Haiti Food Aid Hurting Local Farmers – for Oct. 25, 2010

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Massive foreign aid to Haiti after January’s earthquake helped feed many displaced people, but undercut Haitian agriculture and hurt farmers’ incomes, according to Oxfam International.

There’s been too much emphasis on donating food instead of developing Haiti’s agriculture-based economy, it said in a report.

“Currently, U. S. rice subsidies and in-kind food aid undercut Haitian farmers at the same time as the U. S. government is investing in Haitian agricultural development,” said Philippe Mathieu, Oxfam’s director for Haiti.

“The international community must abandon these conflicting trade and aid policies in order to support the growth of Haiti’s fragile rural economy.”

The catastrophic Jan. 12 quake killed as many as 300,000 people and devastated the economy of what was already the poorest state in the Americas. The U. S. Agency for International Development has a five-year, $126-million program to support the rural population. But there’s a ban on direct assistance to industries that compete with U. S. exports, and extensive exports to Haiti of rice, sugar and poultry are undermining the agricultural sector. The aid community has also not agreed to help fund the Haitian government’s $772-million agriculture plan.

Oxfam’s report calls on donor countries to support that plan, and to improve schools and healthcare and support community organizations working to improve life in rural areas.

“There are no schools, or poor schools, in rural areas, no jobs, very poor or no healthcare,” said Marc Cohen, the report’s author. He said about 75,000 people leave rural areas and move to Port-au-Prince every year.

“Unless you invest not only in agriculture but also in rural development, you won’t have people stay in rural areas,” Cohen said.

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