Haitian Farmers’ Calamitous 2012 Foretells Famine in 2013

Haiti faces a little-publicized hunger crisis at today’s 3-year anniversary of the devastating Earthquake of January 12, 2010. The rhetoric about revitalizing Haitian agriculture by aid groups and governments has not translated into effective support on the ground. International groups partnering directly with family farmer organizations across Haiti are warning of a worsening hunger situation. Most urgently, there is a need for resources to be provided to rural organizations so that they can again purchase and distribute locally-available seeds for planting to those who used up their planting seed during repeated crop failures in 2012.

2012 was one of the worst years in recent memory for Haitian farmers, who have provided approximately 40% of the food needs of the Haitian people. The main growing season was plagued by an intense drought that wiped out the entire crop of corn and other staple crops. Rice production was also diminished in communities without sufficient irrigation. Farmers replanted. Then hurricane Isaac struck, wiping out crops across most of Haiti and heavily flooding several regions. Farmers replanted yet again. The final blow came when hurricane Sandy dropped its extremely heavy rains and again flooded much of the country destroying crops in many regions. In only one region, the Northeast, were farmers happy to see Sandy’s rains come, since they had been in a state of drought for most of the year and the several inches of rain Sandy dumped was better than nothing. Is it any wonder that many Haitians are talking about human-caused climate change as a significant challenge to their food security and food sovereignty?

Following the earthquake three years ago, 780,000 refugees from the capital city of Port-au-Prince and nearby Leogane fled to the rural areas in search of relief. Many of them are still there. The rural communities of Haiti stepped up to the dire need and provided food relief and shelter and medical and psychological attention. However, the burden was heavy and many farmers used up all their planting seed in order to feed the victims of the earthquake. Fortunately, well-organized farmers were able to channel and distribute seeds purchased with resources channeled from abroad, from churches like the Presbyterian Church USA’s Hunger Program and Disaster Assistance programs, and organizations like Agricultural Missions with the support of organizations like the Kentucky Interfaith Taskforce on Latin America and the Caribbean (KITLAC). In 2010 83 tons of corn, beans, rice, peanuts, sorghum and vegetable seeds were purchased in Haiti and distributed to farm families shouldering the burden of the earthquake survivors, along with 15,000 hoes and machetes for the extra hands that could work the fields. Famine across Haiti was avoided. Due to global warming 3 years later, family farmers across Haiti today find themselves short of seeds to plant, following the crop failures of 2012.

The short-sighted priorities of large international aid providers and the Haitian government have left family farmers across Haiti with insufficient support. The rhetoric about the need to support Haitian farmers so they can feed fellow Haitians is simply hot air. The U.S. government made a big fanfare about the new Caracol “free-trade” (read “sweatshop”) industrial zone inaugurated in Haiti’s northeast, a pet project of the Clinton’s and the new Haitian president, and the U.S. A.I.D. invited Monsanto into Haiti to capture the Haitian seed market, a “mortal gift” that was rejected by Haitian farmers. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the UN “security” presence or housing for UN workers and US Embassy staff, most organized Haitian farmers are completely ignored. When farmers actively complain and protest this neglect, the government sees them as potential opponents to their regime and aid groups see them as a threat to the status quo.

So today, a new life-threatening crisis of hunger faces impoverished Haitians, 356,000 of whom still languish in tent cities in and around Port-au-Prince. People of good will must demand that US AID, the US State Department and the Haitian government attend not to the Monsanto’s and textile sweatshop moguls of this world, but to those who actually cultivate their fields and feed and shelter their communities.

For information about the current work to support productive Haitian farmers, contact Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions, Inc, working in partnership with KITLAC, a Louisville-based Latin America solidarity organization: [email protected]