Over the last few decades Haiti has gone from being nearly self-sufficient in food and agricultural production to a country that must import over 50 percent of their food. The result of economic and trade policies that have devastated Haitian production; policies that former President Clinton recently apologized for. President Preval has called for large food distributions to be halted because of the distortions it can cause in the local market. For instance, the most recent Famine Early Warnings System Network price update shows that local rice is close to 20 percent cheaper than prior to the earthquake. Karen Ashmore of the Lambi Fund of Haiti told the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently:
“Food aid has its place in an emergency,” says Ms. Ashmore. “But it’s not a sustainable solution because it puts the local people out of business.”Although food distributions have been stopped, malnutrition is still extremely prevalent in the camps. A recent OCHA report noted that 69 percent of those in the camps suffer from malnutrition as opposed to 52 percent for the rest of the country. The World Food Program estimates that at least 2 million people are vulnerable to malnutrition. The Center for Economic and Policy Research proposed a plan in the aftermath of the earthquake that could help ameliorate both the problem of hurting local farmers, and that of malnutrition. The vast majority of food aid is not purchased locally, however if the international community made a committment to buy the local rice crop and distribute that as food aid it would have the dual effect of stimulating local production and supporting rural Haiti, while feeding the millions of people who are in need of food aid. Haiti produces roughly 15 percent of their domestic rice consumption, and food aid was just slightly lower than that in previous years. The international community, for just two percent of the money pledged over the next year and half, could purchase almost all the necessary rice aid locally.
To read more about the proposal, click here. For more on the effects of food aid and imports on Haitian agriculture, click here.