Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Food as a Human Right: Haiti's One Year Commemoration

Haiti Food Aid Distribution

For me, one of the most striking images of the 2008 global food crisis was that of a young Haitian man with a mouth full of straw. The man was making a public protest at the astronomical food prices in local Haitian markets, reflecting nation-wide outrage at a food system that has been domineered by cheap imports and food aid dumping. Almost 3 years later, at the 1 year commemoration of the January 12 earthquake, Haitians have even more reasons to protest. Food security stands on a long list of neglected national and international policies that have thwarted their attempts at gaining sovereignty. Yet, the right to food...the right to grow it, to choose it and to earn enough money to buy it, is one of the most basic of human rights. Everyone on this earth has a right to eat enough nutritious food to live well, and to do it with dignity.

With 76 percent of Haitians living on less than $2 per day, 3 million people not receiving enough calories, and over half of all consumed food deriving from imports, this crucial human right is not being met in Haiti. This presents an even greater challenge in light of food price projections. Riots have already broken out in countries like Algeria and Tunisia, where people cannot afford to buy sugar, oil and basic staple foods. Experts agree that Haiti stands on even more fragile ground, ill equipped to absorb the next impending global food crisis.

Despite the unique challenges of today's post-earthquake environment, Haiti's food problem has been a long time growing. Many argue that Haiti was nearly self-sufficient in the 1980's, able to grow enough food to feed its people. Yet, the United States, other international governments and international financial institutions put great pressure on Haiti to liberalize its trade policies. This included cutting tariffs on outside imports like rice, reducing publicly financed support programs for farmers, allowing outside companies to cut down forests and deprioritizing agricultural development. In addition, foreign governments responded to different natural disasters by sending food aid commodities that competed with local markets.

Today, Haiti imports over 80% of all its rice. This is a direct effect of US food aid policies. At the March 10, 2010 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, President Bill Clinton publicly apologized for his contribution to these policies and Haiti's current food dependent state. "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake...I have had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did." See full article.

Understanding Haiti's food and agriculture history and our own role in that history is an important step towards helping to correct the past. Multiple Haitian organizations and civil society platforms exist, like CROSE, MPP, Tet Kole and PAPDA, that have the expertise and people power to help change Haiti's food reality. These groups have been actively working with my own organization, ActionAid, to improve agricultural development and food security policies in country. They have protested foreign quick fix solutions, like Monsanto GMO seeds, and have promoted local production and food purchase. They have denounced food aid dumping and agricultural development contracts that are domineered by foreign firms, and have offered powerful alternatives that can help to lift the Haitian people into a new era of food sovereignty. If we truly want to help the Haitian people to feed themselves, then we must listen to these voices and challenge our own decision-makers to do the same.

Elise Young
Senior Policy Analyst
ActionAid USA

1 comment:

  1. This is extremely informative, Elise. Thank you.