Haitian President Rene Preval arrives in Washington today and is set to meet with President Obama on Wednesday. Reuters reports on one of the key messages that will come from Preval:
Donations of food and water have proved a lifeline for more than 1.2 million people displaced by the quake, but Preval told a news conference on Monday the aid could in the long term hurt the economy of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
"I will tell him (Obama) that this first phase of assistance is finished," said Preval, standing in front of the ruined presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.
"If they continue to send us aid from abroad -- water and food -- it will be in competition with the national Haitian production and Haitian commerce," he said.
In its most recent budget request, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) proposed spending $1.2 billion globally on helping poor farmers grow more food, while asking Congress for $4.2 billion for food aid, almost all of which will be spent on purchases from American farmers. Most recently, USAID was helping agriculture officials boost Haiti's production of mangoes -- for export to the United States.
The article also notes that while 20 years ago Haiti provided itself with most of its food, it now imports nearly 75% of food needs. Greenwire reports on the role of the international community in this transformation:
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been threatening for years to cut off financing if the Haitian government pays for irrigation, fertilizers or equipment for its poor farmers. And in 1995, as a condition for restoring President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he was ousted by a military coup, the United States forced Haiti to adopt the lowest food import tariffs in the hemisphere, to provide U.S. farmers another market. A flood of cheap, heavily subsidized U.S. rice eventually pushed domestic varieties from the marketplace, and Haitian landowners fired thousands of workers.
Greenwire notes the importance of support for the agricultural sector in the wake of the earthquake. One problem that Patrick Belizaire, who runs the Cooperative Farm Initiative for Haiti, notes is a lack of labor to work the land. The mass exodus from Port-au-Prince therefore provides an opportunity to put people to work farming. While some agencies have supported this, Greenwire notes that “most aid workers dismiss any suggestion that displaced people could be put to work in agriculture.” The article continues:
This type of talk is deeply frustrating to the Haitians who stayed on the farms. Here, cooperative members showed dismay when told that the international community wants to put displaced city dwellers to work making T-shirts and jeans instead of growing food. They reject notions that incorporating new workers into the farm economy will inevitably lead to conflict.
"The only time we have frustration is when we can't get help," said Delivoix Velarus, a member of the co-op. "But when the help is there, we are extremely happy about it. We would be extremely happy and would welcome them with open arms."
There have been numerous reports that the price of imported rice has increased since the earthquake, while prices for local rice has dropped. The price discrepancy is stark, the AP reports that the price of a 55-pound bag of local rice is $60, while US rice costs about $36. For more on the effects of rice aid on local production, click here.
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