Earlier this week the French Embassy in Haiti announced an extension of their local procurement program in Haiti. Since 2005 France has worked with local farmers to try and stimulate local production by purchasing food aid locally. This new initiative significantly increases the amount to be purchased locally with France now committed to buying over 1,000 metric tons of rice from local producers in 2011.
The problems with traditional food aid are described by the embassy:
In Haiti, close to three million people now depend daily on food aid programs in order to eat. But, paradoxically, this support, made up essentially of agricultural surpluses imported from Western nations, is a double-edged sword: though it may be essential to the survival of nearly 30% of the country’s inhabitants, it also deprives Haitian farmers of a big part of their clientele. These local farmers thus find themselves squeezed between food aid that’s generously offered by Western countries, and the very low-priced commercial imports (as they are subsidized by the producer countries and taxed little by Haiti) by large traders : as they are unable to match these prices, these farmers thus abandon their land and move to the miserable slums of big cities… Where they swell the ranks of the food aid dependent population.
While the EU and the WFP have begun efforts to increase local procurement of food aid, the U.S. has lagged behind its peers. In December of 2010 the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights—in partnership with Partners In Health and Zanmi Lasante released a report looking at U.S. food aid policies in Haiti, entitled “Sak Vid Pa Kanpe: The Impact of U.S. Food Aid on Human Rights in Haiti.” The preface notes:
U.S. food aid—bound by requirements that U.S. assistance earmarked for food be based on the “donation” of U.S.-produced food delivered by U.S. shipping companies—is either given out to the poor (as direct food assistance) or sold by NGOs to support their overhead and operating costs (a process known as monetization). This type of food aid can undermine local production of food by falsely reducing the price of food that can be garnered by farmers, often leading to financial ruin and forcing people to abandon agriculture as a livelihood altogether. If done differently, food aid could be effectively tailored to address urgent needs without harming the local economy, while also encouraging local agriculture and production, for example through the use of local or regional purchase of commodities by donor countries.
The paper gives a series of recommendations to the U.S. about ways in which they could change their food aid policies to greater promote Haitians’ human right to food. The US has, however, taken small steps to increase flexibility in food aid. But not only are the resources not sufficient, but Haiti has not been included in the US’ Department of Agriculture Local and Regional Procurement Pilot Project despite the obvious need. Instead, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has relied on cash transfers through the Emergency Food Security Program. Last year a USAID funded study acknowledged that “LRP (Local and Regional Procurement) can stimulate local production, increase income-generating opportunities along the marketing chain, while simultaneously reducing dependence on imported foods whose market structures are less competitive than locally-produced foods.” Although USAID has focused on cash transfers, the USAID study notes that a “significant portion of the transfer spent on food will be directed towards imports, which will increase household food security but will not simultaneously stimulate domestic production.”
After the earthquake, noting that Haiti has gone from producing nearly 50 percent of their annual rice consumption in 1988 to around 15 percent now, CEPR published a report on food aid to Haiti that proposed “that international donors seeking to support Haiti’s agricultural sector and provide food to those in need could help Haiti become more self-sufficient by purchasing the entire Haitian rice crop over the next two years. The paper finds that buying up all of Haiti’s rice should be close to the amount of food aid for rice that the international community is likely to provide this year, and would provide a tremendous boost to Haitian farmers, who currently are unable to compete with low-cost rice imports from the U.S.”
Although the French initiative is a welcome development, it still represents a small portion of overall food aid. The 1,085 MT of rice that France has committed to purchasing locally accounts for 3.5 percent of the total amount of rice given as aid in just the first six months of 2010. It is just 2 percent of the total 2009 Haitian rice crop. Similar to what was suggested in the CEPR paper, France has set a price that is “sufficiently high to allow these farmers to live off their work and prepare the next harvests, but low enough to avoid an increase in the price of food goods on local markets.“ This addresses the primary concern raised in the USAID-sponsored study that local procurement could lead to inflation in food prices. The cost of purchasing the entire local crop would be, based on our estimates (which are consistent with the French government’s analysis), between $62 and $82 million a year; a small portion of the $5.3 billion that international donors have pledged for Haiti.
France and much of the rest of the world appear to be learning from past aid failures and working to increase the long-term sustainability of Haitian agriculture through local procurement. Will the US follow suit?