By Josh Berkman
Haiti aid must help Haitian farmers, not Big Ag
House committees are expected to hold a mark-up of a supplemental bill that includes the $2.8 billion in emergency funding to Haiti this week. But mere allocation of this money for Haiti is not enough – how the money actually gets used is of paramount importance.
To ensure U.S. aid to Haiti benefits Haitian farmers rather than international agribusiness, Congress must include language in the bill that makes certain this money will be used to support community-based food production and procurement, cash vouchers and other programs that support local reconstruction efforts. American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is calling on Congress to include this language -- you can help by contacting your Representative through this form.
The U.S. approach, to this point, has been to structure relief and reconstruction efforts through large international bodies, our own military operations and shipping in-kind goods. Local Haitian voices have had little, if any, say in matters that are crucial to their future, and the result has been a disconnect between their needs and the kind of aid that arrives.
Sadly, this is nothing new. Since the mid-90’s, Haitian farmers have been forced to compete unsuccessfully with imports of cheap food produced by American agribusinesses. Moreover, the whole affair has been underwritten by American taxpayers in the form of government subsidies to these gigantic corporations. What has been the result? Tens of thousands of Haitian farmers have been forced to shut down operations, leaving a huge void in food production.
At one time, Haiti exported more food than it brought in, but it is now dependent on imports. The tragedy of this vulnerability is even more visible in the aftermath of the earthquake.
With Haiti's delivery ports out of commission, the prices of imported food have shot up. Rice—a crop once harvested in abundance—increased in price by 25 percent per pound. The situation is so bad that Bill Clinton himself apologized for championing free trade and aid policies during his presidency.
Congress can take steps to correct this injustice by insisting that the money it appropriates for Haiti is used to support the redevelopment of Haiti’s capacity to produce food at the local level. Tell your representative that you expect him or her spend your tax dollars on sustainable aid to Haitian people, not more subsidies for agribusiness.
Josh Berkman is Associate Director for Media and Marketing at American Jewish World Service (AJWS).