As you may have heard, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to deliver surplus peanuts to Haiti in an effort to provide humanitarian aid. While this gesture is well intentioned, the plan—if carried out—will endanger the livelihood of poor farmers all over Haiti and increase Haiti’s reliance on foreign aid. As an organization that promotes self-reliance, and works with peanut farmers living in extreme poverty, we are strongly opposed to this measure.
Peanuts are an important crop in Haiti. Not only does everyone love the local peanut butter “mamba”, but few crops offer as good an opportunity to make money over a short amount of time. They are relatively drought tolerant and require few inputs to have a reasonable harvest, which is one of the reasons why Fonkoze teaches ultrapoor women in our CLM program to grow them to increase their income. A massive influx of imported peanuts would cause the price of local peanuts to drop and would substantially reduce the income these women could obtain from this reliable crop.
Unfortunately, U.S. involvement in Haiti’s agricultural policy has often had disastrous effects. In the early 1980’s, fearing Haiti’s Creole pigs could spread African swine fever, the U.S. Congress authorized $23 million to slaughter local pigs and replace them with hybrid pigs from Iowa. The imported pigs struggled to adapt, often became sick, and had few litters.
The most bitterly remembered example is the collapse of the Haitian rice market. Haiti was largely self-reliant in its rice production by the mid 1980’s, but in the mid 1990’s, Haiti’s leadership agreed to slash tariffs on cheaper imported rice at the behest of the U.S. and the World Bank. As a result, subsidized U.S. rice inundated the market, effectively crushing local rice farmers. This small Caribbean country is now the second-biggest export destination for American rice growers.
Bill Clinton, who as President encouraged this trade liberalization in Haiti, has since stated, “It was a mistake…I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”
Let’s not do it again.
To learn more about what others are saying about this issue, please read the following:
The Associated Press
The Washington Post
Partners in Health: http://www.pih.org/blog/no-to-dumping-peanuts-in-haiti
Smallholder Farmers Alliance: http://www.smallholderfarmersalliance.org/
Presbyterian Church USA: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2016/5/11/us-prepares-dump-500-metric-tons-peanuts-haiti/