Agricultural Support Needed, But Who From?

March 15, 2010

*This post was edited slightly for accuracy.

The FAO and other experts have warned that support for Haiti’s agricultural sector is key to increasing food security and ensuring recovering from the earthquake.  Despite this, the agricultural program remains only 20% funded, according to OCHA.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf traveled to Haiti over the weekend and began distributing seeds and fertilizers to farmers. By June the FAO “plans to reach 180,000 smallholder farming families with 1,500 tonnes of seeds and fertilizers.”

USAID is also collaborating with the Haitian government in support of the agricultural sector. According to USAID, “Last week, USAID signed an agreement with the Government of Haiti to identify USAID and its WINNER (Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources) project as a strategic partner in the Cul-de-Sac, Cabaret, Mirbalais, Archaie and Gonaives regions of Haiti. The project aims to prepare the maximum amount of land possible for planting in the next six weeks. WINNER will work with 200 farmer associations and train 800 “master farmers.”

The “WINNER” program was signed in 2009, and is a five-year, $126 million program that is being implemented by Chemonics International.

While efforts to increase food security, and prepare for the planting season are clearly needed, the role of Chemonics International raises some questions.

Chemonics was a subsidiary of ERLY Industries, which was also the parent company of American Rice Inc. American Rice was perhaps the largest benefactor of the influx of “Miami rice” in the 80s and 90s in Haiti, wiping out thousands of Haitian farmers who could not compete with the cheaper, subsidized imported rice. American Rice Inc. officials were found to have paid bribes in 1998-1999 to custom officials in order to avoid import tariffs (already by then some of the lowest in the hemisphere due to IMF and World Bank policies). Chemonics has close ties to USAID, and relies on government contracts for over 90% of its revenue.

Chemonics has been tapped by USAID in Afghanistan as well, in an effort to improve the agricultural sector. Chemonics received a $153 million contract in 2003.

In 2005 the Government Accountability Office found that Chemonics had failed to “address a key program objective”, and that “consequently, during its first 15 months, the project`s progress in strengthening Afghanistan`s market chain was limited.”

Despite this, Chemonics received a contract in 2006 for $102 million. Once again, the USAID Inspector General found significant problems with the program:

Chemonics reported results for all eight indicators for the first year of the program. However, the audit identified that for two of the eight indicators, reported results fell considerably short of intended results. Targets had not been established for the other six indicators making it difficult to tell how well the project was proceeding. In addition, Chemonics did not have documentation to adequately support reported results for six indicators. In two of the six cases, the support was inadequate, while in four cases there was no support at all. For example, Chemonics had inadequate support for the reported result that 1,719 individuals had received short-term agricultural training, and no support for the reported result that project activities had generated an economic value in excess of $59 million. In addition, the audit found that a major program activity—the Mazar foods initiative—was behind schedule. This $40 million initiative to cultivate 10,000 hectares for a commercial farm was not finalized in time to take advantage of the summer planting season as initially planned.

Chemonics has also received over $20 million dollars through USAID for relief work in Haiti and up to $50 million through USAID/Office for Transition Initiatives for Haiti related work.

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