Foreign Aid

Miami rice: subsidizing poverty creation in Haiti

(November 15, 2010) Food aid in Haiti is the real reason the country is struggling to feed itself.

Haiti’s inability to feed its own population is often used as an excuse for developed countries and aid agencies to dump food aid on the impoverished country. But a recent report [PDF] provides more evidence that the real problem behind Haiti’s food crisis is subsidized imports and food aid. The result, according to Oxfam, is that these subsidized food imports have wiped out the country’s farmers, and subsequently, its ability to feed itself.

According to a report from Oxfam [PDF] , domestic subsidies offered by the US government to its own farmers means they “dump” this rice—known locally as Riz Miami or “Miami Rice”—on the local economy. The report says this has exacerbated a mass migration from rural areas to the country’s capital Port-au-Prince, as farmers, previously making a living by selling food to cities, search for employment.

“Currently, US rice subsidies and in-kind food aid undercut Haitian farmers at the same time as the US government is investing in Haitian agricultural development,” said Philippe Mathieu, Oxfam Country Director in Haiti.

Highlighting the failure of such a program is its architect, former US President Bill Clinton, UN Special Envoy for Haiti and Co-Chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, who now says the policy, brought in by his administration, was “a mistake”. Under Clinton’s presidency, the US urged Haiti to abandon tariffs on imported rice, which paved the way for subsidy-laden farmers in the US to dump their rice on Haitian markets.

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked,” he said. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”

Oxfam says that in 1980 Haiti was nearly self-sufficient in rice, but today imports nearly 80% of its rice and 60% of its total food supply.

The group also says that recent food aid—in the wake of January’s earthquake—has made the situation even worse, as it brought about massive price reductions and “negatively affected rural Haitians” who were already struggling to make a living from selling food to cities.

That foreign aid has actually hurt Haiti, rather then helped, is hardly a new revelation. In March, a Haiti-based businessman Maulik Radia lamented that he was forced to lay off more than 20 of his 150 workers at his plastic company because he was unable to compete with the free materials being shipped in from the US.

The systematic failure of foreign aid in Haiti, though, has done nothing to stop the massive influx of aid funds and workers flowing into the country. According to the BBC, there are an estimated 8,000 development charities working Port-au-Prince. If that number is correct, there is one aid agency for every 375 people living in the city.

Probe International, November 15, 2010

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