Haiti Food Security Update (12/22/2008)

  • Posted on: 22 December 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

What a year. The soaring costs of food and fuel, political unrest, and natural disasters prevented any real progress toward food security. The international community tunes in and tunes out to Haiti’s struggle to feed itself.  For now, there is attention. Two of the main tasks of the Haitian government and civil society in 2009 will be to begin reversing environmental degradation and reinvigorating the Haitian agricultural system. The challenges remain daunting, but are not insurmountable. There is much that we, as friends of Haiti, can do for a better year in 2009.  

The World Food Programme (WFP) aims to feed nearly 100 million of the world's hungriest people in 2009. Unfortunately, the agency will start the new year needing US $5.2 billion for urgent hunger needs. Without increased funding, millions of people in Haiti, the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya and other hunger hot spots will run out of food assistance by the end of March, when warehouse stocks are depleted. WFP is funded entirely from contributions by partner governments, concerned individuals, and companies.


WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran points out that a mere one percent of what has been tabled in the US and Europe for financial rescue and stimulus packages could fully fund the work of the agency. Sheerhan stated, "As we take care of Wall Street and Main Street, we can't forget the places that have no streets."  The 2008 food crisis has already pushed 40 million people into hunger, bringing the number of undernourished in the world closer to a billion, according to the FAO's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008


As a result of high food prices and continued market volatility, WFP intends to engage non-traditional donors like China and private sector organizations. China recently made a $4.5 million contribution in response to a global appeal by WFP to address the hardships created by high food and fuel prices, while Saudi Arabia donated $500 million to help meet its funding shortfall. In 2007 the food aid agency began a partnership to raise funds with Yum! International, which owns the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut brands and has 35,000 restaurants in 112 countries, raising $16 million in the first year.


The Haiti Support Group wrote WFP requesting information about the type of rice being distributed in Haiti. The organization is seeking reassurance that the WFP is not distributing imported rice that has undergone the usual commercial milling that could considerably reduce the rice's mineral, vitamin, and fibre content. In Haiti, the cultural norm is to wash and rinse rice before cooking, removing much of the nutrients. The United States is the largest donor to the WFP, but most of it is in-kind crop surplus which is intended to help the American farmer as much as the recipient. While we think local and regional purchase of food is a better option for beneficaries, we are unlikely to see a major shift during a recession. We’ll post WFP’s response to Haiti Support Group’s query, when it is available.


Looking ahead, the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) warned in its analysis of the double impact of the food price and financial crises on agriculture and the poor that the numbers of hungry would keep rising. In another 12 years, 16 million more children could be malnourished at a time when even fewer people would be able to afford staple cereals like maize, rice and wheat, which could cost between 13 percent and 27 percent more.


IFPRI notes that with limited budgets, there is “…a direct trade-off between humanitarian relief and longer-term investment in addressing underlying structural causes of human suffering. That is why it is so important to identify and employ best practices, to steward scarce resources wisely."  For Haiti, this means that investments in the country’s capacity are key.  It is unlikely that Haiti will ever be able to meet 100% of its own food needs domestically, but the end goal should be to reduce the country's crippling dependence on food imports and food aid.


United Nations talks on climate change concluded earlier this month, having achieved some progress toward setting the world on the track to a new global climate treaty. The final document produced at the conference contained several noteworthy items, notably giving nations credit for saving forests and opening up a long-planned fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change.


Some consider it a matter of environmental justice to help developing countries adjust to climate changes they did not cause.  The implications for developing countries in terms of the frequency/severity of natural disasters, agriculture, and tropical diseases are very significant.


According to Sheridan Bartlett, a researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the fast and unpredictable shifts in weather are not threats for the future, but happening right now. "The frequency of heatwaves and heavy precipitation is increasing; cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense; more areas are being affected by droughts; and flooding is now more serious."  This is not unlike what Haiti experienced in 2008.  Looking at the Caribbean as a whole, the region experienced eight hurricanes and five major hurricanes, the second highest ever, and the hurricane season lasted a record five months.


According to Neville Trotz, a science advisor to CARICOM, "A warmer climate poses in some cases insurmountable challenges to the region. We face more hurricanes, coral bleaching and flooding." In terms of assistance for developing countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change, Oxfam and Tearfund say that almost all the money pledged so far has come out of existing aid funds. With a worldwide recession, many analysts expect rich countries to resist paying more. 


The UN has established two funds - the Least Developed Countries and Special Climate Change funds - to raise money for the poorest countries to adapt, but the G8 countries have only pledged $6bn (£4bn). According to Oxfam Senior Policy Advisor Antonio Hill, "Every dollar that goes to climate adaptation would mean a dollar less for health and education programs in developing countries."


It is widely expected that the Obama Administration will re-engage the international community on climate change.  "This is a challenge of leadership, and we have an enormous obligation to meet it," said Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who will be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He went on to note, "The U.S. has to act, we must lead and we need to have mandatory emissions targets." 


According to Kerry, the United States would need to have its climate negotiation team in place by late January or early February, so that it could be "confident" of shaping the next treaty negotiating session, scheduled for March in Bonn, Germany.  The international community hopes to have a final treaty negotiated in Copenhagen in December 2009. 


With the global recession, developing countries have been hit particularly hard and will have less resources to prepare and respond to climate change. The World Bank's 2009 Global Economic Prospects report forecast world growth will weaken to 0.9 percent next year from 2.5 percent in 2008 with simultaneous recessions in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Where possible, the Bank advises that developing countries adopt fiscal stimulus packages, strengthen social programs and invest in infrastructure projects. 


Unfortunately, the Bank also predicts export opportunities for developing countries will fade rapidly. Private debt and equity flows into developing countries could drop to about $530 billion in 2009 from $1 trillion in 2007.  In Haiti, this could mean a dramatic reduction in remittances from the United States and other countries, a lifeline for many Haitian families.


To any extent, the international community will find it more difficult to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015.  According to FAO, food is not going to get cheaper soon. Prices of major cereals have fallen by over 50 percent from their peaks earlier in 2008 but are still high compared with previous years. Despite a sharp decline in recent months, the FAO Food Price Index was still 28 percent higher in October 2008 than in October 2006.


The European parliament approved a US$1.2 billion facility to boost food production in at least 35 developing countries affected by the food crisis. According to Gay Mitchell, an Irish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) the funds will come from three sources: the flexibility instrument, the emergency aid reserve, and the redeployment of funds in the external relations heading. At least $975 million of the approved amount is "fresh money". The vote on the facility was delayed. The funds, which were to have been made available over a three year period from 2008, will now be disbursed from 2009 onward.


To ensure that the aid is effective, MEPs decided it should target no more than 35 priority developing countries, Mitchell was quoted as saying in the European Parliament's website. "They should be selected based on their dependence on food imports, on the level of food price inflation compared to general inflation, agricultural production capacity or political instability caused by the crisis, as in Haiti, Bangladesh or Egypt."


Carla Bruni, singer and wife of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, made a substantial contribution to the Foundation of France (Fondation de France) from the sales of her latest cd entitled "Comme si de rien n'etait."  While the funds will primarily support education and health programming, it is nice to see that France may be taking a more active role in supporting development efforts in Haiti. The relationship between France and Haiti has been difficult, strained by history, but has the potential to be productive.  Food security, agriculture, and development of Haiti's private sector are all possibilities.


American Airlines employee William Dise led a group of 30 American employees to deliver assistance to those affected by the collapse of a school in Port-au-Prince in November.  On this mission, he garnered the support of Airline Ambassadors a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 by American Airlines flight attendant Nancy Rivard.  They brought food, medical supplies, baby products, clothing and various other resources.  American Airlines has occasionally given discounts to socially conscious groups carrying out programs in Haiti, an example of a private sector organization active in Haiti giving something back.  Royal Caribbean and Digicel are other notable examples of private sector companies that support social programming.   


Mud cookies, communities with children suffering from severe malnutrition, deforestation - none of these are new to Haiti.  But coverage of food security related issues definitely increased in 2008.  This has inspired many to give contributions of time or money to organizations that are helping communities to help themselves.  There are too many to list here.  Regardless of the level of attention they receive, they are working day in and day out for a better Haiti. 


Thanks very much for reading and commenting on Haiti's food security related challenges throughout 2008.  Haiti Innovation welcomes your thoughts and looks forward to keeping you informed. May 2009 be a year of action and of change. 


*Photo courtesy of Marcia Wilson.  You can view her Flickr Photos by clicking here.




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