SEATTLE — Of Haiti’s 10.7 million people, 75 percent are living on less than $2 a day, making it the poorest country in the Americas. Over the past 20 years, Haiti has faced several serious natural disasters such as floods, droughts, storms, earthquakes and more recently, hurricanes. These disasters have only made the country’s struggles worse, as food insecurity in Haiti was already a major issue for the impoverished nation.
Increasing Imports and Deregulating Trade
As Haiti has moved away from a government -regulated economy to a laissez-faire market economy over the past several decades, the country has experienced major economic changes. One of these changes was to deregulate trade and increase imports of processed foods while narrowing down exports to a few agricultural products like coffee and sugar.
This means that Haiti is now far more reliant on imports than in the past, making it more vulnerable to food insecurity, especially in times of crisis. More than half of the processed foods in Haiti are imported, which is a 30 percent increase since 1981. Local businesses that made processed foods have gone bankrupt as imported foods are cheaper, yet are still too expensive for a large part of the population to afford. In fact, since 2010 food prices have been rising continuously. The focus on imports has contributed to a failing economy and a starving people.
Income Inequality and Control of Imports
One of the biggest contributors to food insecurity in Haiti is the large income gap between the richest and poorest in Haiti. This small, overpopulated nation has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. A shocking 40 percent of the poorest Haitians have access to only 6 percent of the nation’s income, compared to the top 2 percent who control 26 percent of the nation’s income. Haiti’s Gini index, which measures income inequality, ranks Haiti fourth worst globally. Within the population, this inequality greatly affects the poorest sector, where child malnutrition is seven times higher.
Income inequality is seen in the agricultural sector of the economy, where a small group of people controls most imports. These stakeholders make a huge profit on imports and control about 80 percent of the food supply. For example, one of Haiti’s major imports is palm oil. In 2012, two companies controlled 93 percent of this market and made more than $60 million while millions went hungry.
Challenges Facing Haitian Farmers
The focus on imports has also negatively impacted rural farmers throughout Haiti. Now, only one in five farmers make a living from farming alone and 80 percent of farms are unable to feed their own families. Farmers look for additional work in mineral extraction, small trading businesses and as wage laborers on bigger farms,
Some of the challenges farmers face include inadequate storage for goods, a lack of marketing opportunities and no access to roads to transport goods. On top of this, many farmers have little to no access to credit to try and improve their businesses because the credit supply is concentrated in urban areas. Farmers have been hit hard, as poverty impacts 75 percent of Haitians in rural areas. These problems have caused many organizations and nonprofits to turn their gaze towards Haiti to try and improve food insecurity.
Feed the Future and USAID Address Food Insecurity in Haiti
USAID has played a big part in helping end hunger in Haiti. One way is through the Feed the Future North (FTFN) program, whose goal is to increase the incomes of agricultural workers in northern Haiti. The program is investing in farm production, marketing, agricultural infrastructure and natural resource management for five crops: beans, rice, cocoa, corn and plantains.
Aside from Feed the Future, USAID has started other programs in Haiti to try and increase agricultural production within the country. USAID has worked with the Haitian government to create a safety net program, which provides food vouchers for vulnerable communities to purchase locally produced foods. The program is also improving maternal and newborn health by providing specialized food and resources to new mothers. Additionally, USAID maintains school feeding programs in poor communities so students have access to lunches.
World Food Programme Lends a Helping Hand
The World Food Programme (WFP) wants to eradicate hunger and is working in countries all over the world to achieve this goal. The WFP supports a variety of programs to help with food insecurity in Haiti. It provides emergency food assistance when natural disasters strike, stocks emergency food supplies and gives meals to 400,000 children daily. Its impact on the nation has been widespread, and programs such as the Cash and Food for Assets program has helped more than 225,000 people. People involved in the program help with infrastructure and agricultural projects and receive cash transfers to purchase food in return.
Although food insecurity in Haiti is a common problem, projects and organizations like Feed the Future and the WFP are making a huge impact. They are improving local agricultural production and helping these rural farmers feed their families and their fellow Haitians.
– Alexandra Eppenauer
Photo: Ricardo Venegas for SOIL