Haiti Food Security Update (2/3/2009)

  • Posted on: 3 February 2009
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

It is Kanaval season in Haiti!  This is not a time to dwell on one’s sorrows but a time to focus on living.  It is a loud, vibrant, and wonderful time of the year.  No matter how bad things get, Kanaval will always be for friendships, relationships, music, dancing, tradition (and drinking.) But as another proverb goes, after the dance the drum is heavy.  When Kanaval is over, it’s back to work for all.  Achieving food security is task #1.


Let’s start with the global picture.  Food prices have fallen since record highs during a spike in the beginning of 2008.  Since then, the world's economic problems have exacerbated the food price crisis.  Josette Shearan, head of the World Food Programme (WFP) identified four effects the financial crisis is already having on the hunger crisis: remittances to poor countries like Haiti are down, nations that depend on exports of farm goods are suffering because of the economic slowdown in buyer countries, investment in agricultural infrastructure is declining and the credit crunch is painful for small-scale farmers who need to borrow money for seeds and other supplies.


According to the World Bank, the volume of world trade is likely to contract for the first time since 1982, further reducing the potential for growth in developing countries.  What brought about the food crisis?  For the most part, competition with biofuels for scarce land, worsening agricultural productivity, the increasing proportion of people living in cities, the effects of climate change threatening harvests, environmental degradation, chronic under-investment in agriculture, and HIV/AIDS.  Efforts made to reach the Millennium Development Goals for poverty and hunger will be harder to reach as a result


So what is being done?  At the end of January, a two day UN meeting in Madrid was held to review global plans to deal with the food price crisis.  Ahead of the meeting, Oxfam and the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), raised concerns over UN agencies' call for funds and (allegedly) uncoordinated, overlapping manner.  Recent food price rises have helped swell the number of hungry to around 963 million - an increase of 109 million people in about two years, according to the report, A Billion Hungry People.  Oxfam is quick to note however that food security is not just a question of donor commitments.  Food insecure countries need to increase their own investments in agriculture.


According to Oxfam: (1) One in six of the world's population is hungry; (2) Between 50 and 60 percent of childhood deaths in the developing world are hunger related; (3) The risk of death is 2.5 times higher for children with mild malnutrition than for children who are adequately nourished; (4) The proportion of overseas development assistance spent on agriculture has fallen from almost a fifth in 1980 to 3 percent today; (5)  Poor people are particularly vulnerable to food price changes with many spending up to 80 percent of their income on food; (6) Even before the recent crisis 16,000 children died every day of hunger-related causes - one every five seconds


David Nabarro, coordinator of the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Task Force (HLTF) on Global Food Security, stated that the most serious challenge is not duplication, but a shortage of resources.  The immediate priority, he said, was "to ensure that the resources which are available for countries are used as efficiently as possible, and are easily available for countries facing food security challenges. There is a vital priority for countries which have immediate needs for the next planting season.’ 


Two proposals were up for discussion as participants debated the best method for providing long-term solutions to the food price crisis: the HLTF proposed a global partnership that would include UN agencies, governments, NGOs and the private sector; the FAO suggested that the UN committee on World Food Security be expanded.  Alas, no decision was made. 


A report from London-based think-tank Chatham House said climate change, water scarcity and competition for land would make it hard to meet an expected 50 percent rise in demand for food by 2030.  It called for more investment in agriculture with a focus on helping small farms. "While arguments for supporting small farms are sometimes dismissed as based on a romantic attachment of peasant agriculture, the evidence shows that with the right policy framework, small farming can be a viable route out of poverty," the report said.  For historical reasons, Haiti is country of small farms.  After independence, there was a great scattering.  Haitians destroyed the plantations, fled, and acquired parcels of land, and with it, freedom.  Small farms and cooperatives are key to reinvigorating Haiti’s withering agricultural sector.


The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) is also deeply concerned about the impact that climate change could have on food insecurity.  Scaling up nutritional interventions has become critical as more climate change studies forecast alarming projections. "There is convincing evidence that many of children's main killers - malaria, diarrhoea and undernutrition - are highly sensitive to climatic conditions."  UNICEF cited recent studies which found that some 50 million people worldwide could be at increased risk of hunger by 2010 as a result of climate change, while other studies indicated that in the next decade children and women would represent 65 percent of all those affected by climate-related disasters, of which 175 million would be children.


According to  Krittivas Mukherjee (Reuters), industries are pressing governments worldwide to dilute policies on climate change, but the world must not slacken the fight for a "structural shift" to a green economy.  The real issue is how can Haiti not afford to go green?  It needs to  be able to feed itself.  Sure, it makes more sense to export Mango Francique, Scotch Bonnet Peppers, and Haitian Blue Coffee, all of which can fetch an attractive price on the international market.  But rice, corn, beans, and other staples need to be produced domestically.  To solve the food crisis, Haiti must also address its energy crisis.   Haiti is at the mercy of imported oil.  Renewable energy (solar, wind, jatropha) will pay dividends by promoting food security.


The British solidarity organisation - the Haiti Support Group (HSG) - is backing  efforts to support “food sovereignty” in Haiti.  They are trying to put international organisations on the spot as to what they are doing to help Haitian farmers to increase national food production.  According to HSG, the aim is to get international organisations to make a significant shift away from relief - responding to widespread malnutrition, hunger, and famine by distributing imported food - and instead to do more to help Haitian farmers to grow more and cheaper food for domestic consumption.   


The HSG reported that, according to information from sources in Haiti, both the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) and CARE, have recently contacted a network of rice producers' cooperatives in the Artibonite department with a view to purchasing their produce.  According to HSG,  if international organisations source locally-grown food instead of paying vast amounts to import food from abroad it would greatly benefit the country's agricultural sector. 


This in turn would benefit the two-thirds of the population which derives its livelihoods from agriculture. With the proceeds from these guaranteed sales, farmers' cooperatives could invest in seeds, fertilsers, tools, and irrigation systems, in order to increase the size of future harvests. Over time, Haiti would increase the amount of food it produces, and produce it at a cheaper price. The dependence on food imports would decrease.   


According to Caribbean 360,  The World Bank has approved a US$8 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA) for Haiti to provide basic infrastructure and social services for disadvantaged rural communities. The initiative will see community-based organisations propose, select, implement, and maintain subprojects. "This project was designed to help strengthen local constituency organizations and provide a means through which citizens can determine their most pressing investment needs and access funds to meet them," said Yvonne Tsikata, World Bank Director for the Caribbean "In addition, community-driven development projects promote local empowerment and greater transparency in the allocation of resources."
The World Bank says the grant builds on the successful implementation of the Community-Driven Development Project (PRODEP), originally supported by a US$38 million grant approved by the Bank in July 2005.  The new funds, which will go towards the 32 municipalities that participated within the first phase of the ongoing project, will scale-up the direct transfer of funds to local community organisations to improve their access to basic social and economic infrastructure and income-generating activities, benefiting approximately 60,000 additional residents.  To date, PRODEP has focused on community subprojects that include: productive or income-generating investments (grain mills, cassava mills, fruit processing, cyber cafes); basic infrastructure (potable water, hand pumps, small spring catchment, spot rehabilitation of rural roads, soil conservation, electrification); and social centres (community centres, vocational training facilities).


The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) announced they would send a team to Haiti to see how they could support efforts to recover from the latest hurricanes.  The decision was made at the 13th Meeting of the CARICOM Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP).  CARICOM’s support is critical.  The more integrated Haiti is socially and economically, the more of a stake its neighbors have in ensuring its success.  Financial support is welcome but there are other kinds of support that Haiti needs even more - technical assistance in agriculture, new markets for agricultural goods, educational exchanges, and advocacy.


Haiti is still trying to stay on the map.  Preval is visiting Washington DC this week.  Spain's Queen Sofia and Secretary for International Cooperation, Soraya Rodriguez, recently visited Gonaives.  Canada’s Governor General Michaelle Jean was also recently in Haiti.  There was also an official visit by Cuban diplomats to Haiit recently.  The long term committment of Haiti's friends, neighbors, and donors is very much needed.


Take a look at the new Partners in Health and Social Justice Network.  It contains numerous videos on the relationship between food, health, and human rights in Haiti.  You might also like to look at a Global Health Council online magazine devoted to food security.  It describes how the current food crisis came to be and what can be done.  Much as Africa requires a new Green Revolution, so to does Haiti. 


But enough of that.  This time of year is a Caribbean Zen experience that makes us live in the present and appreciate every moment before it slips away forever.  The time will come to carry the drum again, but for now its Kanaval!




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