The AP’s Trenton Daniel put a spotlight on rising food prices in Haiti over the weekend. Daniel writes:

Soaring food prices aren't new in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and heavily dependent on imports. Now those prices are rising again, mirroring global trends, while the cost of gasoline has doubled to $5 a gallon. Haitians are paying more for basic staples than much of Latin America and the Caribbean, an Associated Press survey finds.

A number of factors have led to the most recent surge in prices. As we reported in early March:

The FAO warned that, “The low-income food deficit countries are on the front line of the current surge in world prices.” Haiti, which imports nearly 50 percent of its food, according to the WFP, could be especially vulnerable.

International factors have exacerbated the negative effects of the cholera epidemic and last year’s Hurricane Thomas, both of which greatly affected agricultural regions. All of this comes at a particularly bad time for Haiti, where the months of April and May are generally the least food secure months of the year. FEWS Net has warned “The size of the food insecure population will be larger than usual, peaking in April/May.”

Although the soaring prices will be felt in the short term, especially amongst the poor and displaced, the problem of food sovereignty is a long term one. Daniel writes:

Nature and the outside world have all taken their toll. Erosion, deforestation, flooding and tropical storms make farming difficult. American imports are stiff competition for farmers. Haiti imports nearly all of its food, including more than 80 percent of its rice, known here as "Miami Rice." A whole chicken costs $8 in Haiti - double the price in Peru. Argentines earn much more than Haitians, but pay less for a kilogram of rice.

The rise of garment factories in the cities since the 1970s has denuded the countryside of working hands. Bolivar is among those who moved here. She lives in a small cinderblock home in a slum in the relatively affluent city of Petionville.

"There was nothing for me in the countryside," she said.

Yet relief efforts continue to fall short in their support for agriculture and decentralization. In 2010, the UN’s appeal for agriculture was just 50 percent funded, compared to overall levels closer to 75 percent and significantly greater support going to food aid. In 2011, the discrepancy is even larger. While only $1 million (2 percent of the appeal) has been given for agriculture, nearly $50 million has been made available for food aid, which predominantly comes in the form of foreign foodstuffs and can have a negative effect on the productivity of local farmers.

There is also some evidence that the agriculture support that has been provided, through the USAID WINNER program, for instance, has been problematic. For starters, the WINNER program is being implemented by Chemonics, one of the largest USAID contractors, and one we have written about extensively before. Also, as Haiti Grassroots Watch has pointed out in their “Seeding Reconstruction?” series, a significant portion of agricultural aid has been in the form of seed distributions, which have turned out to not be necessary and in some cases were even harmful:

In August, 2010, a multi-agency, 115-page report recommended that seed distributions to Haitian farmers halt or be “honed” because “[e]mergency seed aid should be used only to address emergency problems, and those in which seed security is a problem.”

The Seed System Security Assessment/Haiti (SSSA) report, authored principally by researcher Louise Sperling of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), found that Haiti had “deeply chronic” seed problems – mostly the lack of appropriate, quality seeds – but that Haitian farmers did not face a “seed emergency” problem per se.

The international community’s efforts to aid in agriculture have also often overlooked, or even undermined the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture (MARDNR). Emmanuel Prophete, the director of the National Seed Service (SNS), told Haiti Grassroots Watch:

“For the system to be sustainable, it has to be the state budget, the public treasury, that says: ‘Here is money for seeds.’… Only by reinforcing of the state structures will the country to advance,” Prophete said.


But the SNS is not the lead in the new FAO seed project, nor was it the lead in the multi-million dollar seed distributions. Indeed, Prophete wasn’t even aware of the spring distributions announced at the February 8 Cluster meeting until Haiti Grassroots Watch handed him the Excel spreadsheet.

And the SNS doesn’t get funding via the Agriculture Cluster projects.

Of the $31,526,150 that went to Agriculture Cluster projects in 2010, the MARDNR received zero, according to UN documents.

Of the $43,087,517 requested for 22 projects for 2011, the MARDNR is listed as the principal recipient on zero of the projects.

Asked about the 2011 Cluster request, Prophete was as pragmatic as he was ecumenical:

"If they get that, it’s good for them. If they don’t get it, it wouldn’t come to Damien [where MARDNA is located], in any case. But if that money can somehow benefit peasants, I am 100 percent in agreement with their request."

For the full Haiti Grassroots Watch report, click here. Also see the report on Monsanto’s role in the seed distribution, available here. It should also be noted that there were alternative proposals for supporting local agriculture after the earthquake.