By JONATHAN M. KATZ
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 20, 2010; 2:13 PM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The earthquake not only smashed markets, collapsedÂ warehouses and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat. It mayÂ also have shaken up the way the developing world gets food.
Decades of inexpensive imports – especially rice from the U.S. – punctuatedÂ with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and leftÂ 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 toÂ Haiti – who publicly apologized this month for championing policies thatÂ destroyed Haiti’s rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged theÂ 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 notÂ worked. It was a mistake,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations CommitteeÂ on March 10. “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss ofÂ capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what IÂ did; nobody else.”
Clinton and former President George W. Bush, who are spearheading U.S.Â fundraising for Haiti, arrive Monday in Port-au-Prince. Then comes a key HaitiÂ donors’ conference on March 31 at the United Nations in New York.
Those opportunities present the country with its best chance in decades toÂ build long-term food production, and could provide a model for other developingÂ countries struggling to feed themselves.
“A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have … resulted in a lackÂ of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed,” U.N.
humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press. “That’s a globalÂ phenomenon, but Haiti’s a prime example. I think this is where we shouldÂ 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 toÂ agriculture, but much more for future projects restoring Haiti’s dangerous andÂ damaged watersheds, improving irrigation and infrastructure, and trainingÂ farmers and providing them with better support.
Haitian President Rene Preval, an agronomist from the rice-growing ArtiboniteÂ Valley, is also calling for food aid to be stopped in favor of agriculturalÂ investment.
Today Haiti depends on the outside world for nearly all of its sustenance. TheÂ most current government needs assessment – based on numbers from 2005 – is thatÂ 51 percent of the food consumed in the country is imported, including 80Â 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.Â World Food Program is continuing targeted handouts expected to reach 2.5Â million people this month. All that food has been imported – though the agencyÂ 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 dryÂ goods. People buy what’s cheapest, and that’s American-grown rice.
The best-seller comes from Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, Arkansas, which soldÂ six pounds for $3.80 last month, according to Haiti’s National Food SecurityÂ 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 marketÂ 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 overcrowdedÂ cities. Rice, a grain with limited nutrition once reserved for specialÂ occasions in the Haitian diet, is now a staple.
Imports also put the country at the mercy of international prices: When theyÂ 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 sinceÂ the quake – and would likely be even higher if it weren’t for the flood of foodÂ aid, said WFP market analyst Ceren Gurkan.
Three decades ago things were different. Haiti imported only 19 percent of itsÂ food and produced enough rice to export, thanks in part to protective tariffsÂ of 50 percent set by the father-son dictators, Francois and Jean-ClaudeÂ Duvalier.
When their reign ended in 1986, free-market advocates in Washington and EuropeÂ pushed Haiti to tear those market barriers down. President Jean-BertrandÂ Aristide, freshly reinstalled to power by Clinton in 1994, cut the rice tariffÂ 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 turnedÂ to more environmentally destructive crops, such as beans, that are harvestedÂ quickly but hasten soil erosion and deadly floods.
There have been some efforts to restore Haiti’s agriculture in recent years:Â The U.S. Agency for International Development has a five-year program toÂ improve farms and restore watersheds in five Haitian regions. But the $25Â million a year pales next to the $91.4 million in U.S.-grown food aid deliveredÂ just in the past 10 weeks.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization also distributed 28 tons of beanÂ seeds in mountainous areas this month, with plans this week to distribute 49Â tons of corn.
The G8 group of the world’s wealthiest nations pledged $20 billion for farmersÂ in poor countries last year. The head of the FAO called this week for some toÂ be given to Haiti.
President Barack Obama’s administration has pledged to support agriculture inÂ developing nations. U.S. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana has sponsoredÂ legislation to create a White House Global Food Security coordinator to improveÂ 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 locallyÂ produced food.
“I would prefer to buy everything locally and have nothing to import,” saidÂ businessman Reginald Boulos, who is also president of Haiti’s chamber ofÂ commerce.
But one group staunchly opposes reducing food exports to Haiti: the exportersÂ themselves.
“Haiti doesn’t have the land nor the climate … to produce enough rice,” saidÂ Bill Reed, Riceland’s vice president of communications. “The productivity ofÂ U.S. farmers helps feed countries which cannot feed themselves.”
Haitian NGOs Decry Total Exclusion from Donorsâ€™ Conferences on HaitianÂ Reconstruction
March 18, 2010
SANTO DOMINGO .- More than 26 organizations and social movements in HaitiÂ reported that the process established for formulating the â€œPlan forÂ Reconstruction of Haitiâ€ at the donors’ conference that concluded yesterdayÂ in Santo Domingo has been characterized by an almost total exclusion ofÂ Haitian social actors and civil society, and very limited participation byÂ 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 peopleÂ as it fails to address sustainable development needs, and instead focuses onÂ restoring old development plans, rather than complete reorientation of theÂ Haitian development model.
â€œWe regret that this document, produced by a group of 300 technocrats, isÂ presented to donors first, without first having exhausted a broad process ofÂ consultation with Haitian civil society.
We believe that the meeting scheduled for March 19 with some organizationsÂ of civil society in Port au Prince is no substitute for the actualÂ mechanisms of participation of the various components of Haitian society inÂ 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 newÂ era of prosperity. We need to part with the old paradigms that have beenÂ followed up until now and develop an inclusive process of mobilization ofÂ social actors. To achieve this it is necessary to do the following:
1. Break with exclusion. Breaking this dynamic is an essential condition forÂ 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,Â institutional integrity, social justice, respect for diversity, and humanÂ rights.
2. Break with economic dependence. Build an economic model that encouragesÂ domestic production, with emphasis on agriculture and agro-industry turnedÂ first to the satisfaction of our food needs (cereals, tubers, milk, fruitsÂ 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 ofÂ 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 energyÂ available in our country.
3. Break with the excessive centralization of power and utilities. Develop aÂ governance plan based on decentralization of decisions, services and
resources and strengthening the capacities of local governments and theÂ establishment of mechanisms to ensure the direct participation of actors ofÂ civil society in Haiti.
4. Break with the current destructive land ownership policies. Implement aÂ 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 whichÂ would enable solutions for the hundreds of thousands of people who areÂ homeless. To meet these challenges it is necessary to redefine the role ofÂ the state and its functioning.
Building a new model of development requires a comprehensive, consistent andÂ widespread mobilization of popular sectors with an interest inÂ decentralization and greater access to public resources and servicesÂ (health, education, clean water, sanitation, communication, power andÂ housing). Those who were traditionally exploited and excluded should be theÂ 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 accessÂ to quality education for all children, without discrimination, valuing theÂ Creole language spoken by all people, raising awareness in favor of strongÂ 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 theÂ Dominican Republic we must formalize relationships around various issues,Â including trade, binational markets, and migrants rights.
We request the cancellation of all of Haitiâ€™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 HaitianÂ People to address the challenges and to define strategies for theÂ alternative and sustainable reconstruction of our country.
PAPDA, JURISHA, ENFOFANM, GAAR, Fondation TOYA, AFASDA, Gammit Timoun, GIDHÂ Group entevansyon, MPP, CROSE, KSIL, KONAREPA, PADAD, MOREPLA, SOFA,Â Mouvement scolaire Foi et Joie, Media Alternative, Comission EpiscopaleÂ Nationale Justice et Paix, CHANDEL, ICPJLDH,REBA, TKL, Cellule RÃ©flexions etÂ dâ€™Actions Sj, ConfÃ©dÃ©ration des HaÃ¯tiens pour la RÃ©conciliation, 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 RÃ©flexions et dâ€™Actions JÃ©suites
24. ConfÃ©dÃ©ration des HaÃ¯tiens pour la RÃ©conciliation
27. Centro Cultural Poveda
28. Red Ciudadana
30. Plataforma Ayuda HaitÃ
32. Universidad AutÃ³noma de Santo Domingo
34. Cuidad Alternativa
35. ComitÃ© Dominicano DDHH
36. Red Urbana Popular
37. ConfederaciÃ³n Nacional de Unidad Sindical
38. Redesol – IDEAC
40. Cooperativa UniÃ³n Integral
42. Foro Social Alternativo
43. ArticulaciÃ³n 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 EspaÃ±a
Original can be found at: CEPR