By JONATHAN M. KATZ
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 20, 2010; 2:13 PM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The earthquake not only smashed markets, collapsed warehouses and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat. It may also have shaken up the way the developing world gets food.
Decades of inexpensive imports – especially rice from the U.S. – punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves.
While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.
They’re led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton – now U.N. special envoy to Haiti – who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti’s rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.
“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”
Clinton and former President George W. Bush, who are spearheading U.S. fundraising for Haiti, arrive Monday in Port-au-Prince. Then comes a key Haiti donors’ conference on March 31 at the United Nations in New York.
Those opportunities present the country with its best chance in decades to build long-term food production, and could provide a model for other developing countries struggling to feed themselves.
“A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have … resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed,” U.N.
humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press. “That’s a global phenomenon, but Haiti’s a prime example. I think this is where we should start.”
Haiti’s government is asking for $722 million for agriculture, part of an overall request of $11.5 billion.
That includes money to fix the estimated $31 million of quake damage to agriculture, but much more for future projects restoring Haiti’s dangerous and damaged watersheds, improving irrigation and infrastructure, and training farmers and providing them with better support.
Haitian President Rene Preval, an agronomist from the rice-growing Artibonite Valley, is also calling for food aid to be stopped in favor of agricultural investment.
Today Haiti depends on the outside world for nearly all of its sustenance. The most current government needs assessment – based on numbers from 2005 – is that 51 percent of the food consumed in the country is imported, including 80 percent of all rice eaten.
The free-food distributions that filled the shattered capital’s plazas with swarming hungry survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake have ended, but the U.N. World Food Program is continuing targeted handouts expected to reach 2.5 million people this month. All that food has been imported – though the agency recently put out a tender to buy locally grown rice.
Street markets have reopened, filled with honking trucks, drink sellers
clinking bottles and women vendors crouched behind rolled-down sacks of dry goods. People buy what’s cheapest, and that’s American-grown rice.
The best-seller comes from Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, Arkansas, which sold six pounds for $3.80 last month, according to Haiti’s National Food Security Coordination Unit. The same amount of Haitian rice cost $5.12.
“National rice isn’t the same, it’s better quality. It tastes better. But it’s too expensive for people to buy,” said Leonne Fedelone, a 50-year-old vendor.
Riceland defends its market share in Haiti, now the fifth-biggest export market in the world for American rice. But for Haitians, near-total dependence on imported food has been a disaster.
Cheap foreign products drove farmers off their land and into overcrowded cities. Rice, a grain with limited nutrition once reserved for special occasions in the Haitian diet, is now a staple.
Imports also put the country at the mercy of international prices: When they spiked in 2008, rioters unable to afford rice smashed and burned buildings. Parliament ousted the prime minister.
Now it could be happening again. Imported rice prices are up 25 percent since the quake – and would likely be even higher if it weren’t for the flood of food aid, said WFP market analyst Ceren Gurkan.
Three decades ago things were different. Haiti imported only 19 percent of its food and produced enough rice to export, thanks in part to protective tariffs of 50 percent set by the father-son dictators, Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier.
When their reign ended in 1986, free-market advocates in Washington and Europe pushed Haiti to tear those market barriers down. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, freshly reinstalled to power by Clinton in 1994, cut the rice tariff to 3 percent.
Impoverished farmers unable to compete with the billions of dollars in
subsidies paid by the U.S. to its growers abandoned their farms. Others turned to more environmentally destructive crops, such as beans, that are harvested quickly but hasten soil erosion and deadly floods.
There have been some efforts to restore Haiti’s agriculture in recent years: The U.S. Agency for International Development has a five-year program to improve farms and restore watersheds in five Haitian regions. But the $25 million a year pales next to the $91.4 million in U.S.-grown food aid delivered just in the past 10 weeks.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization also distributed 28 tons of bean seeds in mountainous areas this month, with plans this week to distribute 49 tons of corn.
The G8 group of the world’s wealthiest nations pledged $20 billion for farmers in poor countries last year. The head of the FAO called this week for some to be given to Haiti.
President Barack Obama’s administration has pledged to support agriculture in developing nations. U.S. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana has sponsored legislation to create a White House Global Food Security coordinator to improve long-term agriculture worldwide, with a budget of $8.5 billion through 2014.
Even Haiti’s most powerful food importers have joined the push for locally produced food.
“I would prefer to buy everything locally and have nothing to import,” said businessman Reginald Boulos, who is also president of Haiti’s chamber of commerce.
But one group staunchly opposes reducing food exports to Haiti: the exporters themselves.
“Haiti doesn’t have the land nor the climate … to produce enough rice,” said Bill Reed, Riceland’s vice president of communications. “The productivity of U.S. farmers helps feed countries which cannot feed themselves.”
Haitian NGOs Decry Total Exclusion from Donors’ Conferences on Haitian Reconstruction
March 18, 2010
SANTO DOMINGO .- More than 26 organizations and social movements in Haiti reported that the process established for formulating the “Plan for Reconstruction of Haiti” at the donors’ conference that concluded yesterday in Santo Domingo has been characterized by an almost total exclusion of Haitian social actors and civil society, and very limited participation by uncoordinated representatives of the Haitian State.
The path set for the reconstruction of Haiti in the National Plan of
Post-Disaster Assessment may not meet the expectations of the Haitian people as it fails to address sustainable development needs, and instead focuses on restoring old development plans, rather than complete reorientation of the Haitian development model.
“We regret that this document, produced by a group of 300 technocrats, is presented to donors first, without first having exhausted a broad process of consultation with Haitian civil society.
We believe that the meeting scheduled for March 19 with some organizations of civil society in Port au Prince is no substitute for the actual mechanisms of participation of the various components of Haitian society in defining their collective future.
The crisis generated by the earthquake challenges us to initiate an alternative process aimed at defining a new national project, envisaging serious strategies to overcome exclusion, and economic and political dependence. Through this new orientation it is possible to move toward a new era of prosperity. We need to part with the old paradigms that have been followed up until now and develop an inclusive process of mobilization of social actors. To achieve this it is necessary to do the following:
1. Break with exclusion. Breaking this dynamic is an essential condition for true integration, based on social justice and for the strengthening of national cohesion. This involves the participation and mobilization of social forces traditionally excluded such as women, peasants, youth, artisans and so on. It also means targeted investment on the part of official institutions associated with current exclusion, and the reinvention of the Haitian state, whose practice should be geared towards transparency, institutional integrity, social justice, respect for diversity, and human rights.
2. Break with economic dependence. Build an economic model that encourages domestic production, with emphasis on agriculture and agro-industry turned first to the satisfaction of our food needs (cereals, tubers, milk, fruits and fish, meat etc.).
This new model should not be dominated by the logic of excessive accumulation of wealth or speculation, but oriented towards the welfare of the people, appreciation of national culture and the recovery of our national forests. It should also reduce dependence on fossil fuels by promoting a shift towards the use of the vast reserves of renewable energy available in our country.
3. Break with the excessive centralization of power and utilities. Develop a governance plan based on decentralization of decisions, services and
resources and strengthening the capacities of local governments and the establishment of mechanisms to ensure the direct participation of actors of civil society in Haiti.
4. Break with the current destructive land ownership policies. Implement a process of reorganizing the physical space in rural areas and cities, allowing the development of public spaces and social institutions and resources, such as public schools, public parks, housing, etc.. This involves conducting comprehensive agrarian reform and urban reform which would enable solutions for the hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless. To meet these challenges it is necessary to redefine the role of the state and its functioning.
Building a new model of development requires a comprehensive, consistent and widespread mobilization of popular sectors with an interest in decentralization and greater access to public resources and services (health, education, clean water, sanitation, communication, power and housing). Those who were traditionally exploited and excluded should be the main protagonists in this process.
This national project that we foresee for the sustainable development of
Haiti, must allow a new system of public education that facilitates access to quality education for all children, without discrimination, valuing the Creole language spoken by all people, raising awareness in favor of strong environmental protection, focusing on the preventing further vulnerabilityto natural disasters.
It is necessary to reorganize the health system with hospitals in various departments, valuation of traditional medicine, and particular attention to women’s health. Reorganization of the justice system will facilitate access to justice for all and will fight against corruption. We want a state that has the ability to manage and direct the country, a state capable of taking the lead and coordinating international aid efforts.
In terms of international relations, the country must develop new relationships with friendly countries, strengthening our ability to defend our interests and fostering friendship among states and peoples. With the Dominican Republic we must formalize relationships around various issues, including trade, binational markets, and migrants rights.
We request the cancellation of all of Haiti’s debts. The tragedy of the earthquake should not cause Haiti to spiral into greater indebtedness.
The social institutions and NGOs that have signed this statement call for mobilization and soon will undertake to organize an Assembly for the Haitian People to address the challenges and to define strategies for the alternative and sustainable reconstruction of our country.
PAPDA, JURISHA, ENFOFANM, GAAR, Fondation TOYA, AFASDA, Gammit Timoun, GIDH Group entevansyon, MPP, CROSE, KSIL, KONAREPA, PADAD, MOREPLA, SOFA, Mouvement scolaire Foi et Joie, Media Alternative, Comission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix, CHANDEL, ICPJLDH,REBA, TKL, Cellule Réflexions et d’Actions Sj, Confédération des Haïtiens pour la Réconciliation, VEDEK,
Participants in the March 13-14 Conference
5. Fondation TOYA
7. Gammit Timoun
8. GIDH Group entevansyon
16. Mouvement scolaire Foi et Joie
18. Comission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix
23. Cellule Réflexions et d’Actions Jésuites
24. Confédération des Haïtiens pour la Réconciliation
27. Centro Cultural Poveda
28. Red Ciudadana
30. Plataforma Ayuda Haití
32. Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo
34. Cuidad Alternativa
35. Comité Dominicano DDHH
36. Red Urbana Popular
37. Confederación Nacional de Unidad Sindical
38. Redesol – IDEAC
40. Cooperativa Unión Integral
42. Foro Social Alternativo
43. Articulación Campesina (ANC)
44. Alianza International de Habitantes (AIH)
45. Asamblea de los Pueblos del Caribe
46. CASAL de Solidaritat con America Central de Prat de Llobregat.
47. Manos Unidas España
Original can be found at: CEPR