Haiti Food Security Update (11/25/2008)

  • Posted on: 25 November 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, a time to reflect and be appreciative.  In the United States, the economy is weak and many Americans have lost their jobs and/or their homes.  While many of us will know frustration and disappointment, few will truly experience hunger.  For this I am thankful.  However, let us not forget that there are many families in Haiti and elsewhere struggling to feed themselves.  Even during the hard times, we can make a difference with the most modest contributions of time or money.


Malnutrition is by no means new to Haiti.  The environmental degradation, withered agricultural sector, and vulnerability to natural disasters, coupled with high costs of imported food and fuel all aggravate food insecurity. I noticed several articles recently on malnourished children in Haiti.  Jonathan Katz wrote a piece referencing Baie d’Orange, a village in the remote southeast where 26 severely malnourished children have reportedly died in the past four weeks.  According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), another 65 severely malnourished children are being treated in makeshift tent clinics in the mountainous area, or at hospitals where they were evacuated in Port-au-Prince.


The Miami Herald also described MSF’s makeshift children's malnutrition clinic in a Port au Prince shanty-town. The article notes concerns by UNICEF which estimates 300,000 children were affected by the storms that battered Haiti this summer, destroying crops and livestock at a time of already high food prices.  International relief workers are worried that vulnerable Haitian children are more at risk of dying.  Food insecurity is present throughout the country, but as far as Baie d’Orange is concerned, some are already called it a famine. 


I took a look at the USAID Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET). It notes that only 48% of the USD 105.7 million emergency appeal issued by the Haitian government and UN agencies in response to the natural disasters in August and September has been funded. Given the scope of need, this is not great but it represents a significant improvement over the single digit figures we saw last month. 


It goes on to note that parts of the country are still isolated, infrastructure remains to be repaired, and malnutrition may indeed be on the upswing. Fortunately, FEWS-NET notes that the cost of some staple foods has decreased somewhat. A six pound sack of imported Lucky rice, which had been selling for 203 gourdes in August, rose to 216 gourdes in September before dropping to 180 gourdes in October. Black bean prices in Port- au- Prince went from 154 gourdes in August to 172 gourdes in September, falling back to 150 gourdes in October. Food availability is not the primary obstacle, but the ability of families to pay for it.


The country remains vulnerable to natural disasters, which if unaddressed, will continue to take a toll on food security. FEWS-NET stresses that erosion on land along rivers and soil on mountainous areas hurts crop production potential, removes more fertile soil, reducing the amount of arable land available, and disturbs an increasingly fragile ecosystem, possibly reducing biodiversity.  Further, the erosion costs lives. A single day of rain on October 29 in Dame Marie (Grande Anse region) destroyed about twenty homes and killed seven villagers.  Mudslides are increasingly common in the shantytowns of Port au Prince as well.


Its reccomendations for the short and medium term include improving targeting efforts for sustained food assistance, repairing roads (to facilitate access to isolated areas) and irrigation systems under labor - intensive programs, providing microloans, reviving crop production activities, and bolstering the livestock raising sector. Long term recommendations include integrated environmental and watershed management and development (establishment of seedbeds for agroforestry systems, recontouring of river beds, etc.), repairing irrigation infrastructure, and land use planning as a basis for the relocation of residents from high-risk and disaster-prone areas.


Also of interest, the Haitian government and its partners are carrying out an evaluation on the impact of recent storms and framing a response plan based on the joint "Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA)."  This report is expected to be released by end November and will provide more information on the need for short, medium, and long term multisectoral responses, in which agriculture and food security should certainly play a role.


A platform of British development agencies and solidarity organizations has written to the United Nations to express its concern about the poor international response to the joint UN/Government of Haiti Flash Appeal and particularly, the weak response to the rehabilitation of Haiti's vital agricultural sector.  This is an important sector given that two-thirds of the Haitian population derives its livelihood from agriculture.


The US $10.5m was requested by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is to: (1) help rebuild the livelihoods of the farmers most affected by natural disasters; (2) rehabilitate the irrigation network in the main areas affected by flooding, and (3) help prevent the spread of disease among surviving livestock.


Only US$828,000, just 8% of the amount originally requested for agriculture, has been provided.  The letter written to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator stated “… The fact that the response to the agriculture section of the Flash Appeal has been so disappointing suggests that once again that the international aid machine remains wedded to the short-term and has scant regard for lasting solutions to Haiti's problems."


The Haiti Support Group is one of the groups which has expressed concern. Director Charles Arthur stated "Six or nine months from now, when the images of starving Haitian children are broadcast on North American and European television, people will ask how the situation in Haiti was allowed to get so bad. If Haitian farmers don't get help, we are looking at the strong possibility of a terrible famine."


The UN is seeking to hold a global food summit in the first half of 2009 (dates TBD) to seek fairer trade and help farmers in poor countries make a decent living. Jacques Diouf, head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the summit would seek to reform trade, encourage greater food production in developing countries and ensure funding for infrastructure and agricultural productivity. Diouf said he hoped the summit would find $30 billion a year to help boost developing country farm output.


The World Food Program (WFP) reports it has thus far distributed rations to more than half a million people, including 266,000 in the storm-ravaged northern city of Gonaives. But many flood survivors complain they have not received enough food. The WFP home page features a link through which concerned individuals can make a donation for their food assistance programs in Haiti.


Interestingly, WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have launched a joint initiative with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which aims to help provide poor rural farmers with financial protection following natural hazard events. Under the initiative, the foundation is providing US$998,000 in funding to support the research and planning for insurance schemes designed to help shield small farmers from the impact of natural disasters and climate change.


Support from the foundation will be used to assess the experience of ongoing initiatives in index insurance and define the key factors in creating widespread access to index insurance. This analysis will benefit from collaborations of leading public and private sector experts in the field. The IFAD-WFP team will also develop an overall strategy for a joint Weather Risk Management Facility (WRMF) that would build the capacity of public and private entities in weather insurance and develop and test delivery models for index insurance relevant to rural smallholders.


Weather index-based insurance schemes have been successfully piloted in a number of countries including Ethiopia,Malawi , Nicaragua,Honduras and India.  Payouts to farmers who subscribe to the schemes are triggered by pre-defined and independently-verifiable indices tracking events such as lack of rainfall during critical crop growing periods. Weather indexed insurance has also been piloted by WFP as the basis for the first humanitarian insurance policy for Ethiopia.


A number of strategic partners will play critical roles in this work, including the World Meteorological Organization, which establishes quality and accessibility standards for weather data around the world. In addition, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) will support the climate science behind this project and disseminate some of the findings.


We'll continue to keep you updated on any new food security developments.  Happy Thanksgiving from Haiti Innovation.



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.