in reducing poverty by promoting access to education and addressing malnutrition; and (4) that the government and civil society will continue to improve their ability to prepare for and respond to hurricanes - we may be lucky enough to avoid one this season, but we know for certain there will be others in the future.  


What other steps do you feel could be taken to improve food security in Haiti?  Please feel free to post in the comments section below.




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