The Haitian Rice… Call Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto to the rescue!

BBC recently had a great article about the impact of  rice subsidies to Haiti. Here at Bon Mamit, we realize that the disappearance of local production is not only a result of a policy, but is also fueled by a local system where the farmers willing to cultivate their lands are deprived of guaranteed ownership rights.

Below is an excerpt of the post:

Rural impact

Haiti was encouraged by western countries to liberalise its economy in 1994. As it cut taxes on imports its own rice production plummeted.

A man prepares food at a camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (10 Sept 2010)
Oxfam says food for aid should be bought in local markets wherever possible

In 1980, according to Oxfam, Haiti was virtually self sufficient in rice. But today it imports some 80% of its rice and 60% of its overall food supply.

“Trade liberalisation has exposed Haitian farmers to competition from subsidised US rice and made consumers vulnerable to volatile global food prices,” said Oxfam.

The report says food aid can be another side to this problem.

In the month following the earthquake, for example, there was an international food aid “surge”.

Although Oxfam says the aid was “unquestionably a necessity” because it reduced food prices and allowed people to eat, the price reductions also “negatively affected rural Haitians” who earn money from selling food to the cities and comprise the majority of the population.

The agency recommended that, wherever possible, food aid should be bought in local markets inside the country that is receiving the aid.

Oxfam also made numerous recommendations to the Haitian government aimed at reversing its historic bias favouring the elites in Port-au-Prince over the majority rural poor.

It said the government should:

  • decentralise services away from the capital
  • ensure that farmers have access to credit
  • improve a land tenure system where most farmers have tiny parcels of land known as mouchwa – after the Creole word meaning “handkerchief-sized” – which they can be cheated out of by judges who award title to “whoever offers the biggest bribe”

The situation that Oxfam highlights is part of the bizarre relationship Haiti has with development aid donors and humanitarian workers.

Port-au-Prince is one of the aid capitals of the world.

By some estimates there are over 8,000 development charities working in the city – and almost every four-wheel drive vehicle you see on the streets there has the logo of an aid agency on its doors.

Yet the country remains mired in poverty. And many Haitians see the aid agencies primarily as sources of employment rather than as organisations that are making a difference in the long run.