Haiti Food Security Update (3/8/2009)

  • Posted on: 8 March 2009
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. President Bill Clinton will visit Haiti March 9-10 to promote international aid for Haiti.  According to UN Peacekeeping Chief Alain Le Roy, ''Clearly it's a fragile situation in Haiti.  There are still lots of difficulties but we think Haiti is winnable."  Also noteworthy is that a long awaited donor conference has been set for April 13-14 and will be chaired by the Inter American Development Bank. Expect food security to be an important part of these discussions.


The 2009 First Regular Session of the World Food Program (WFP) Executive Board was held in Rome from February 9-11, 2009.   Participants noted that in Latin America and the Caribbean, markets are not yet reflecting lower global food prices, nor are salaries reflecting inflation.  As in other parts of the world, women and children are suffering the most.  The region has been hit hard by declining global remittances, 48 percent of which are directed to countries in this region.  WFP stressed that social expenditures must increase in order to avoid chronic malnutrition.


Another issue which came up during the WFP meetings was the importance of local and regional food purchases.  At present, the United States provides most of its support to food insecure countries in the form of agricultural surplus.  American legislation requires that 50 percent of commodities be processed and packed in the US before shipment, and that 75 percent of food aid managed by USAID and 50 percent of the food aid managed by the US Department of Agriculture be transported in US-registered vessels.


If the sole metrics for measuring the success of US food assistance programs were speed and efficiency, we would come up short.  According to former head of USAID Andrew Natsios, a shift towards a mixed system of procuring food aid is the way to go for future policy.  Doing so could help meet the needs of vulnerable populations and build local/regional economies, which will help countries become more self-reliant over the long term.  We must consider how we can best help countries feed themselves.


Oxfam America and other American NGOs proposed a Roadmap to end Global Hunger, with a flexible approach to aid that would allow the use of cash transfers, vouchers, and a mix of local and US food purchases.  It will inform a piece of legislation soon to be introduced in the US House of Representatives. The Roadmap has the backing of the Friends of the World Food Programme and the US Fund for UNICEF (UN Children's Fund).


The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported that environmentally friendly ways of producing, handling and disposing of food would help the world keep up with the growing demand and boost food production.  More than half the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded because of inefficiency.  Recycling food waste and deploying new technologies - aimed at producing bio-fuels - could be a key environmentally friendly alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock, notes the report.


UNEP noted the need for a new Green Revolution as part of a new Global Green Economy.  Unless more intelligent and creative management is brought to the world's agricultural systems, UNEP cautioned that the global food crisis of 2008 could foreshadow an even bigger crisis. 

 According to UNEP, the 100-year trend of falling food prices may be over and food prices may increase by 30-50 percent within decades, severely impacting the very poor, who spend up to 90 percent of their income on food; up to 25 percent of global food production may be lost due to "environmental breakdowns" by 2050 unless action is taken; and, more than one-third of the world's cereals are being used as animal feed, expected to reach 50 percent by 2050, which could aggravate poverty and environmental degradation. 


The factors blamed for the global food crisis - drought, (food based) bio-fuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks - could worsen significantly in coming decades.  Other recommendations for Africa, but equally valid for Haiti, included managing and better harvesting extreme rainfall and support for farmers who adopt more diversified and ecologically friendly systems.


According to the USAID supported Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET), a third of Haiti's population is food insecure, with the highest concentrations in areas where current harvests have been below normal, and where damage from last season's storms was most intense (e.g., Gonaives and Belle Anse).  Despite the be low-normal rainfall forecast for the coming season, a sustained decline in international food prices should mitigate food insecurity over the next few months.


However, the extended forecast for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins in June, suggests above normal hurricane activity this year.  In combination with the effects of the U.S. economic recession, severe storms could undermine food security and lead to increased assistance needs.


In total, an estimated three million Haitians are classified as food insecure, representing nearly a third of the country's population. The hardest hit areas lie mostly in the Northwestern, Artibonite, Southeastern, Nippes, and Grande Anse departments. With the large disparities in conditions within each area, municipalities currently regarded as generally food secure may include pockets of food insecurity or have high rates of child malnutrition.


Staple food prices are expected to decline steadily during the first half of 2009 despite the poor harvest, which is still in progress. This assumption is based mainly on the downward trend in international market prices for grain.  Under this scenario, the size of the food–insecure population would be scaled back slightly, from 3 million to approximately 2.8 million.


The worst case scenario is based mainly on the reports of localized landslides and flooding and the pattern of inadequate, unevenly distributed rainfall in May and June of last year (at the beginning of the hurricane season) and the global financial crisis erupting in the midst of an election campaign.  Under this scenario, the size of the food–insecure population would grow to approximately 3.1 million between April and June of this year.


Given the scale of current and expected future food insecurity problems in the first half of this year, recommendations are being made to the government (specifically to interested ministries) and its partners (donors, United Nations agencies and organizations, NGOs, and civil society organizations) for various interventions to continue to meet current needs and prevent the situation from escalating. These recommendations involve mounting agricultural revitalization and environmental protection, road infrastructure, water supply, sanitation, health, and nutrition programs, extending ongoing emergency programs, and strengthening programs designed to reduce the country's vulnerability to natural disasters.


With food–insecure households primarily in need of cash income to ensure adequate food access on local markets, these programs should focus mainly on labor–intensive activities in order to create as many jobs as possible. Improvements in the targeting of food–insecure areas and population groups, better synergy between the activities of different partners, and good coordination are also needed to ensure program efficiency and effectiveness.


The International Crisis Group released a report on Haiti's current and future challenges, well worth a read.  It notes that remittances received in January 2009 totaled USD 69 million, the lowest monthly amount since July 2007, a decrease of 35 percent compared to December 2008, and a 3 percent decrease compared to January 2008.  Food price increases, as high as 37% occurred, in Jeremie in Cap Haitian.  The July harvest of crops planted in March will present the first true indication of recovery from the tropical storms.  One third of the population will likely need food assistance, and WFP will remain the primary responder.  The report also noted that while the agricultural sector needs an infusion of funding, investments in infrastructure are needed to maximize gains.


The report also cited a need for improved cooperation between President Rene Preval, Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis and parliament in passing new legilation and a proposed $256.4 million, mostly donor-financed budget.  Failing to produce tangible results in the daily lives of the Haitian population (both inside and outside of Port au Prince) will create opportunities for spoilers such as drug traffickers, corrupt politicians, gangs and business owners who prefer a weak government.


Venezuela announced the future construction of 500 homes and two new airports, 15 agricultural projects in Artibonite and Centre departments, the opening of 10 medical centers (jointly with Cuban doctors), and has provided generators which increased electricity production in Port-au-Prince by 30 megawatts.  The European Union is granting 280 million Euros to Haiti in the next four years under the European Development Fund.  The grant specifically targets rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the recent hurricanes. France will grant Haiti 2.5 million Euros as part of a food assistance program.  The WFP will manage the implementation.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted a new loan of USD 36.6 million to Haiti to assist with the global crisis and damage from hurricanes.  This loan brings the Haitian debt to the IMF to USD 170.9 million.  Haiti will qualify for HIPC debt relief by end of first half of 2009, provided they meet economic goals.  As indebted as Haiti has become under decades of dictatorship and economic mismanagement, debt relief is very important if Haiti is to address its highest priorities. 


Church World Service issued a press release concerning programs it is supporting to increase women's empowerment and food security at the same time.  This caught my interest as it is Haitian women who are holding the country together.   In Haiti's Nord-Oueste (Northwest) and Artibonite regions hundreds of women from 14 extremely poor communities are part of a network of rural cooperatives that are working together to create economic security and sustainable food sources for their families.  The effort is supported by Church World Service and operated by CWS Haitian partner Christian Center for Integrated Development (Sant Kretyen Pou Developman Entegre-SKDE)


These cooperatives are made up of neighbors who pool their resources in a community "bank" through which members save, borrow, store grain, share land and animals, learn to manage their land and money—and repay their micro-loans.  The co-op communities have progressed from individual income generating ventures at which some people barely made enough to send their children to school, to places where people can get co-op loans to expand homegrown businesses to the point that they generate adequate income to maintain households.  According to CWS, the women of these 14 cooperatives will continue to build their communities and empower themselves, in their own time, in their own way, until eventually they will be able to sustain themselves, without perpetual assistance from outsiders.


With the Ki-Moon/Clinton visit, the upcoming donor conference, and both harvest and hurricane seasons around the corner, this is an important time for Haiti.  As always, we will keep you updated.



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