Haiti crisis and food security: a catch 22 situation!

Haiti (CWS)


Prospery Raymond-

The Agricultural Context-

Haiti is a mountainous country with a population of around 10.7 million people estimates by Institut Haitien de Statistique et Informatique (IHSI) in 2015 and approximatively 4 million living abroad mostly in the US, Dominican Republic, Canada, Brazil, Chile and other countries around the world. It is difficult to calculate the level of growth in the current context, but some economists estimated it to be closed to zero for 2018/2019.  Haiti’s Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index, 49.4% of Haiti’s population are multi˗dimensionally poor and 24.7% severely poor, with poverty being highest in rural areas.  The poor population also continues to experience limited access to infrastructure and services in critical areas such as education, water, and electricity.  This present political crisis is worsening the economic situation and there are risks for more people to drop below the poverty line if the crisis continues.

The Haitian economy has not experienced meaningful and transformative growth over the last five decades.  Haiti faces challenges across the full range of Sustainable Development Goals. Average growth has been approximately 1.4% over the last five decades, compared with population growth of 1.8%.  With a per capita income estimated at $818 (20152) and a Human Development Index (HDI) score of 0.493, Haiti is the poorest country within the Western Hemisphere. High levels of poverty and inequality exclude a substantial proportion of the population from the benefits of production.  In this regard, the expansion of the agriculture sector has great potential to grow the economy, create jobs, and improve income distribution, given the sector’s importance to the economy, accounting for one quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) report in December 2017.

In 2014, Haiti managed to export 917 million dollars’ worth of goods and services, whereas imports totalled 3.4 billion dollars. It is important to mention that global importation represents on average 40% of the GDP.

The crisis

All of these figures, however, have decreased during the last 12 months. The agriculture sector has been one of the most affected by this lockdown (The lockdown could be described as a multi ways used by the opposition parties to block the streets all over Haiti with barricades, protests by groups of militants who are asking for the President Jovenel Moise and his government to leave power as soon as possible and be arrested for his involvement into the Petro Caribe corruption scandal) and the petrol shortage crisis, since the beginning of September 2019. After 7 weeks of lockdown, there are concrete signs that millions of people are suffering from this crisis, already.

Before the crisis, the agricultural sector was made up of 1 million small farmers: agriculture exploitations (Each possessing an average of 1 hectare of land), a few young entrepreneurs (average 5 hectares of land) and limited agroindustry businesses (average 40 hectares of land). They produce a diversity of products and their production performances are low. The contribution of the agriculture to the GDP was estimated at around 76 million dollars per year in 2013; this figure has not increased since then. Still, the sector is very important for the Haitian economy. The agricultural sector participates in around 22% of the added values created in the country economy and provides jobs to 5 million people, representing 60% of the global employment. The sector also faces constraints that limit its own growth such as environmental degradation, lack of agricultural and rural infrastructure, lack of investment, and weakness in production technology, just to name a few.

In relation to this crisis, the information received from local organisations, producers and entrepreneurs is alarming.

Many are, now, asking for the president and members of the legislative branch to resign. There is an outcry against corruption, mismanagement, and errors in governance, as well as against the La Saline massacre. (In November 2018, members of a few gangs had a fight in the La Saline area. According to RNDDH, a human rights organisation which investigated the death of more than 40 people during this incident, two key members of the Jovenel Moise government were behind this massacre and confirmed by the UN Mission for Justice support in Haiti (MINUJUST).

Farmers are having difficulties in sending their products to market and at the same time imported products cannot reach the consumers in the rural areas. The situation has created a considerable shortage in food for millions of people that were already living in an acute and chronic state of food insecurity prior to the crisis. The majority of main roads connecting major cities to the capital and rural areas to those cities have been blocked repeatedly, if not constantly. Demonstrations even reached some remote rural areas, such as Thiotte in the South-Eastern department, generally spared by these kinds of movements. Trucks transporting agricultural products are often blocked and/or extorted for money on their way to the main cities. But who pays the price for such acts? It is the farmers and the consumers. In some areas, the poor and vulnerable don’t have enough money to pay for food and other basics needs. Those farmers producing fruits and vegetables are the most affected as their products are perishable and transport time is crucial. A few agriculture entrepreneurs, for example who produce avocados and peppers, have closed their businesses already. Due to the crisis, they had to make redundant all of their employees, and were forced to cancel contracts with some farmers associations.

The costs of the products are exploding nowadays. According to the CNSA, the Haitian food basket consists of six products: rice, wheat flour, corn, beans, sugar and vegetable oil. The price of all of these products on the market has increased by more than 25%. In June 2019, one kilo of beans used to cost around 70 gourdes and today that amount sells for between 100 and 125 gourdes. The purchasing power of the population is decreasing and consequently the proportion of people living in food insecurity will continue to increase in the coming weeks and months. As many of the products that make up the food basket are imported, it is likely that this situation will more significantly affect the population from the rural area. According to a OCHA report, received on the 17th of October 2019, the problem of availability and rising prices of staples (rice, peas, flour) is worsening, in the South department of Haiti. According to an evaluation conducted by the NGO ACTED on the Southern Department, for all local products, prices have increased on average by 78% since August 26th. Imported food products, including rice, wheat flour, corn, oil and sugar, are available in low stock in the central market of Les Cayes. Of all these imported products, prices increased on average by 85%.                                                            

Most of the harvest of “Pois Congo” (Pigeon Peas: a variety of bean), which is collected from October to December 2019, will be lost if farmers don’t find a way to transport their good to the major markets in the main cities. We do have avocados and sweet potatoes available in some markets however it is difficult to reach most of the markets.

The food security is very critical at Cite Soleil and the North West of Haiti (the far west), according to discussions with local actors, to be confirmed in the coming weeks. It is in fact the first time, Haiti may be experiencing this level of food shortages in some areas.

Some Testimonies from different actors

One agriculture producer and member of a famers association, Tilme Venel, said to a Nouvelliste journalist: “The situation has asphyxiated the sector. This crisis is just too much. This is another reason for farmers to be very discouraged by the perspectives of the sector.” Entrepreneurs working on producing tomatoes, mangoes, peppers, corn, vetiver for perfumes, cacao and coffee continue to adopt all sort of strategies to stay alive in this business.

In a conversation with Mme Minnetha Bien-Aime Milord, a local leader from a grassroot women organization called “Gwoupman Fanm Franchiz” (GFF) from Bereau, South Department of Haiti; “in my area, there is no food shortage. Even though, there are scarcity of rice, sugar and comestible oils; we do have breadfruits, avocados and some leaves (Liann panye, Spinach…)  to eat with a bit of meat. The prices of food are getting very high and there is less exchanges with money (more food exchanges) and great level of solidarity within the families living in my neighborhood. One of my 4 children are studying in Port-au-Prince at University level; it is very difficult to send her some food like breadfruits, for example. I am very worried for the coming weeks for her.”

Similarly, the Chairman of the Chamber of Agriculture and professions of Haiti (CHAGHA) which brings together professionals of agriculture and agro-industrial production, believes that this lock down is likely to put producers in a situation of uncertainty. For irrigated plots, it will soon be the winter season, the second most important agricultural season in the country. With such high losses and uncertain conditions, Erick Balthazar anticipates a clear decrease in the area of lands that will be planted in the upcoming season. This could have consequences for food availability at the beginning of next year. ANDHA, the National Association of Agronomist, which used to be very strong in the past, has not made any statement about the current situation affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti which is a sign this situation didn’t preoccupy them much. and why?

According to Gilbert Gonzalez from Produits des Iles S.A. (PISA), “with the added security risks and also due to the irregular availability of fuel, trucks have more than doubled their transport prices.  In some regions, it is even more.” He also stressed, “this period (October to December) is an important period for coffee and cacao purchases.  For fermented cacao, the timeliness of purchase is critical, so this side of the business will be extremely affected for this short crop.  The other issue is the availability of cash to pay the growers in a timely fashion with the security issues.”

VETERIMED dairy plants continue to collect milk from farmers and complete the sterilization process; however, they have said that they will have to stop in the next 2 weeks if the lockdown continues because they won’t be able to sell the sterilised milk and then won’t be able to pay the farmers from whom they bought the raw milk. On the other hand, Agronome Rosanie Moise, Veterimed Director, told us: “ we may have a shortage of propane gaze soon to produce the sterilise milk. Now, we are not producing cheese and yoghourt because we don’t have electricity to refrigerate them.”

In a phone conversation with an agronomist from the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR), we learned that the Communal Agriculture Offices (BACs) throughout the countries are supporting the farmers, although with no indication on what specifically.

During one of their shows (Allo Agro) on the 9th of October 2019, Promodev, a media group specialised in agriculture, urged the government, the opposition and the police to protect the farmers’ trucks on their way to the market to prevent a famine in Haiti. The urgent demand is to secure farmers truck transporting food all over the country.

According to Jean Marc Vital, Director du Bureau de Promotion du Developpement Rural (Buproder),  the situation is particularly complicated for the “Madan Sara” (wholesale middle women) who buy the production of the farmers in the field to be delivered to the main cities and the capital and going back with processed products needed in rural areas. They are often victims of gender-based violence even before the lockdown.  In June 2019, a truck transporting “Madan Saras” going to Beaumont (Grand-Anse department in the South-West) was hijacked by gang members on the road between Les Cayes and Camp-Perrin (South). Everybody was extorted, and all the women were assaulted by the criminals. Similar cases were reported in other regions within the country over the last six months.

Is there a way to protect the farmers’ rights while supporting a legitimate right to call for the resignation of the President? Difficult to answer now. It is a catch 22 situation. However, it’s clear that part of the country is no longer under control of the official leaders, so far incapable of guaranteeing security and justice for all since September.

What’s next?

However, there is a real need for some humanitarian corridors for farmers to deliver their products in the markets all over the country, immediately. Some routes should be protected by all actors to help the local production.

In the coming weeks or months, when schools will be re-opened, it may be good to have some humanitarian food aid for children, elderly and disables people in their respective institutions and/or structures for the next 3 years. Some local actors are asking to have a huge proportion of the purchases at local level depending on availability, even if prices are not very competitive. Farmers and women sellers (Madan Sara) should receive some loans at low rates to help the re-capitalisation of the sectors.

In a long term, the Ministry of agriculture in collaboration with FAO and other local and international actors needs to adapt the agricultural investment plan and find the resources to finance part of it for the next 10 years with an investment of 120 million dollars US a year for the next 10 years on 6 strategic products categories like cereals (Rice, Sorgho and Mais), beans, livestock (chicken, eggs and milk), coffee and cacao for local consumption and exportation, vegetables (tomatoes, onions, leeks and chou) and fishing. Those products will come the areas where they used to grow, and the potentials are there already.

In a conversation with Ingenieur Agronome Salomon Brutus from Konbit pou Ranfose Aksyon Lakay (KORAL), “the government will need to think about the right level of taxation for those strategic products to be reviewed on a regular basis to protect the market and the farmers as well.”

Prospery Raymond is an Agro-Economist, specialised in Economy and Rural Development and studied Law. He is the current Director for Christian Aid Haiti/DR programme (a British organisation) and the President of the Cadre de Liaison Inter-ONG (CLIO), a network of 75 local and international organisations in Haiti.

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