Monday, January 3, 2011


by Roger Annis (Haiti Liberte) An important new study on the right to food in Haiti was published in December. It examines the impact that foreign food aid programs have had on Haiti, U.S. programs in particular.
The report is based on surveys of families in the region surrounding the town of Hinche in central Haiti. It is entitled "Sak Vid Pa Kanpe: The Impact of U.S. Food Aid on Human Rights in Haiti." The title draws on a Haitian proverb, lamenting that a sack cannot stand if it is empty. It is a powerful metaphor for the importance of food and sustenance to a human's capacity to "stand" and function.
"Sak Vid Pa Kanpe" finds that while U.S. food aid may provide nourishment to many people, it fails to improve long-term food security and therefore interferes with basic human rights.
The study's four authors are the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, Partners In Health, the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, and Zanmi Lasante, the Haitian health agency allied with Partners In Health.
*Existing policy has "disastrous" results*
The report argues that the right to food is a basic human right. Nothing controversial there; any government in the world will say it follows that principle in its aid programs. But the report shows this is anything but the truth. There is very little of a rights-based approach in the food aid programs of the United States, and most other big powers for that matter.
"The realization of the right to food requires more than temporary alleviation of hunger," the report says. It traces U.S. policy towards Haiti over the past several decades and concludes: "While coercing Haiti to nearly eliminate its import tariffs on rice, reduce investments in agriculture, and focus on a few crops for export, the United States gradually increased shipments of its own agricultural commodities to Haiti."
The result has been "a disastrous effect on Haitians' ability to produce food for domestic consumption and has created Haitian dependence on the importation of food." In 1986, Haiti produced 80% of the food it consumed. By 2008, that figure was 42%. In the wake of the earthquake and now the cholera outbreak, the gap between local agricultural production and imported aid is widening every more.
Researchers for the report found that in the region of Hinche, food aid did fill important gaps in people's needs but did not eliminate hunger. Nearly 90% of people responding to the survey - and over 80% of their young children - had gone to sleep hungry in the month before the survey because there was not enough food.
Some 62% of surveyed aid recipients reported that they did not know how to prepare the food because it was unfamiliar while 11% of recipients received food that was inedible; 14% became ill from eating food aid.
The report says that one out of ten children under five years of age in Haiti is severely malnourished. One in three is chronically malnourished. This has a direct impact on the child mortality rate (five years of age and under), which is 72 per 1,000 live births.
Surveys of the camps of earthquake survivors in recent months have documented similar examples of malnutrition. (See, for example, "We've Been Forgotten": Conditions in Haiti's Displacement Camps Eight Months After the Earthquake, September 2010, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.)
"In the short term, U.S. food aid in Haiti does reduce food insecurity for individual households receiving help," the report states. "But in the long term, food aid has been unable to ensure lasting, sustainable food security, an element of the right to food. Instead of supporting the agricultural production upon which so many Haitians depend, it has undermined the livelihoods of peasants and small farmers in Haiti."
*Unacceptable conditions of food aid*
The report looks at the negative consequences of tying food aid to the commercial interests of the donating country. In addition to the aforementioned consequence on local food production, it finds that imported food is very costly. Two thirds of "Title Two" food aid (the program under which the vast majority of U.S. food aid is provided) goes to cover transportation costs.
According to the report, in 2008, the United States spent 67 times more money on food aid to Haiti than in providing assistance to Haitian farmers.
The United States and Japan are among the few remaining countries in the world to tie food and other aid to procurement in their own countries. Whereas the proportion of aid that is tied is gradually falling in the world, it remains at nearly 100% in the U.S.
An article by Beverley Bell of Other Worlds, "Miami Rice": The Business of Disaster in Haiti details the destructive consequences of the commercialization of food aid on Haiti's rice producers. (See other excellent articles on Haitian agriculture by Beverley Bell and other authors on the website of Other Worlds.)
"Monetization" of food aid is another harmful practice. This is where charities and NGOs are permitted to sell donated food on local markets in order to finance their programs.
Recent Wikileaks revelations show that U.S. trade policies in agriculture are not the benign workings of the "free market," as proponents argue. The U.S. government has taken aggressive moves in Europe to break down barriers to the importation of genetically modified seeds patented by U.S. agricultural and chemical conglomerates.
Threats and aggressive moves have been used against successive Haitian governments to "open" Haiti's markets to U.S. imports.
*Cholera and agriculture*
A recent article by Haitian agronomist William Michel on the Haiti-Nation website looks at the impact of the cholera epidemic on the future of agriculture in Haiti. He says the date of cholera's arrival will go down in infamy among Haitian peasants in the same way that Sep. 11, 2001 has for many U.S. citizens.
The author expects the cost of rice, vegetables and other crops will rise due to a host of reasons, including the need to procure uncontaminated water for processing. Demand will likely drop out of fear that food in contaminated. The epidemic began in Haiti's most fertile agricultural region, the Artibonite River valley.
Indeed, a Nov. 20 article in French entitled "Cholera: Artibonite rice producers in trouble" on the website of the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), the foreign occupation force, says that wholesale rice buyers in Port-au-Prince have stopped buying rice from the Artibonite valley, forcing farmers there to lower prices that are already below production costs.
"Sak Vid Pa Kanpe" proposes recommendations for U.S. government policy makers, including:
-- Cease the policy whereby food aid must originate from U.S. sources. Boost Haitian agricultural production through local purchasing and assistance to local producers.
-- End the policy ("monetization") that allows NGOs and charities to sell U.S. food aid.
-- Institute full transparency and disclosure of foreign aid, and cooperate with the Haitian government and agencies in planning aid programs.
-- Ensure meaningful participation of Haitians in all U.S. assistance programs to Haiti.?
The same consortium of groups which authored "Sak Vid Pa Kanpe" produced the 2008 report "Woch nan Soley: The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti," which noted that the politically motivated "actions taken by the United States [in 2001] in blocking IDB development loans earmarked for water projects in Haiti were a direct violation of the U.S. government's human rights obligations."
"Sak Vid Pa Kanpe" is a welcome addition to the growing trove of books and studies which illustrate how U.S. food aid, whose main beneficiary is U.S. agribusiness, has sabotaged Haiti's food sovereignty rather than promoting it.
To read or download "Sak Vid Pa Kanpe," and for more information on the groups who wrote it, go to: . Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network.

1 comment:

Marijannayiti said...

Jah love,

Mesi anpil for posting this great piece about the politricks of food production in Ayiti. Love the discussion and as a 2nd generation transnational Haitian American I feel strongly that we should really fight to end the nightmare of hunger and bad foodstuff in Ayiti once and for all. Jah bless.