Haiti Food Security Update (12/25/2009)

  • Posted on: 25 December 2009
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

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.


Globally, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned that food prices for poor countries (that are net importers) remained high despite a good 2009 cereal harvest.  Prices have fallen significantly since their peaks several years ago, but wheat and corn prices strengthened in October and rice export prices are still above pre-crisis levels.  As FAO Assistant Director General Hafez Ghanem puts it, "..for the world's poorest people who spend up to 80 percent of their household budgets on food, the crisis is not over yet.”


According to Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), the risk of hunger, heightened by increasing threats from climate change and the scarcity of land and water, is the "new normal."  She emphasized that the world food crisis is not a one off phenomenon, but a wake-up call that exposed the fault lines from the village on up to the national and international levels. She highlighted countries such as Senegal and Brazil that have demonstrated leadership in eradicating hunger through a combination of agricultural production, social safety net protection, trade and market solutions.


Echoing Sheeran, Joachim Von Braun of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) states that the world is facing protracted and especially difficult food and economic crises, and climate change will create serious challenges.  He emphasizes that a comprehensive approach for supporting the poor in managing growing food-security risks must include agricultural productivity enhancement, strengthening market and trade opportunities, insurance opportunities, and social-protection opportunities.   He recommends investment in nutrition, better access to markets, reduced food price volatility, and adaptation to climate change as the way ahead.


Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, stated that some of the elements that drove up food prices two years ago are still in play.  He highlighted in particular the linkages between the costs of fuel and food.  In 2009, the World Bank increased agricultural investment to $6 billion in response to the 2008 World Development Report finding a strong link between agricultural investment and overcoming poverty.  The Bank is working with the Gates Foundation to promote agricultural research, such as enhanced seeds, to increase agricultural productivity.


Since November, there have been a number of high level dialogues on global food security, the most important of which was the World Summit on Food Security, hosted by the FAO.  Deliverables were scarce but participating countries did agree to reverse the decline in domestic and international funding for agriculture and promote new investment and to improve governance of global food issues in partnership with the public and private sectors, and to proactively face the challenges of climate change to food security. 


In his address to the Summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called the current food crisis "a wake-up call for tomorrow".   The head of FAO, Jacques Diouf, underlined that food security goes beyond production alone, stating "We need protection against pests and diseases of plants and animals which often affect human health. We have to face emergency situations resulting from natural disasters and to conserve the national resource base of food production to ensure sustainability."


Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) released its annual list of the ten most neglected emergencies, one of which was malnutrition.  According to MSF, “…the neglect extends to childhood malnutrition, a treatable disease that is the underlying cause of up to half of the annual ten million preventable deaths of children under five each year…global leaders gathered at the World Food Summit in Rome in 2009 failed to commit to combating the disease which groups like MSF have shown can be prevented and treated by providing growing children with proper foods that meet their nutritional requirements.


Malnutrition is a medical condition that threatens the health of individuals and the development of communities and countries.  With the right mix of therapeutic foods and care, organizations such as MSF and UNICEF have indeed shown that the vast majority of children can recover.  It is not a lack of effective interventions, but rather a lack of political will and financial resources, that are the primary obstacles to scaling up global efforts against malnutrition.  MSF is advocating for an additional $700 million, as the amount needed to reach the 32 countries with highest prevalence of malnutrition among their child population under five.  Where would this funding come from? While billions of dollars are spent each year on “development food aid and food security” or “emergency food aid,” MSF found that less than two percent of this assistance is spent on interventions targeted specifically at reducing childhood malnutrition.  MSF recommends a reallocation of some of the billions currently being spent on food aid to purchase food that is appropriate for under-fives to reduce the devastating effects of malnutrition in millions of children: stunting, increased vulnerability to disease, and death.


A recurring theme in the food security dialogues has been the importance of South-South cooperation.  Haiti has much to gain from working closely with other developing countries on agriculture, energy, and food security.  Brazil has been assisting Haiti in developing a biofuel industry.  Cuba has been providing technical expertise to help Haiti establish fisheries.  In 2005, Argentina initiated a small program to increase agricultural productivity in Haiti, formally known as ‘Le programme de promotion de l’autoproduction d’aliments frai’(PRO-HUERTA) in Haiti.  Specialists from the Institut National de la Technologie Agraire de l’Argentine (INTA) and the Faculté latino-américaine des sciences sociales de l’Argentine (FLACSO-Argentine) travel to Haiti on occasion to provide technical expertise.  In late October, CNSA hosted meetings and conducted field visits with Colombian agriculture experts.  Other countries may be able to help Haiti make the best use of eroded land for agricultural purposes, or to launch a grassroots campaign to reforest the countryside through grassroots campaigning, as is being done through Kenya’s Green Belt movement.   New partners, such as Mexico, may be able to assist. Mexico is involved in 412 projects in agriculture, science, fishing, and technology in other countries.


The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) may be an effective forum through which to facilitate an exchange of experts and technical assistance with other regional organizations such as the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organization of American States (OAS), the East Africa Community (EAC) the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and others.   Agricultural experts from other regions could vassist with projects in numerous CARICOM countries.  CARICOM is developing a food and nutrition strategy for the Caribbean in partnership with the Government of Italy and the FAO that will address how best to produce, process, and distribute agricultural products in the region.


A discussion about food security in Haiti is largely a discussion of rice, black beans, corn, and cooking oil supplemented with locally produced fruits and vegetables.  According to FEWS-NET, the fall harvest was good and the costs of staples have remained stable and even decreased.  Improvements on the roads between Hinche and Port au prince and Marchand-Saint Michel and L’Attalaye have facilitated the flow of agricultural commodities to markets. Public works programs in Gonaives, the Central Plateau and elsewhere have creating much needed livelihood opportunities for vulnerable families.


According to FEWS-NET, about 1.8 million Haitians remain food insecure.  Due to insufficient water in irrigation systems in the southeast, there could be a late planting of beans and potential loss of crops in early December.  FEWS-NET and the Haitian Coordination Nationale de la Sécurité Alimentaire (CNSA) will jointly assess the situation in January 2010. While there are pockets of food insecurity throughout the country, the situation is most acute in the northwest.  To promote food security situation in the northwest, CNSA and FEWS NET suggest the Government and its partners: 1) Establish national safety net programs for households most vulnerable to food insecurity; 2) increase availability of water to meet domestic needs by building tanks, small lakes, and catchment sources; 3) develop watersheds to feed the small irrigation systems; and 4) help improve the breeding of goats and poultry and the development of handicrafts.  Livelihoods opportunities could also be created through fishing, salt havesting, sand quarrying, management of historic sites, formation of arts and crafts cooperatives, and perhaps one day, tourism.


The Haitian Minister of Agrticulture Jonas Gue intends to increase agricultural productivity across the country.  His Ministry’s priority is to improve irrigation systems the Central Plateau, the Artibonite, the Plaine de Torbeck and the North-east.  According to AlterPresse, Haiti hosted a summit on regional food security in Port au Prince on December 10, 2009.   During the summit, Gue laid out the priorities of his ministry including a campaign to improve the cultivation of green beans.


Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter American Development Bank, reaffirmed IDB support to Haiti as the country's main multilateral donor.  In 2009, program disbursements will reach $130 million. The IDB also granted $511 million in debt relief.  In 2010, IDB support to Haiti will focus on priority areas that have been identified with country authorities: transportation and infrastructure, productive activities and private sector development, basic services, prevention and mitigation of natural disaster risk and environmental sustainability, and economic governance. The IDB has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Haitian Ministry of Commerce and Industry to provide technical assistance to eligible Haitian garment companies and to attract investment to the Haitian garment sector in general.


In December, the IDB also approved $5.5 million in grants to strengthen the Ministry of Health’s Nutrition division.  In order to alleviate this problem, the IDB will support a two-pronged approach - on one hand it will improve and expand the reach of Child Health Weeks, a bi-annual campaign to deliver vitamin A supplements, de-worming and zinc capsules, as well as other critical child survival interventions at the national level.  It will also invest in the promotion of breastfeeding, the treatment of acute malnutrition and assist the Government in creating a fortification system so that micronutrients can be added to staple foods and utilize the market channels to distribute the needed micronutrients such as iron to the population.


On the other hand it will finance a creation of a social information system and pilot a safety net program in maternal and child healthcare using community workers. This will serve as a planning tool for broader safety net programs.  It will also initiate a national program for the treatment of acute malnutrition with locally produced ready-to-use-therapeutic-food.  Under the program, the distribution of vitamin A supplements will more than double over a four-year period from the current 31 percent to 70 percent of children under five years of age.  Additionally, the program is expected to cut in half the incidence of infants affected by intestinal parasites.


Also in December, the World Bank approved 24.5 million in grants for economic governance, road rehabilitation. Approximately half will be for improving the effectiveness, transparency and accountability of public sector institutions.  The other half will be for reconstructing roads and bridges destroyed by the tropical storms of 2007 and 2008.   It also includes funding for repairing (and protecting from erosion) numerous other roads.  This includes No. 41 between Jacmel and Marigot, No. 2 between Saint-Louis du Sud and Aquin, and No.3 between Carrefour Barrière Battant and Carrefour la Mort.  The other half of No.3 will be rehabilitated with financing from the European Union and the French development agency (Agence Française de Développement, AFD).   When complete, Route National 3 will have gone form being the worst road in Haiti to a major transport and trade corridor, including for agricultural commodities.  It will allow trucks to bypass Route National 1 between Port au Prince and Cap Haitian, expanding markets. 


The European Commission approved  € 215 million under the Vulnerability FLEX mechanism (V-FLEX) for 11 African countries and two Caribbean countries. This is the first package of financing decisions in the framework of the € 500 million V-FLEX mechanism which was adopted in August 2009 as a  response to the economic crisis for African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP).   An initial 30 million has been allocated for Haiti in order to cushion its social protection budget from the global financial crisis.


The World Food Program (WFP) has initiated barge operations from Port au Prince to support emergency operations.  With air operations being prohibitively expensive, doing so provides the WFP with another option for responding to emergencies.  The barge operation is a European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funded project and is one of several projects that WFP currently manages in Haiti.  Currently, the inter-agency fleet of trucks operates in the rugged and mountainous interior.  The barges are available to other agencies.  In November, WFP also provided two Toyota Land Cruisers to the CNSA to facilitate their movement to priority regions in the country. 


The new Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive met with members of the Canadian government, which has committed 555 million Canadian dollars (527 million U.S. dollars) from 2006-2011 to bring stability, sustainable development and prosperity to Haiti. Canada will provide more support to Haiti in its efforts to strengthen security and development.


This is the last food security update of 2009.  While there are always challenges (Deye Mon Gen Mon), 2010 could potentially be an even better year for Haiti.  We look forward to keeping you updated. Happy Holidays to all!



Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.